. . . .AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: “KILLER OF SHEEP” (1979)

Killer of Sheep is a 1979 American film written, directed, produced, edited and filmed by Charles Burnett with sound by Charles Bracy. Filmed in 1977, it was released by Milestone Films, in collaboration with Audio Mechanics, with funding by the Ahmanson Foundation, and in association with the Sundance Institute. It has an Aspect Ratio of 1:33:1, and is in B&W, running at approximately 81 minutes.

The film features the following:

CAST

Stan ……………………………………………………………………..Henry Gayle Sanders

Stan’s Wife…………………………………………………………….Kaycee Moore

Bracy …………………………………………………………………….Charles Bracy

Stan’s Daughter ……………………………………………………..Angela Burnett

Eugene…………………………………………………………………..Eugene Cherry

Stan’s Son ……………………………………………………………..Jack Drummond

The drama depicts the culture of urban Black Americans in Los Angeles’ Watts district. Writer/Director Charles Burnett submitted his first feature, Killer of Sheep, as his thesis for his MFA in film at UCLA. The film was shot on location near his family’s home in Watts over a series of weekends on a shoestring budget of less than $10,000, most of which was grant money. The film’s style is often likened to Italian neo-realism.

Killer_of_sheep

Set in the Black ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s, the film looks at the life of Stan, who works in an abattoir where sheep are slaughtered. Through a series of events, we see a picture of a hard working-class life for Stan, his wife, and friends:  two friends try to involve Stan in a crime, a white woman molests Stan in a store, and Stan and his friend Bracy (Charles Bracy) buy a car engine, only to have it become damaged.

KILLER OF SHEEP (1977)

One scene in particular stands out:  as you watch the film where friends of Stan’s are sitting in a vehicle, keep your eye on the can of Schlitz beer to the left. It will give you laugh.

Through Stan’s eyes, we see a man who is sensitive, but is becoming distant from his loving wife, as the repetitive and numbing effects of working at the abattoir begins to takes its toll on him. Burdened down with financial problems, he takes solace in the small moments of simple things: slow dancing with his wife, a warm teacup against his cheek, and holding his daughter and bonding with her. The film gives no solutions to the problems that Stan and his family face, it merely gives us a picture of their lives, sometimes desolate, sometimes happy.

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KILLER OF SHEEP (1977)

Upon its completion the film could not be released because the filmmakers had not secured rights to the music used in the film, which included Louis Armstrong, Earth, Wind & Fire’s ReasonDinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth, and Paul Robeson’s The House I Live In. In 2007 the rights to the music were purchased at a cost of  $150,000 USD. The film was restored and transferred from a 16mm to a 35mm print. Killer of Sheep received a limited release 30 years after it was completed, with the DVD released on November 13, 2007.

At the time of its release in 1979, the film received rave reviews from critics, heralding it as an American masterpiece.

Killer of Sheep was chosen by the National Society of Film Critics as one of the 100 Essential Films. In 1990, Killer of Sheep was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

I now present Killer of Sheep in its entirety.

Enjoy.

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