Saturday, June 02, 2007

Killer of Sheep

This week some arthouse theaters (Landmark E Street in Washington DC) began showing a 35 mm restoration of the 1977 16mm black-and-white film “Killer of Sheep,” directed by Charles Burnett. The Library of Congress includes this on its National Film Registry, and the National Society of Film Critics considers it one of the top “100 essential films” of all history. The film was restored with the help of the Sundance Project from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Shot on location in natural settings in the Los Angeles Watts neighborhood and presented in the old 4:3 aspect ratio, it fits some of the criteria of what is now Dogme filmmaking. However, there is some added soundtrack, including some Rossini, and especially the second ¾ time theme in the first movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto in G minor (relatively less popular than 2 and 3 but it works here).

The film is a “slice of life” of African American existence in the LA semi-ghetto. Stan is played by Henry G. Sanders, with Kaycee Moore as his wife. In an opening scene, he chides his son about family loyalty and protecting his brother. He works in a sheep processing plant, sometimes harvesting sheep body hair but more often slaughtering the sheep for mutton. The film becomes a series of reality scenes, one of the most earthy being the attempt to move an engine block and then losing it to gravity on a city street. Kids stand on their head and jump on roofs between houses. Life is about family, kinship, and extending yourself through kids, regardless of the constricted nature of your own life. You feel like the sheep you kill.

The film reminded me of a Minnesota independent film, Cut Glass (1998).

Update: June 4

I have another posting on a legal battle over an amateur film "The Teddy Bear Master" at this link (end of the posting).

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