Saturday, February 27, 2010

Killer of Sheep

Lampaantappaja / Killer of Sheep. US © 1977 Charles Burnett. P+D+SC+DP+ED: Charles Burnett. Songs: "My Curly Headed Baby" (Clautsam), "The House I Live In" (Robinson, Allan) and "Going Home" by Paul Robeson. "I Wonder" (Lewis) by Cecil Gant. "Afro American Symphony" (William Grant Still). "Lullaby" (George Gershwin). "Reasons" (Maurice White) by Earth, Wind and Fire. "I Believe" (Elmore James). Sergei Rachmaninoff: 4. Piano Concerto. "This Bitter Earth" (Otis). "Unforgettable" (Gordon) by Dinah Washington. "Shake A Hand" by Faye Adams. "Mean Old World" (Walter Jacobs) by Little Walter. "It's Your Fault Baby" (Lowell Fulson). "Mean Old Frisco Blues" (Arthur Crudup). "Poet And Peasant Overture" (Franz von Suppe). "Solace" (Scott Joplin). "West End Blues" (King Oliver) by Louis Armstrong. S: Charles Bracy, with Willie Bell, Larry Clark, Christine Penick, Andy Burnett. Cast: Henry Gayle Sanders (Stan), Kaycee Moore (Stan's wife), Charles Bracy (Bracy), Angela Burnett (Stan's daughter), Eugene Cherry (Eugene), Jack Drummond (Stan's son). B&w, shot on 16 mm, distributed on 16 mm and 35 mm. 84 min. This print 81 min. Restoration: UCLA Film and Television Archive. Re-released in 2007 by Milestone Film and Video. A BFI Distribution print viewed at Cinema Orion (Helsinki) (Black History Month), 27 Feb 2010.

An immaculate print of the UCLA restored version pays justice to the expressive 16 mm black and white cinematography. Charles Burnett's UCLA student film was reportedly shot in 1973, finished in 1975, and briefly released in 1977, but in its re-release 30 years later in the beautifully restored edition it really got the full respect it deserves.

This is a realistic film by a young poet about a black family in Watts, L.A., where Stan works at a slaughterhouse, supporting his wife, son, and daughter. Memorable features: (1) the viewpoint of the children, their plays, fights, the stern discipline including beating, the dangerous games in the roads, the railway, and on the rooftops, (2) the compelling rhythm with its silences and the pauses, (3) the work montages at the slaughterhouse, (4) the young men's criminal plans without glamour, (5) the desire of the wife in the serious dancing sequence, (6) the profound pain and melancholy of Stan, (7) the liquor store sequence: rubber checks not accepted, the female owner's interest in Stan as a man, (8) the house is located at an uphill road, it's hard to start the car, and when there is a family outing, it all stops because of a flat tyre, (9) the sense of adversity is almost overwhelming, yet the sense of life, with the children's plays, and the vitality of the women, is stronger, (10) the stark and expressive black and white cinematography, (11) the excellent soundtrack many selections of which I keep re-listening as I write this.

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