Sunday Feature-Week 6:Killer of Sheep (1977)
Title: Killer of Sheep
Tone: Life in the ghettos of 1970s L.A meets Italian neorealism
Cast- Henry G Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy
What: Stan (Henry G. Sanders) is employed at a local slaughterhouse, resulting in a disconnect with his friends and family. Through a series of vignettes we follow Stan as he tries to reconnect and reestablish himself with his surroundings.
- Although selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and chosen by the National Society of Film Critics on their 100 Essential Films list in 1990, Killer of Sheep did not gain a wide release until 2007. The reason for these 30 years in limbo was due to the film’s soundtrack, which Burnett hadn’t attained the rights to at the time he made the film. In 2007 the film was restored by UCLA and the rights to the music were finally purchased for $150,000 (which is 150 15 times the film’s original budget).
- Originally shot on 16mm B &W film as Charles Burnett’s MFA thesis at UCLA, Burnett aimed to make a film in reaction to the prevalence of Blacksploitation films at the time. Blacksploitation films, although generally highlighting the black experience and made for black audiences, perpetuated black stereotypes and exploited sex,drugs, and violence to draw in audiences and ultimately hurt the image of African Americans. Burnett aimed to prove that you could make a film about the black experience without having to resort to exploiting sex, drugs and violence to connect with an audience.
- Killer of Sheep often blurs the line between fiction and documentary. Akin to the Italian neorealism movement of the 40’s, Burnett cast non-actors, shot on location in the ghettos of LA, and often filmed scenes (primarily those involving children) as they happened. This film making style greatly heightens the sense of realism Burnett was striving for and also stands as a document of the culture at that time.
- Burnett also wanted this film to represent showcase the history of African American music. Killer of Sheep contains one of the finest soundtracks in cinema featuring music from Dinah Washington, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Earth Wind and Fire, Faye Adams, Elmore James, Scott Joplin and the list goes on. Burnett has also been compared to the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Wes Anderson in his acute sense of juxtaposing music and imagery. In Killer of Sheep, Burnett succeeds in creating some of the most compelling and visually striking sequences in cinema. The clip below is an excellent example of this, also it exemplifies Burnett’s blurring of fiction and documentary. Enjoy!