Killer of Sheep (1979)
The most famous film that nobody has heard about, "The Killer of Sheep" is a film that has a lot of critical praise and respect surrounding it...considering the fact that many herald it as the quintessential film that time forgot, I find this movie ironic.
The movie concerns a black family living in borderline poverty in an American town which I couldn't identify. It looked like it was in the south...but I could be wrong about that.
The narrative meanders quite a while before it picks a person to call its central figure. Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) is a family man and worker. He rarely sleeps, stumbling around as a pacified insomniac. His wife is desperate for attention, but loyal to Stan. She will not leave him just because he no longer seems interested in her.
As much as the movie is about Stan, it's more about recreating an entire sub-culture—at this, the films is much more successful.
The movie's budget is always mentioned when talking about the film. Made for next to nothing, as far as films are concerned, "Killer of Sheep" remains probably the most famous 'student film'. The film was made by Charles Burnett, who has since disappeared. He is still directing, but I had not heard of any of his films besides this one.
Children are a central figure to the movie. The camera captures how the goof off and play...this is key for preserving the feeling that the film generates.
The women sass and sulk, the men act like kids, the kids pretend to be adults.
It's a film that is almost completely devoid of a white character...but it doubt if it's making a racial comment. There are bad characters and good characters in "Killer of Sheep" regardless of their skin color. Perhaps the film is asking for a better chance to be given to those in poverty; but I can't really find a meaning behind the dreary and suffocating shots.
The movie is a herald to what the independent filmmaker can achieve...a feat that would be replicated years later by "Beasts of the Southern Wild".
So many emotions run through "Killer of Sheep"—horror, despair, dark humor, longing, romance, rejection, boredom, and need.
Burnett always returns to the children as a marker of some kind, showing how the film's story has progressed and the location of the story remains the same.
The plot is a rambling storyline that is unafraid to show snippets of other people's conversations and lives. Stan survives a few days...that's essentially all what the film is about.
He has two kids and they seem destined to take separated paths. The girl is demure and inquisitive and the boy is turning into a rebel.
"Killer of Sheep" is about the setting, these characters are living out the traditions of their parents. They yell at their kids the same way, beat them the same way, interact with each other in the same way—yet they are completely true to themselves. They find new ways to stray from the traditional upbringing that they all—no doubt—had.
There's a great sleepiness to the film and sleep is a large part of it. If only Stan would shut his eyes, something we rarely see him do, maybe he could get rest. Rest would mean a validation of something to the viewer so he is kept from resting.
"Killer of Sheep" challenges its viewer, it demands respect.
That being said, the film indulges in its own quirks. Shots carry on far too long and the plot meanders more than necessary.
It's faintly reminiscent of Richard Linklater's "Slacker"; yet without the Allen-esque humor.
"Killer of Sheep" is a joyless film, full of life. The bleakness of the everyday street, shot with caring, is enough to almost make you cry.
Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones