Killer of Sheep was so far ahead of its time 30 years ago when it was made, and it’s just as stunning and relevant today. This simple film presents a realistic portrayal of African American urban living, at a time when most images of African Americans on screen were defined by sex and violence. What’s so incredible about Killer of Sheep revolves around genius camera work by writer and director Charles Burnett, which becomes a defining method of telling the story.
Henry G. Sanders (recently seen in Rocky Balboa) is hypnotic as Stan, a depressed insomniac lower middle-class worker struggling to provide for his family, love his wife and maintain responsibility to his kids and community. He’s haunted by the historical pressures facing African American males, while he toils in a slaughter house, to tired to even remember what the American dream is. But he and his wife still find moments of pure nirvana, even though their sex life is struggling. I wonder if that part of their relationship was itself meant to counter the stereotype of Black male masculinity on screen at the time. Burnett displays a determined elegance, even when lensing empty dirt fields or Sandford and Son-styled pickup trucks, toting late model car engines. His proficiency with the camera and dialogue is simply compelling.
Killer of Sheep can not be measured by the standard many low budget films are. However, it is absolutely amazing that it was made over the course of about a year of weekends, with a budget of under $10,000. Burnett worked at a small casting agency at the time, however most of the cast were amateurs.
The film is simply a must for film students, those interested in absorbing a new side of Black culture, and those interested in just laughing at life. It is the story about this small community that seems to have been forgotten, and may have even forgotten about itself.
Review © FilmFetish.com by Rene Carson