Killer of Sheep, 1977

I had the good fortune of seeing Charles Burnett’s, Killer of Sheep, at the Cleveland Cinematheque this past Monday. If it wasn’t for the lengthy introduction of the film I would have missed the first 15 minutes due to Cleveland’s construction detours, which seem to be every other block.

The film was nothing short of amazing. Sometimes I read the descriptions of films and they come off as lukewarm…I felt this way when reading the description of Killer of Sheep, but it was so highly recommended I figured I had to see it.

Killer of Sheep is set in the 1970s Watts neighborhood of LA. It’s a wandering, expressive film with beautiful imagery and memorable, iconic characters. The tired look on Stan’s face (played by Henry G. Sanders) is reflected throughout the film…in one scene Stan and his friend drive to pick up a automobile motor at a house perched on a very steep hill. They manage to haul the engine out of the house and load it into the truck, but they decide not to push it further back into the truck bed. When they take off the engine falls out and is ruined. They drive off leaving the engine in the street…

Much of the film depicts the lives of children in the community their boundless energy juxtaposing Stan’s sapped strength…does hope exist that these kids will escape Stan’s fate? Not sure that is answered. The final scene is of Stan at his job in the slaughterhouse herding the sheep toward their doom. It’s a disturbing scene made all the more disturbing by the song “This Bitter Earth”, by Dinah Washington playing in the background and what I perceived to be Stan’s willful and maybe even enthusiastic complicity in sending the sheep to slaughter.

The film will be released on DVD by Milestone Films. It’s been declared a national treasure by the Library of Congress…well worth your time.

Leave a Reply