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Wednesday, May 4th, 2005


Let me first being by saying if you haven’t been to the UCLA film series entitled “Out of the Past: Film Preservation Today” on Wednesday nights….PLEASE go to this in the future.  The series is FREE and it is a great way to learn about the decisions and the process that goes into restoring a film and making it live again.

The feature shown tonight was KILLER OF SHEEP.  I knew nothing about this film going in except that I really liked the title.  I’ve actually purchased many books simply because I liked the title or cover art and so far doing that has never steered me wrong. 

KILLER OF SHEEP was made in the early 70s by UCLA grad student Charles Burnett.  The film was shot on location on the streets of south central Los Angeles, but if you are expecting something like BOYZ IN THE HOOD, you won’t find it here.  Burnett’s film is a thoughtful meditation on an impoverished family whose members are doing the best they can to survive.  The UCLA program notes referred to this film as “a stunning example of American urban neo-realism at its best.”

I would call it a non fiction version of A RAISIN IN THE SUN.  The film is not a plot driven piece but is one that is guided by quiet moments that speak louder than pages of dialogue ever could.  There is one scene where a husband and wife try to have a romantic evening. Judging by the look in their eyes, it is clear that the woman is far more interested than the man is.  He is hesitant even reluctant to be there with her.  It is obvious his mind and possibly heart are elsewhere.  He finally walks away from the dance leaving the woman to look after him with an expression of heartbreak and disappointment in her eyes.  Words aren’t necessary, in fact it would spoil the moment if anything was said in the first place.  A later scene re-affirms the man’s lack of interest when he lights up and becomes animated in the presence of their daughter.  He comes alive briefly for her in a way he never does for his wife.  Again, no words are exchanged here but she knows…..the pained look in her eyes says so.

Another scene that works really well in the film is when two men try to purchase a motor and put it in a truck.  Their struggle is reminicent of a Laurel & Hardy short as they haul it into the truck only to have it fall off and break in the street.  It seems that motor is a symbol of something larger (like their dreams) failing to sustain any momentum. 

The score for the film consisted of a bunch of terrific jazz tunes.  They fit the emotional beats of the film perfectly.

Overall KILLER OF SHEEP is a haunting and beautiful portrait of people struggling against not only poverty but each other.  This film captures a place, a group of people and a time in history that is every bit as potent now as it was 3 decades ago when the film was made. 

Written by Karie (site owner) on 05/04 at 01:22 AM

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