Killer of Sheep

USA 1978. Dir: Charles Burnett. 80 min. DCP

“An American masterpiece, independent to the bone.”

For decades, Charles Burnett’s astonishing film debut was a secret, whispered-about masterwork of American cinema. Completed in 1977 but shelved due to complications around music licensing — it features songs by top-dollar artists Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, and Earth, Wind and Fire — in 2007 it was rescued from obscurity and released, thanks in part to financial support from Steven Soderbergh. A sensitive, neorealist portrait of a disaffected African-American slaughterhouse worker raising a family in Watts, L.A., the film — Burnett’s MFA thesis for UCLA — is an object lesson in ingenuity, belying its meagre student budget with gorgeous, handheld 16mm cinematography, a bold, elliptical approach to storytelling, and trained-eye moments of disarming lyrical power. (The image of impoverished children throwing rubble is memory-searing.) Upon wide release, the film was met with a chorus of praise and overdue inclusion in best-of lists, including being named one of the 100 Essential Films by the U.S.'s National Society of Film Critics.



"One of cinema's greatest evocations of everyday life ... [A] perfect film."

Time Out | full review