The slaugh­ter rules

KILLER OF SHEEP Di­rected by Charles Bur­nett. Star­ring Henry G San­ders, Kaycee Moore Club, IFI, Dublin, 83 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

JONATHAN Rosen­baum, the great Amer­i­can critic, has ar­gued that “Charles Bur­nett is the most gifted and im­por­tant black film-maker this coun­try has ever had.” Yet, de­spite Bur­nett’s mighty rep­u­ta­tion, Killer of Sheep, the di­rec­tor’s leg­endary 1977 de­but, has re­mained in­fu­ri­at­ingly dif­fi­cult to see.

Shot over a few week­ends in the Watts dis­trict of Los An­ge­les, this sleepy ex­er­cise in ca­sual re­al­ism made good use of tracks by such artists as Earth Wind & Fire and Paul Robe­son. But, with only a few nick­els left in the pot, Bur­nett couldn’t quite af­ford to pay the li­cens­ing costs for the mu­sic. The film has, con­se­quently, spent much of the last few decades lurk­ing un­watched in the vaults.

Hap­pily, Steven Soder­bergh and his chums have now dug deep and paid for the splen­did reis­sue that ar­rives in the Ir­ish Film In­sti­tute to­day. Shot in grainy black-and­white, Killer of Sheep fol­lows an un­re­mark­able slaugh­ter­house worker as he am­bles through an en­vi­ron­ment which looks as much like an African shanty town as a sub­urb of the sec­ond largest city in the US.

Closer to the dreamy pon­der­ings of cur­rent po­etic nat­u­ral­ists such as David Gor­don Green (a de­clared ad­mirer) than the nois­ier or­gan­ised chaos of vin­tage Ital­ian neo-re­al­ism, Killer of Sheep emerges as a record of an African-Amer­i­can tal­ent who stood out­side all con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous artis­tic move­ments. This es­sen­tial dis­in­ter­ment is set to in­flu­ence a whole new gen­er­a­tion.

Work­ing man: Henry G San­ders in Charles Bur­nett’s Killer of Sheep

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