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Killer Of Sheep
cast: Henry Gayle Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy, and Angela Burnett

director: Charles Burnett

77 minutes (15) 1977
BFI DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Killer of Sheep is a film whose influence and reputation has, until recently, far exceeded its availability to be seen. Shot as a student film, in black and white 16mm, its worth was recognised almost straightaway, but problems over music rights prevented anything but the most basic distribution until a restoration 30 years later.

Burnett's film has little plot, as such, and centres on a black district of Los Angeles, something that simply hadn't been shown on film up to then. Ghettos, drugs and violence were more often the order of the day, especially in the blaxploitation films earlier in the decade. But Burnett is working in a different tradition, influenced by the work of John Cassavetes and the Italian neo-realists. If there is a central character, it's Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), who works in a slaughterhouse - hence the title - and it's his dead-end existence we watch, as well as his interactions with the rest of his family and the local community. All this is shown with neither melodrama nor sentimentality. And there's a strange beauty to the grainy black and white images. Burnett's eye for a shot, even in such a tiny-budget film as this, is undoubted, the sign of a real director at work.

The BFI's edition is in the correct Academy ratio, with the mono soundtrack presented in lossless PCM audio. Subtitles for the hard of hearing are provided. The extras are a commentary by Burnett (in conversation with Richard Pe´┐Ża), an interview with Burnett, his short films Several Friends (1969), and The Horse (1973), and a booklet. (N.B. Killer Of Sheep itself bears a 12 certificate. Some strong language in Several Friends raises the certificate of the overall package to 15.)

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