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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

KILLER OF SHEEP (1973/released in ’77)

Thirteen years before Spike Lee began hyperventilating with SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT/’86 and eighteen years before John Singleton camouflaged his conventionality in BOYZ N THE HOOD/’91, Charles Burnett earned the directorial Great Black Hope label for this striking debut . . . and no one went to see it. Working in a loosely structured form that’s half Neo-Realism and half Blues, this look into the lives of a lower middle-class Afro-American* family struggling to make a go of their lives in the depressed environment of post-riot Watts, CA, is rough & revelatory, yet anything but a downer. Burnett has the insightful eyes of a local, not a visitor, so that he captures the beauty along with the pain. Alas, his superb film remains all but impossible to tout. If only it didn’t sound so worthy, like a Sundance audience Award winner. Worse was to come as Burnett fumbled his follow up pic (see below) and what should have been the beginning of a major film career now seems a footnote.

*And yes, that was the PC terminology in '73.

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