The holidays bring time off, and with it the chance to catch up on some cinema classics. And while Citizen Kane is always a safe bet, we suggest an American masterwork that you probably haven’t seen a half-dozen times already — Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep.
Shot as a series of stark, stunning black-and-white images, Killer of Sheep follows its own rhythm — part blues, part dream — to tell of the everyday struggles of Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), a California slaughterhouse worker. Although it has been compared to works by everyone from Vittorio DeSica to Satyajit Ray to Robert Frank, the film is a wholly original work of art — less a movie than a visual poem (albeit one with a fantastic soundtrack).
Completed in 1977 as part of Burnett’s UCLA master’s thesis, Killer of Sheep has rarely been screened over the ensuing 30 years, yet it still made the National Society of Film Critics’ list of “100 Essential Films” — right next to that old “Rosebud” movie. And now, for the first time, it’s available on DVD.
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