Killer of Sheep (1978)
1970s Los Angeles, young black kids playing in the dusty streets, punks stealing TVs, families working to get by. Killer of Sheep is a slow and simple portrait of life in the LA slums, but a carefully considered one. The camera doesn’t move all that much and the edit is minimal, almost lazy. It’s poetic in its realism. Stan works in a slaughterhouse. The sequences in which we witness his day there are intimate, with the feeling of a musical interlude. There’s no score with most of the film left in stark silence, depicting the honest but impoverished environment. Stan works hard. Kids make their own entertainment. Paul Robeson occasionally joins the soundtrack. Stan is an honest man, decent and proud, but struggling with his depressing world and an inability to get a grip on his emotions at home. I can’t say it’s an enjoyable watch. It feels private and watching it voyeuristic, but there’s some interesting shots and it’s easy to feel empathy for Stan, his family and his world filled with hurt and the harsh realities of getting by. There’s no flash. No glamour. Very little 70s swagger. Everyone’s in the same boat. There may be money somewhere, but it’s far from here. Leaving our cast trying to make a little extra money. Trying to spend a nice day with the family. Always trying, but it’s hard. I’m glad it’s shot in black and white, even without the colour, some of the slaughterhouse scenes are pretty punchy. That’s the whole premise here though, not to pull any punches, so say it how it is, no embellishments. There are a few needle drops of sweet soulful songs that give this a little lift on occasion, but if Charles Burnett is trying to tell us anything, it’s that life here can be a slow grinding slog.