Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pantheon movie of the month - KILLER OF SHEEP - Come Armageddon

KILLER OF SHEEP is a sensitively observed, picaresque film chronicling the life of a hard-working black man in the roughest part of LA in 1977. Shot simply on black and white 16mm, the movie follows Stan, a slaughterhouse worker, as he scrapes together a living. His jobs drain him of energy. The kids are acting out. And all the time he keeps telling himself that he isn't poor. A moment of romance is shared with his wife, as they slow-dance to a beautiful Clyde Otis song performed by Dinah Washington. A peaceful interlude between scenes of animals herded into the slaughterhouse, kids throwing stones at trains, and men and women being ground down. The woman seems to realise this as her husband leaves and she's framed in front of a back-lit window in silhouette. The music merges into Rachmaninov.

The beautiful framing, the sensitive use of music, the ability to observe without seeming voyeuristic or exploitative, the ability to make a powerful political statement without being didactic or angry....KILLER OF SHEEP is a pantheon movie for all these reasons.

The folklore comes as extra. That this film is the graduation movie of a UCLA student, shot on a shoestring budget, with non-professional actors on weekends, makes it all the more extraordinary. It's reputation built among critics, and it has now been restored and released as a feature, the music rights paid for. Thanks be to the gods of film that this movie survived.

KILLER OF SHEEP was shot in 1977 but only played Berlin (where it won the Fipresci prize) and Toronto in 1981.

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