Saturday, September 17, 2011
Killer of Sheep
Today I watched Killer of Sheep, directed by Charles Burnett in 1981. It's a really great film for a lot of reasons, but was sort of slow and sleepy to watch early on a Saturday. I really liked the cinematography, the quiet, sad message, the realism of it. It felt like a documentary, but also like an Italian Neo-Realist film. It focused on everyday life, on normal, average people, and had the slow pace that life really can have.
The film follows Stan, who works in a slaughterhouse killing sheep. Daily life is boring and repetitive, and full of hardships. Scenes of Stan's children, Stan Jr. and Angela, playing in the streets with other kids are intercut with scenes of Stan's job at the slaughterhouse. The film goes no where, because their lives are going no where. It's all very sad, it's very powerful since it's so quiet about it's message.
I think it would be boring to talk about how maybe there is a connection between the images of the sheep and the images of the children. Some people are able to rise above the poverty they are born in, but others, sadly, cannot - and it's vaguely interesting to note that the children and sheep both are unaware that they potentially may be going nowhere with their lives. I don't know if that's the intended message, but it's one that I picked up on at some point, but it's obvious and not really worth discussing further. Plus, as white middle class woman, I think I'm not really qualified to speak on this subject.
I really loved the cinematography, and the way that the director seemed to be able to capture beautiful and real performances from these actors. The soundtrack, which Ebert mentions delayed the release of the film because it was too expensive to buy the rights to, is perfect in combination with all of these other things. It just so easily creates a snapshot of life, of a particular era and culture. It's made with great care and attention, and it shows. It really offers a glimpse into a part of life that many of us do not see - and it's important for us to.
As much as I liked the movie, I don't know that I'd personally own it or watch it again, or even recommend it to others, just because it's not the easiest movie to watch (sheep slaughter aside, it's slow paced and not obvious about how one should interpret it or interact with it). I could see that it was clearly masterful and great - the story is amazing and one that I think is extremely important to see and understand. A lot of people have prejudiced ideas about what poverty is like, formed from watching the news and hearing about violence and such things. But as Ebert writes in his essay, "Poverty in the ghetto is not the guns and drugs we see on TV. It is more often like life in this movie: Good, honest, hard-working people trying to get by, keep up their hopes, love their children and get a little sleep," (Great Movies III, 204).
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Killer of Sheep
Buy it on Amazon