86. “Killer of Sheep”, Charles Burnett (1978)

Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Killer of Sheep

Killer of Sheep

dir, scr, cin. Charles Burnett (1978) with Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy, Angela Burnett

In 100 words: Notoriously difficult to find, Sheep had earned its legendary cult status in spite of or maybe because of its profound simplicity. A throwback to Italian neorealism, but with a distinctly American tone and subject, Burnett’s masterpiece of African American cinema exhumes the everyday mundanity of lives unfulfilled but lived with dignity. His camera magnificently captures faces, eyes, and bodies in stark monochrome, while his carefully curated music expresses the joys, sorrows, and love that fill these people’s lives. Poetically edited, unexpectedly funny, and quietly devastating, Sheep remains a landmark feature that ought to be experienced by everyone at least once.

Other Movies for Context: Charles Burnett’s film is so difficult to find, but remains one of the greatest films to explore African American lives, without dwelling on the stereotypes that the genre has been inundated with. Three movies come to mind immediately when I think of Burnett’s movie: Denzel Washington’s Fences (2016), Michael Roemer’s Nothing But a Man (1964), and David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000). These three offer enormously satisfying experiences because, per Viola Davis, they exhume the people who dreamed and never got anywhere. I love them all.

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