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12.19.07

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Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection

Milestone; $39.95


Thirty-three-year-old director Charles Burnett made his 1977 indie film Killer of Sheep for around $15,000 on 16 mm. This film was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1990 and became perhaps the most important restoration of 2007 when it was blown up to 35 mm by the UCLA Film Archive, with a little help from the Stanford Theatre Foundation. It is now clear that the roster of the 1970s renaissance filmmakers—Scorsese, Coppola, Altman, De Palma—needs to include Burnett. Stan (Henry Gale Sanders) has lost his ability to sleep; he has a soul-killing job that he can't afford to lose. His best friend, Bracy (Charles Bracy), tries to cheer hum up, without luck. Stan is also distanced from his unnamed wife (Kaycee Moore) and his child, Stan Jr. (Jack Drummond). Visually, Burnett puts his seal on L.A.'s Watts—a sandy, distant railroad-crossed prairie with oases of lush plants—as surely as Jean Vigo put his seal on fog and canal boats in France. Uninterested in melodrama, Burnett shows the gentleness that surpasses all oppression. The set includes a perceptive essay by critic Armond White; before and after versions of Burnett's lost feature My Brother's Wedding (1983/2007), now restored by the PFA; and an interesting new two-scene short about Hurricane Katrina, Quiet As Kept. This affectionate dialogue among a weary cash-strapped family is the antithesis of a sitcom. (Richard von Busack)


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