Killer of Sheep (1978)    3 Stars


Killer of Sheep (1978)
Killer of Sheep (1978)


Director: Charles Burnett

Cast: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy

Synopsis: In Watts, an urban and mostly African-American section of Los Angeles, Stan spends his days toiling away at a local slaughterhouse. His macabre profession seeps into his personal life as he struggles to keep his family afloat and content.






The chequered history of Killer of Sheep – unable to obtain a general (or limited) release because of its use of music without obtaining permission – means that it hasn’t been as widely seen as it undoubtedly should have been. That’s a situation that seems to have been put right, with the film now being broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic.

It’s filmed like a documentary, and you can almost believe you’re watching a fly-on-the-wall reality programme.   There’s no plot as such, just a momentary look at the life of a black family living close to the poverty line in the 1970s Watts projects.   The camera simply films without judgement, recording the everyday worries and concerns of ordinary people whose difficult life sees them flirt with crime.   There’s a strange kind of beauty in Charles Burnett’s cinematography (he also wrote and directed) that owes a lot to the use of black-and-white film.   The decay and dismay are evident in the shots of kids playing in urban wastelands and adults toiling in an abattoir, but there’s also evidence of a quiet dignity, something which is enhanced by Burnett’s inspired choice of soundtrack music.

(Reviewed 5th March 2012)

Rent Home Entertainment, Kitchen Appliances and Technology at Dial-a-TV