Episode 5: charles Burnett
An intimate interview with Charles Burnett, the director of 'Killer of Sheep'
Critic Terrence Rafferty of GQ called Killer of Sheep "one of the most striking debuts in movie history." In this episode of The Drunk Projectionist film podcast, I interview Charles Burnett, writer/director of this important — and visually stunning — film.
Killer of Sheep examines the black Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse. Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a teacup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife, holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life — sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.
The film was shot in roughly a year of weekends on a budget of less than $10,000, paid for partially by a $3,000 grant, and also out of the pocket of Burnett himself. Shot on location, the film offers an episodic narrative with gritty documentary-style cinematography.
— Todd Melby
THE BURNETT FILE
• Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1943 and moved to Los Angeles with his family at an early age.
• Attended John C. Freemont High School in Los Angeles and the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA).
• Killer of Sheep won the critic's prize at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival and was named to the U.S. Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1990.
• According to Sally Hubbard, who wrote the program notes to the film at the 10th Festival of Preservation, "Killer of Sheep was almost impossible to see for many years, and was available only on poor quality 16mm prints. This 35mm restoration was made from the deteriorated original 16mm negative, and 16mm and 35mm soundtracks."
• Other Burnett films include My Brother’s Wedding (1984), To Sleep with Anger (1990) starring Danny Glover and The Glass Shield (1994), starring Michael Boatman, Ice Cube and Elliott Gould.
• To Sleep With Anger added to the National Film Registry in 2017. "I’m so happy for the people who believed in the film," Burnett said of To Sleep With Anger. "I’m thankful that the film reached so many people in a good way. I hope this means that people will be able to see the film for a long time to come and will still be meaningful.”
• Awarded an honorary Academy Award at the 2017 Governors Awards in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, California.