Outstreched arm

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Killer of Sheep is, alas, no classic

I really don't want to be mean to Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep. I don't hold a grudge against the movie; it didn't upset or offend me. But even if the hype hadn't been so hyped, and even if the expectations hadn't been so high, the movie would've done the same to me: bored me to death.

It's a detached, semi-documentary depiction of life in the Watts in the late 70s. That's about all that's clear about it. It proceeds as a mix of student-film footage, complete with entire scenes set to soul and jazz standards, and very clumsily scripted, acted, and directed vignettes which aim to capture the lives of honest folk in an unfair world. The aim is sincere, but it misses the mark of realism - and most of the time, it misses the targeted emotional impact as well. The student-filminess brings that charming naiveté to many of the setups, and the grainy, muddy photography is often touching; however, it's just as often dull and needlessly opaque.

What all this reminded me of the most is Scorsese's Who's That Knocking At My Door, another amateurish film bursting with developing talent and riddled with cringing mistakes. Killer of Sheep is an important document, in many ways. But it's a sheep in a feature length's movie skin, and as such, it's barely competent, let alone impressive.

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