Sunday, 15 August 2010

'What does it remind you of when you hold it next to your cheek? '

Killer of Sheep
Charles Burnett
(1977 UCLA)

Charle Burnett's wonderful ode to his home town Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles. The camera dances through this black community and you simply observe people living. The film has no real narrative, we are with Stan, he works in a slaughter house, and has a wife and two children – we see him work, shop and eat. I don't know what it means or how it feels to be black and working class in L.A in the 70's, but Burnett's vignettes of this community draw you in to this world – details and moments of urban life you wouldn't get in a standard linear narrative. Like; Stan's wife doing her make up, the couple dancing to together, the children playing around the streets – every moment of these scenes are astounding.

Dinah Washington, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong and Earth, Wind and Fire work brilliantly with the innate images of the Watts community. Along with beautiful documentary pseudo 16mm hand held camera work, everything about the film gives a heightened sense of realism. Burnett made the film his thesis film for his UCLA MFA, and he says a lot of his contemporaries were also interested in making films about the working class, but none took this pioneering approach of Burnett-who obviously knew what it meant to be black in America at this time - the majority of the cast in this film are his friends. This film documents brilliantly life in America, observe its beauty.

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