Killer of Sheep

Charles Burnett shot this drama in Watts on weekends in 1972 and 1973, capturing the mood of a neighborhood in gorgeous black-and-white photography. Largely non-narrative, the film returns repeatedly to Stan (Henry G. Sanders), a sheep slaughterer whose sad-sack misadventures are presented with a riveting performance that mixes naturalism and stage acting. Most of the film, though, is occupied with children’s games, the machinations of street thugs, rusting old rail cars and the beauty of rotten linoleum. The soundtrack is also one of the all-time best, featuring Paul Robeson, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong and other 20th-century greats doing ragtime, blues and soul that works against the grain of the gorgeous imagery and depressing short stories. Largely unavailable for the last 30 years, this masterpiece is now on a national tour and finally getting the broad attention it deserves.

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