7.4/10
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36 user 92 critic

Killer of Sheep (1978)

Set in the Watts area of Los Angeles, a slaughterhouse worker must suspend his emotions to continue working at a job he finds repugnant, and then he finds he has little sensitivity for the family he works so hard to support.

Director:

Charles Burnett

Writer:

Charles Burnett

On Disc

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3 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Henry G. Sanders ... Stan (as Henry Gayle Sanders)
Kaycee Moore ... Stan's Wife
Charles Bracy Charles Bracy ... Bracy
Angela Burnett ... Stan's Daughter
Eugene Cherry Eugene Cherry ... Eugene
Jack Drummond ... Stan's Son
Slim Slim
Delores Farley Delores Farley
Dorothy Stengel Dorothy Stengel
Tobar Mayo Tobar Mayo
Chris Terrill Chris Terrill
Lawrence Pierott Lawrence Pierott
Russell Miles Russell Miles
Homer Jai Homer Jai
Johnny Smoke Johnny Smoke
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Storyline

Stan works in drudgery at a slaughterhouse. His personal life is drab. Dissatisfaction and ennui keep him unresponsive to the needs of his adoring wife, and he must struggle against influences which would dishonor and endanger him and his family. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official site

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

14 November 1978 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Matador de ovejas See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$100,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$31,728, 6 April 2007, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$404,508

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$456,459
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »

Goofs

After Stan and his friend load the engine block on the truck, they drive away and it falls out, and a car is then seen parked along the curb. The car was not there when they carried the engine out. See more »

Quotes

Man: [first lines]
Man: [to his older son] You let anyone jump on your brother again, and you just stand and watch - boy, I'll beat you to death! I don't care who started what, or whether he was winnin' or losin'; well, you get a thick oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, a goddam brick, get *anything*, and you knock the shit out of whoever fightin' your brother! 'Cause if anything was to happen to me or your mother, you ain't got nobody except your brother. And this goes for him, too - and he knows! You're the one that keep ...
[...]
See more »

Connections

Featured in Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) See more »

Soundtracks

Solace
Written by Scott Joplin
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User Reviews

 
An observatory masterpiece
15 April 2007 | by za-andresSee all my reviews

Around the seventies, when films like Annie Hall, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Saturday Night Fever ruled the age, Charles Burnett silently crafted Killer of Sheep, his thesis film for UCLA. Thirty years it has eluded us—that is, until now. The result, although aging those thirty-years, is a masterpiece; an authentic and one of a kind piece of raw American poetry that simply and silently observes life in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles.

An unshakable and insightful study of citizens living right above the poverty level, Killer of Sheep is both open-ended and observatory. The magnificent fly-on-the-wall observes the life of a slaughterhouse worker, Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), who grapples daily with poverty, misbehaving children, and the allure of violence. Stan is a simple guy, diligent, smart, and fatigued. He has a family including two kids, both entirely the opposite of the other. Stan's daughter (Angela Burnett, the director's child—one of the most preternaturally talented performers I have ever seen) is the playful and learning type, while the other—his son—is never home, discourteous, and always getting himself into trouble. The characterization in Killer of Sheep is both extraordinarily untouched, but it is meticulously observed and felt; every single character—although not all are important—has an underlying purpose and reason for being where they are.

The camera work in Killer of Sheep, much like the film itself, is perfect, like if one could be observing the town through his/her DV camcorder. Shooting in 16 millimeter and operating it himself, Burnett's camera observes everything, and is seemingly everywhere. Everything is important too, because every close-up and tracking shot only brings us closer to the undistinguished characters themselves; the more the camera observes, the more one feels closer to them.

Burnett shot Killer of Sheep over a series of weekends on a shoestring budget of just under $20,000, using friends and relatives as actors. This needn't be a reason to demean the film; if anything, one must take it as a sheer pleasure: the acting of his family members essentially makes the film beautiful sans outside reason, making it truly fathomable. Yet again, Burnett's camera simply observes; much like the Italian neo-realism age, Killer of Sheep's milieu speaks for itself—one could even call it American neo-realism.

At its core, Killer of Sheep is masterfully comprised of evident economic denial, hidden desire, and pure living; in other words: untainted life. There are many scenes in Killer of Sheep that demonstrate this; the most memorable demonstrating the cruelty of Stan's son towards his sister: while Stan drinks coffee at his table with a neighbor, his son aggressively asks his daughter where his bee-bee gun is. The daughter, wearing an unforgettable dog mask, shrugs. The response from the brother is, of course, hurting her. Stan gets up and starts chasing the son; he's already out the door.

In 1990, Burnett's opus magnum was declared a national treasure by Congress. 17 years later, it has finally gotten a spot on the big screen, a DVD release date also due for later in the year. Easily one of the finest observational films ever made, Killer of Sheep more than lives up to its official designation as a national treasure: it lives up to life itself.


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