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Killer of Sheep (DVD)

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To Be Announced / DVD released 2008-10-20 at Bfi / Features of the DVD: PAL

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      12.11.2012 23:06
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      Thoughtful low budget film about suburban survival

      Perhaps the strangely most intriguing element of this film is that the director, Charles Burnett, created the film for a pittance, $10k, and intended on using it primarily for his thesis at University. It's a stark look at the negativity of back street life in Watts, downtown LA. Shot in black and white, it flows naturally, choosing as its stars a motley crew of seemingly unrelated characters and sequences of events. Cinematic Oscar winning material it is not, but something that seems oh so very homemade, natural and riveting is certainly the case.

      It's basic, and the acting is almost diabolical at times, but there is something so raw and pure about the whole presentation that you can tell it's a personal attempt at portraying the poor and meek side of life in the 1970s and not just the glitz and glam that film usually gives us. Even the commercial films that focus on negative elements usually carry with them something glossy to coat over it. This does nothing of the sort.

      Notable throughout are the backing sounds. There are long periods with no speech, the only sounds being the natural ones picked up by the camera. Where the video jumps from split to split, the audio does to, adding to the natural nature of it. This is interspersed with an awesome soundtrack of beats, tracks that were not legally allowed to be released in a film of this nature until only a few years ago. Burnett's direction has been likened to many well known directors for his wide variety of styles throughout, but the weird thing is that it seems as if the style remains constant all the way through.

      The biggest comparison is to Italian neorealism, where there's a sense of seeing what is actually happening and it almost being documentary-like in content and presentation. Directors such as Roberto Rossellini and John Cassavetes are the sort of names banded around where this film is concerned, and you can sort of see why. Non professional actors are the order of the day, whereas the majority of the performances are very natural. There are some stuttery moments and the acting isn't exactly award winning material, but there's something that makes you want to root for the unjoined downtrodden heroes of the film, and the film features the single most interesting piece of car repair work I've seen, with the importance of a second hand engine never been more profound, even if it's not supposed to be.

      This is a thought provoking film, lauded more for the simplicity and effect this gives rather than for its amazing style or comparison with other films. This is anything but a blockbuster, quite the opposite in fact, but it gives you an insight into the natural style of filmmaking and how one man's determination and a small budget can create something that has been preserved for being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant, and it's believed that this is to do with its portrayal of how the black inhabitants of the suburbs stay alive and support themselves despite everything working against them; and also for how Burnett manages to match an awesome and well known soundtrack with little known low budgets visuals. Skill.

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