Now is as good a time as any to climb aboard this week’s traction-gaining Killer of Sheep bandwagon. All of the words used to describe this one-of-a-kind American masterwork (including “dreamlike,” neorealist,” “gritty,” and a host of other words that desperately try to set up some sort of visual or generic equivalent that just might not exist) can’t quite grasp Burnett’s utterly unpretentious, artistically pure approach. It’s audacious yet never pushes for effect; it seems to contain a world of sadness in its every breath yet it so fully understands its milieu that it never needs to emphasize it with overextended melancholy or melodramatics.
We’ve been singing its praises for a while at Reverse Shot (as in Chris Wisniewski’s 2006 piece, which you can read here) with much more to come this week. And we couldn’t be more pleased that not only is this film finally being released in a new 35mm print after over thirty years of being little more than a whisper on the lips of many but that it’s also become something of a cause for film critics to rally around. J. Hoberman’s lovely piece in the Village Voice this week stated, rightfully, “In retrospect, it can be seen that the two great independent features of the late '70s were Killer of Sheep and Eraserhead,” while Nathan Lee got the ball rolling in his spring preview a few weeks back by exclaiming: “The film of the season, if not the year.” Time Out gave the film its coveted six stars (lol) this week, and even Entertainment Weekly couldn’t help but sneak it in between 300 shout-outs: “Killer of Sheep is one of those marvels of original moviemaking that keeps hope of artistic independence alive.”
It’s all good news--aside from an alarmingly wrongheaded capsule in L magazine by Jesse Sweet that deems the film a “neo-realist silent comedy talkie” (WTF?) and manages to mention in its Donald Bogle-esque opening paragraph that the film incorporates the “trends” of “urban tragedy” and the parallel “comedy in the hood that runs from Amos N’ Andy through Dave Chappelle” (eek, why, oh, why did you have to go there, Jesse?). Oh and I didn’t realize that “the film alternates between feral children in the alley and the adults’ constant search to hustle up some more action.” So, one of the most sensitive and tactile and honest films ever made by an African-American filmmaker is really about two things first and foremost: “feral children” and adult “hustlers.” Like, ravenous beasts and pimps? Wow. Double-wow.
Annnnyway, I digress (two phenomenal Reverse Shot staff writers have been regular critics there for some time, and the film editors at L have been on a singularly impressive upward climb ever since the biweekly’s induction a few years back in terms of amassing fresh voices, so forgive and forget?). Oh, by the way, it got four out of five L’s.
To look on the bright side, critics are doing their job, not trying to one up each other with a cute turn of phrase but to get the motherfucking point across: Go see Killer of Sheep. Will it be this year’s Army of Shadows, i.e. a sensation created by waves of critical adoration and the senselessness of its long unavailability? One can only hope.