Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection (Milestone Films DVD) 

Directed by Charles Burnett

I’m not sure what to add to the praise to get people to see Killer of Sheep, so maybe it’s time to roll out the blurbs: if you buy one DVD this year, make it this one. Milestone pairs Charles Burnett’s 1977 Watts poem, a lock on this year’s top-ten lists, with his second film, My Brother’s Wedding, and a trio of typically distilled shorts. Watching Killer of Sheep again uncovers more layers to the black-and-white compositions and subtleties of tone in the South Central pastiche around Stan, a slaughterhouse worker with a marrow-deep ache. On a scene level, Burnett’s graceful touch with the ebb and flow of people hanging out and greeting each other, and with kids playing, is miraculous without ever intruding. (“If I just put it together out of things that happened...” Burnett muses on the commentary, about his goal of sympathetic objectivity.)

Engine blocks, plumbing, cracked cups — people in Burnett’s films spend a lot of time worrying at broken things. Something’s stuck in lanky 30-year-old Pierce in Wedding, too, torn between loyalty to an ex-con childhood friend and his family, crossing classes for his brother’s marriage. With a bit more artifice to the acting, but focused, Wedding is a vital portrait tinged with humor but edged by the young man’s pent-up, ineffectual resentment. The Friday-night-at-home short “Several Friends” could be an outtake from Killer of Sheep, while “The Horse” finds Burnett turning to a Western-like setting in an elliptical piece with the bite of a short story; “When It Rains” is pitched to the all-good rambling voice of an urban griot.

Available November 13


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