Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"KILLER OF SHEEP" AND "HOT FUZZ" -- I just saw the astounding 1977 film "Killer of Sheep" at Cinema 21 in Portland. Shot in the early 1970s in Watts as Charles Burnett's MFA master's thesis and later hailed by critics as a masterpiece, it has never been released theatrically until now. Lovingly restored, it is a profound visual poem depicting poverty and listlessness among urban African-Americans, both timeless and perfectly expressing its time. Filmed on a shoestring budget with a mostly amateur cast, it has been compared to the great Italian neorealist films ("The Bicycle Thief" came to mind while I was watching it)--but struck me as more stark, less sentimental. It focuses, intermittently, on Stan, a man whose work at a slaughterhouse seems literally to be destroying his soul, requiring him to physicallly enact that destruction on the killing floor. The film doesn't so much tell his story as portray him, his family, and the pace of life for their community, with a clear-eyed gaze that seems both compassionate and dispassionate. Burnett shot the film himself, and dozens of the images he captured caught my breath with their off-kilter candor. It will be at Cinema 21 for two more days; with any luck it will be carried over somewhere and then will be released on DVD. It is not to be missed.

Here's a link the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nXw-8MXhVE
You can also read about the film at www.killerofsheep.com.

On a much, much lighter note, don't miss "Hot Fuzz," the funniest film since "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." It's made by the same guys who made "Shaun of the Dead," a hilarious spoof on zombie films. This is one example of independent filmmakers making something even better after being handed a bigger budget; this film is so funny that you'll miss lots of the jokes because you're still laughing at the ten that just went past. It simultaneously spoofs cop buddy films and all those quaint English comedies set in charming little villages populated by eccentric oldsters. You needn't be a fan of either genre to catch the humor, though if you are you'll laugh even harder. These guys are as clever as they come.

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