Nothing prepared me for the ferocity, the liveliness, the wall-to-wall richness. I was expecting something good, something special, but I wasn't expecting this.
Did I say "wall-to-wall richness"? Well, scratch that--because so many of the shots in Killer of Sheep (as in Colossal Youth, a film it resembles in a lot of ways) are composed and framed so as to usually show a hint of an adjoining space, not numbered and containable walls--characters seen through a doorway so that you can see the edges of white walls in the foreground; a messy room in the background; a stairwell; a neighbor's back yard; almost always there is an intimation of something else, the camera head-on and attuned to the horizontal network of space, the connectedness of the social universe, of this portrayed community; few shots of just people framed against a wall or the ground or the sky. Think it's all no big deal? Then consider too the use of sound in the film, which also links images, grabs them together and forces the images sometimes into a contemplation of a sound in a stream, like the amazing out-of-nowhere sequence (210% inspired poetry) where the mother (Stan's wife) is, I think, fixing herself up while her daughter sits on the floor (was it in a bathroom? was there a tub behind her?) and listens to music, singing along to it, her arms outstretched, the music uniting the spaces of the mother and daughter until the two finally interact ... my jaw kept dropping at moments like this, I kept craning my neck forward because I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
And it all seems so effortless. No wonder what little I'd always heard about the film (I never tried to research it, waiting for the chance to see it screened first) seemed to leave little impression ... how do you put into words everything this film does? The first few minutes of the film, I was thinking, "OK, this is a really interesting application of certain Italian neorealist strategies to a different milieu." A few minutes later I was convinced that this had to be one of the most complex, deceptively simple, films that I've ever seen. This film (like Rossellini) goes way beyond any sort of program of realism, neorealism, social realism ... but formal/political strategies historically categorized or read as forms of realism are still just subsumed by the broader vision of life, of community and experience, this film presents. I have to revisit To Sleep with Anger, which is great, but no doubt I missed a ton of information in my only viewing, years ago. I have to rummage through my video collection and finally watch the few other Burnett titles I've got. Is Burnett really, contra Spike Lee, the "real" Great Black American Filmmaker? I don't know. (I do know that I haven't seen a Lee film that, to me, approaches this one by Burnett.) But we don't really need to hold contests, give awards, and enshrine father figures in order to appreciate this expression, this labor of love ...
When my friend and I got out of the theater we just gasped at each other, eyes wide.
I could go on and on, without saying much of anything. Maybe I'll be able to get into this film, the reasons for its richness, its political significance, more in the future. I don't even know. Anyway, the restored film is very likely coming to a theater near you (in America, at least) if it hasn't already. And it's supposed to come out on DVD later. See it.