African-American independent filmmaker Charles Burnett receives long-overdue recognition with this regal two-DVD set of his prime works, most notably his masterpiece Killer of Sheep.
Completed in 1977 as Burnett's UCLA thesis project, the black-and-white, low-budget film is a revelation -- a beautifully poetic yet natural and realistic look at life in the post-riot Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, made in an era when blaxploitation epics defined the black cinematic experience. With an immediacy rivaling the Italian neo-realists and a striking soundtrack of old Blues numbers, Gershwin, Paul Robeson and Earth, Wind and Fire, the film provides snapshots of an everyday man who works in a slaughterhouse to provide for his family. Exhausted by his job, money woes and life in general, he finds comfort in seemingly minor simplicities -- a warm cup of coffee against his cheek, holding his wife close during a slow dance in the dark -- while children play funny amongst the washed-out urbanity. Though chosen for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, Killer of Sheep never received a proper theatrical run, which makes this release all the more precious. The bonus features that flesh out this set are notable, among them the 1983 version and 2007 director's cut of Burnett's unreleased bittersweet feature My Brother's Wedding and four career-spanning shorts. Essential. (Phil Morehart) Grade: A