Aestheticized poverty is always a risky proposition, but Killer of Sheep is miles from style for style's sake: its nebulous, contradictory beauty reaches out to touch the full variety of experience, leaving the audience to feel everything at once.
In the film's centerpiece (strikingly paralleled in Lynne Ramsay's memory of underdevelopment, 1999's Ratcatcher), Stan and his wife rock in each other's arms to Dinah Washington's exquisite "This Bitter Earth." It's a scene of stark relief and a perfect summation of the smoky mix of emotions everywhere apparent in Killer of Sheep. "And this bitter earth," Washington intones, "may not be so bitter after all." As with the great blues singers, so too with Burnett the lyrics tell the story, but it's the voice that makes you cry. *
KILLER OF SHEEP
429 Castro, SF