Killer of Sheep

New 35mm BAMPFA Collection Print

  • Introduction

    Ruth Gebreyesus, a writer and producer based in the Bay Area, is currently cocurator of Black Life, a multidisciplinary art and film series at BAMPFA.


Henry Gayle Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy, Angela Burnett,

“A great—the greatest—cinematic tone poem of American urban life” (David Edelstein, New York Magazine), Burnett’s Killer of Sheep evokes the everyday trials, fragile pleasures, and tenacious humor of blue-collar African Americans in 1970s Watts. Burnett made the film on a minuscule budget, with a mostly nonprofessional cast, combining keen on-the-street observation with a carefully crafted script. The episodic plot centers on the character of Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), a slaughterhouse worker mired in exhaustion and disconnected from his wife, his children, and himself. Stan and his neighbors struggle just to get by, let alone get ahead; as befits a Los Angeles movie, vehicular metaphors of breakdown abound. Only the kids, leaping from roof to roof, seem to achieve a mobility that eludes their elders. “More than anything, Burnett grasps the task of the director as one of inventing surprising, eloquent, forceful gestures—which is why the slow-dance scene between the bare-chested but strangely alienated Stan and his wife, trembling with amorous emotion, is the single most-recalled moment from Killer of Sheep, or indeed Burnett’s entire, prodigious, multi-faceted career to date” (Adrian Martin).

Black Life Film Program Sponsor: Julie Simpson

Juliet Clark
  • Charles Burnett
  • Charles Burnett
Print Info
  • B&W
  • 35mm
  • 81 mins