Next week, the phenomenal Killer of Sheep opens, a 1977 movie at last hitting the theaters in the larger markets in the US. Killer of Sheep demonstrates the importance of director/writer Charles Burnett as both an independent filmmaker and an American artist. An African-American artist, to add that part of it, since well-meaning critics like to give Burnett the distinction of being the best African-American filmmaker ever. It's a new century, so let's dispense with such categorization. Burnett's qualities are more universal than parochial. True, his films are loaded with specific meanings that elude the white viewer. I still remember the gasp of shock a lady friend made when she saw a scene in To Sleep With Anger; her family was Creole from north Texas, and so she knew how tremendously disrespectful it was when a little boy let a broom touch the feet of Danny Glover's Harry.
What could be worst that to try to sweep someone away as if they were dust? And in Killer of Sheep, like To Sleep With Anger, the word "drylongso" comes up; meaning nothing has changed, probably nothing will ever change. And sometimes the word means "as if everything were normal." ("I can't just chase him out, drylongso."). Now, as Albert Brooks said in Real Life, "I'm not black, nor do I claim to be." I don't get it all, but I insist Burnett is too big to be bound by identity politics. He's a filmmaker for the world, with Ozu's ability to depict the tender side of disappointment, and--in Killer of Sheep, he has Jean Vigo's dreamy silvery imagery conveying the hopeless longing for elsewhere.