Back in the '70s, a group of African American UCLA film school graduates became known as the L.A. Rebellion because, never thinking their films would get distribution, they never bowed to commercial pressures when they created their work. Chief among them was Charles Burnett, whose black-and-white UCLA thesis film Killer of Sheep used people from his own working-class Watts neighborhood both in front of and behind the camera. It's the story of a slaughterhouse worker struggling to hold his family together against a backdrop of poverty, misbehaving children, and alluring violence. When Burnett finished it in 1974, he had no idea what kind of turbulent life the movie would have. Given a limited release in 1978, then celebrated at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival and the (pre-Sundance) United States Film Festival, it was one of the first films designated a national treasure by the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Since then, the movie has rarely been screened and hasn't been released on video, mainly because of music-rights issues for songs used in the film--specifically a Dinah Washington version of "Unforgettable." That's why I was going to tell you to run out and see Killer of Sheep when it played for a week at the Grand Illusion. Unfortunately, I just found out that its run has been canceled. The print won't be making its way to Seattle, because a "cease and desist" order has been handed to the distributor. Here's the good news: Apparently some company is investing something like 10 times the movie's original budget not only to clear the music rights but also to strike a 35mm print and release it on video/DVD. We're just going to have to wait a little bit longer to see it here in Seattle.
Killer of Sheep was going to be playing in a double feature with David Gordon Green's George Washington, so now it'll just be a solo run of GW. My initial reaction to this movie was mixed--its beautiful imagery and engaging small-town setting are marred by some decidedly amateur acting. Since I liked Green's follow-up All the Real Girls quite a bit, it may very well be time for me to reevaluate my position on this film.
Meanwhile, the parade of local directors continues with the Little Theatre's screening of Sarah George's Catching Out (Sat-Sun July 5-6). I caught this documentary on modern-day train-hoppers at SIFF 2002 and remember liking it. Here's your chance to see it before it plays New York's Film Forum in August. Over at the Paramount, the Silent Movie Mondays series kicks up again on July 7 with three weeks of Westerns, starting with the Buster Keaton classics Go West and The Paleface. Also, be aware that the outdoor movie season is in full swing, so look for listings for the Fremont Outdoor Cinema (screening the original Blob on Saturday), Linda's (showing the Joe Namath vehicle C.C. and Company on Wednesday), and others.