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Killer Of Sheep (#110 of 2)

2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up

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2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up
2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up

Commentary, first.

1. A landmark year for me as well as for the movies. Returning to school proved the right thing to do, despite all the concessions that go with such a decision. Not only did I find the vocabulary I’d always yearned for, and lacked, it keeps growing as I keep writing and reading. I giggle to think of how measly my first attempts at film writing were back when I joined the blogosphere a mere year and a half ago. I giggle more when I realize how right on I was about some movies back then without really knowing why (beyond “that made me cry” or “that was a dope edit” or “Wes Anderson’s wit speaks for me”). What makes me giggle the most is coming to understand how cool it is to change one’s mind. Before 2007 I was a staunch platformist: this is what I believe, deal with it. 2007 taught me some humility, in school and out. Not that I don’t stand by my arguments: I will continue to defend my use and experience with and understanding of the English language. Yet I find myself more willing to have a conversation about a topic, with a topic, to take my time with a topic (films, books, meals, loves, families, etc). This topic of conversation finds its best example, perhaps, in my engagement with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou during the first half of this year. I wrote a big, long paper about Wes Anderson’s fourth film at the end of my first semester back at Berkeley detailing how I’ve come to appreciate the picture. I still think it a fine piece of writing, one I enjoyed revisiting this week, but I view it as a necessary step, a stage of my education, if you will, towards a better understanding of what film is, and how film works, and how to write about both, from my experience. More simply: I would not write the same thing about The Life Aquatic again, now. I would write something more film-specific about its liquid, eternal philosophy. But I may keep that final paragraph.

Joy & Pain: Charles Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding

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Joy & Pain: Charles Burnett’s <em>My Brother’s Wedding</em>
Joy & Pain: Charles Burnett’s <em>My Brother’s Wedding</em>

Who would deny that the revival of Charles Burnett’s career has been the major film event of the year? Though his 1977 debut feature, Killer of Sheep, had already managed to enter the canon without ever having enjoyed a theatrical release, Milestone Films’ pristine 35mm print still came as a revelation when it arrived this past spring. It wasn’t just that it proved to be every bit the equal of the Italian neorealist classics to which it has often been compared, but that it also served as a potential wake-up call to its audience, even the most conscientious of whom may have forgotten how scarce depictions of the urban black community still are in American film. As a film student at UCLA in the ’70s, Burnett began addressing the social need of his time by responding to blaxploitation’s fashionable views of criminality, seeking to provide a balance in American cinema’s images of the ghetto. That Killer of Sheep remains essential for the void it fills makes it no less of an artistic triumph. Foregoing the emotional extremes of most politically motivated cinema, Burnett built his first masterpiece out of slices of life in which joy and pain are indistinguishable. With its lyricism and tonal restraint, it remains one of the starkest visions of American society and its deferral of dreams. But what makes it indispensable is its avoidance of the shallow pity that so often sentimentalizes social realism.