Day 9, Movie 9 – Yanks – This Post Is Almost Completely Gratuitous
It is rare when a movie that is recommended to you so frequently actually has a deeply profound impact on how you see every film the came before and after it.
I first heard about Killer of Sheep as I imagine many college kids do — in a film history course as one of the suggested outside of class viewings you should see “as soon as you can.” My professor was especially enthusiastic about Killer of Sheep. It was 2007 and the film has just been released on DVD for the first time since 1977. Director Charles Burnett was going to be present at a special screening of the film at the Amherst Cinema. We were strongly encouraged to attend.
I didn’t go. At the time, a film like Killer of Sheep could barely make a dent on my radar because I was blindly infatuated by my love for classic cinema. (Not that this is a bad thing, but I have come to realize how limiting watching only classic Hollywood cinema can be.) Two years later, I found myself finally watching the restored version of this film and I was absolutely mesmerized. If there is any film that cements the notions that the cinema is the powerful artistic medium, that films should offer a nuanced social commentary, and the necessity for film restoration, it is Killer of Sheep.
In the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) works at the local slaughterhouse. His job is gruesome, strenuous and dangerous. It affects his home life with his wife and two children; he becomes increasingly detached from his surroundings. In a series of vignettes, we watch Stan go through various experiences – at home, with his friends, in the community – that don’t lead to any real plot or character development. This way the film emphasizes the daily monotony of life and even the unintentional humor that comes from it.
Unlike the rest of America, I am not seeing The Dark Knight tonight.
Instead I’m watching Breaking Away, a movie both my mother AND my father rank as one of their favorites. Believe me, that never happens. Hopefully watching this movie makes up for the fact that I am loser and am not going to the movies like everyone else.
The following excerpt is from tomorrow’s New York Times. It looks at how the unprecedented violence depicted in Bonnie and Clyde changed cinema.
Two Outlaws, Blasting Holes in the Screen
Published: August 12, 2007
The story of Bonnie and Clyde has been told so many times that it has acquired the patina of legend. It’s the kind of historical fable that circulates to explain how the world once was and how it came to be the way it is now: a morality tale in which the wild energies of youth defeat the stale certainties of age, and freedom triumphs over repression.
I’m not talking about the adventures of the actual Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, who robbed and shot their way through Texas, Oklahoma and adjacent states in the bad old days of the Great Depression. Their exploits have been chronicled in books, ballads and motion pictures, never more famously than in the movie named after them, which first opened in New York 40 years ago this month. The notoriety of Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Arthur Penn from a long-gestating script by David Newman and Robert Benton and produced by Warren Beatty, who also played Clyde, has long since eclipsed that of its real-life models.
The ups and downs of the movie’s early fortunes have become a touchstone and a parable, a crucial episode in the entwined histories of Hollywood, American film criticism and postmodern popular culture. Bonnie and Clyde was a scandal and a sensation largely because it seemed to introduce a new kind of violence into movies. Its brutality was raw and immediate, yet at the same time its scenes of mayhem were choreographed with a formal panache that was almost gleeful.
Their horror was undercut by jaunty, rambunctious humor and by the skittering banjo music of the soundtrack. The final shootout, in which Mr. Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s bodies twitch and writhe amid a storm of gunfire (not long after their characters have successfully made love for the first time), was both awful and ecstatic, an orgy of blood and bullets. The filmmakers seemed less interested in the moral weight of violence than in its aesthetic impact. The killings were alluring and gruesome; that the movie was so much fun may well have been the most disturbing thing about it.
The article goes on to examine violence in today’s cinema. It’s quite an interesting read. You can find the complete article here.