In 'Killer of Sheep,' an L.A. Portrait Like No Other

Critic-at-large John Powers reflects on what he thinks is the single greatest movie ever made about the city of Los Angeles — Killer of Sheep, an independent film made in the late '70s by Charles Burnett. It's on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry; it will be showing in selected theaters in the next few months, and it comes out on DVD this September.

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Long-Lost Classic 'Killer of Sheep' Hits Theaters

Scene from 'Killer of Sheep' i i

A scene from Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep. Milestone Films hide caption

itoggle caption Milestone Films
Scene from 'Killer of Sheep'

A scene from Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep.

Milestone Films

Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, one of the most acclaimed American films of the last 50 years, has seldom been screened. It was made by Burnett in 1973; since then, it has been hailed as a hauntingly beautiful portrait of Watts.

Critics have hailed Killer of Sheep as one of the masterpieces of American cinema, but it is also one of the ghosts. In spite of the recognition and acclaim, few people have actually seen the picture - it's been tied up in legal limbo since it was made in 1977, and has never had a wide release.

That is because Burnett never secured the rights to all of the music in the film, meaning that he could never show it commercially. Now the music rights have been negotiated — and the movie will open in theaters at the end of March.

Killer of Sheep is so revered that it was among the first 50 films selected for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. The film, which began as a student project, won the Critics Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, and led to a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" grant for Burnett.

Howie Movshovitz of Colorado Public Radio reports.

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