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Daily Plastic Podcast: Davis and Parks on “Killer of Sheep”

Two of my favorite film critics, Robert Davis of Paste and J. Robert Parks, have been keeping up, fairly regularly, with their compelling and insightful film podcast, Errata, and it has proven to be one of my favorite sources of filmic knowledge. Both Davis and Parks are gifted with stunning vision — a great ability to read between the lines (if i may use the spot-on cliche), between the images, and to dive into the worlds of films. They understand the many subtleties and nuances of film language and are gifted with the ability to explain those ideas and to help their listeners explore them to the fullest (that a 40 minute podcast allows, anyway). And because they understand those subtleties and nuances they also understand what is, and can spot, excellence in the art form.

Now, their podcast has moved from Errata, where Davis formerly blogged, to a new site, Daily Plastic, where together they will share blog space. Already it is bustling with insights galore.

I highly recommend any film enthusiasts check out both the blog and the podcast regularly.

But for now, let me direct your attention to a really interesting discussion they shared on Charles Burnett’s indie/underground film of the 1970’s, The Killer of Sheep.

As Davis and Parks discuss, this film was made while Burnett was still in film school at UCLA when he was only 24 years old. It details, in a sort of plain yet poetic lyricism (reminiscent of some of the Italian neo-realist films of the 1940’s, especially Bicycle Thief) the rather simple lives of some African American families (Burnett himself was an African American from a poor family) who live in inner city L.A. The film, which was made with next to no budget and with amateur actors, contains little plot, at least compared to typical modern cinema, and instead focuses on moments and relationships, much like a Jim Jarmusch film might, or like David Gordon Green’s George Washington, one of my very favorite films — Davis and Parks have much to say about how the film is chiefly about the intersection of adulthood and adolescence, about the way children interact with one another juxtaposed with the ways of adults.

Unfortunately, both for Burnett and the film world at large, complicated rights issues arose regarding the music employed in the film’s soundtrack, and the film stock sat on shelves, watched only in academic settings. However, it seems to have accrued a bit of a mythical stature among film scholars and the most die hard of enthusiasts. The Library of Congress even went so far as to “declare it a national treasure as one of the first fifty on the National Film Registry” (www.killerofsheep.com). The National Society of Film Critics declared it to be one of the “100 Essential Films of all time.”

Finally, last year, through the combined efforts of Milestone Film and Steven Soderbergh, Killer of Sheep is seeing the release it deserves. The music issues have been resolved and now you can see one of the greatest films ever made in the comfort of your own home, restored and looking visually stunning!

In their podcast, Davis and Parks detail the film’s creation and subsequent controversies. Then they discuss the themes of the films and offer some insightful comparisons (I think their comparison to Japanese director Ozu to be really interesting). And finally, they also have a brief sound bit from David Gordon Green on how the film influenced him.

This is one of the most interesting podcasts I’ve heard in a while.

Here is the trailer for Killer of Sheep:

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