Abattoir Blues

“I wanted to do something that reflected the way people in the community would see themselves. Coming from another place, you can see a much larger picture. But when you’re in a well, you can only see the narrow light above. If you’ve been living like that for a long time, it can have an unproductive effect on you in many ways. So it wasn’t my personal conflicts. It was the conflict of the community.” – Director Charles Burnett in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine about his film Killer of Sheep.

After more than 42 years, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) is now recognized as a seminal film in the indie film movement of the ‘70s even though it didn’t receive a wide release until 2007 via Milestone Films. In fact, Burnett never really intended for the film to have a theatrical release; he made it as his thesis film at UCLA. But retrospective screenings of the film and the resulting critical acclaim culminated in Killer of Sheep winning the Forum of New Cinema prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival. Other accolades followed such as being selected by the National Film Registry in 1990 for film preservation and winning a special award from the New York Film Critics Circle in 2007. Not bad for a movie shot on 16mm and made for a rock bottom budget of $10,000 from film grants.   Continue reading

The Prince and the Peasant

Will there be a happy ending for Prince Rodrigo (Omar Sharif) and Isabella Candeloro (Sophia Loren) in More Than a Miracle (1967), directed by Francesco Rosi.

Imagine, if you can, a rustic Neapolitan fairy tale directed by Francesco Rosi in the docudrama style of his post-neorealism films of the early sixties like The Moment of Truth (1965), shoot it in Technicolor and Techniscope, add a lush musical score by Piero Piccioni and you get More Than a Miracle (1967), a zesty Southern Italian fantasy-romance that was more appropriately titled Cinderella, Italian Style in Europe.   Continue reading

Ken Loach’s Weapon for Change: Cathy Come Home (1966)

Reg (Ray Brooks), Cathy (Carol White) and their children find themselves in desperate circumstances in Cathy Come Home (1966), directed by Ken Loach.

It is often regarded as the most important British television drama ever written. The controversy it aroused after its premiere broadcast in 1966 on the Wednesday Play series not only challenged the general perception of TV as a shallow medium but also exposed an endemic social problem in England that the government often overlooked – homelessness. As timely today as it was then, Cathy Come Home is a rare example of a television drama whose impact on the media and the government was so pervasive that it resulted in the creation of “Shelter,” a housing for the homeless charity.  Continue reading

Fishing with Dynamite

La_grande_strada_azzurra_plakat_itaGillo Pontecorvo began as a documentarian and his interest in social and political issues was already evident in early works like Giovanni (1955), which follows a textile laborer and her female co-workers through punishing work conditions into a full-blown protest against the factory owners. So it comes as no surprise that his first feature length film, The Wide Blue Road (aka La Grande Strada Azzurra, 1957), has an underlying social agenda even if it looks like a slice-of-life melodrama on the surface.   Continue reading