Emerging from the shadows a sort of film urban legend is Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, made in 1977 as his UCLA graduate thesis and finally given wide release thanks to film preservationists and Steven Soderbergh. For years I've had to listen to how great this film was without actually experiencing it for myself and now... let's just say I've only had the occasion three or four times to see a movie and realize that the director was put on earth specifically to make that film. An ethnographic study of life in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles, Burnett's movie takes the best element of Renoir's romantic abstractions, Rossellini's neorealist cityscapes, Satyajit Ray's family dramas, Kenneth Anger's thematically and musically-linked visuals and Cassavetes' naked 16mm textures and mixes them into a sad and funny visual essay. Artistic camerawork and lighting, disorienting editing, the employment of nonprofessional but striking actors and virtuoso use of pop music confine Burnett's approach to no one recognizable style: instead, they form an audacious and wholly original aesthetic. Made up largely of a collection of entropic events from the neighborhood with supporting characters who comes and go, the film is sparse on dialogue, but Burnett speaks through the mise en scene in unique moments of narrative spontaneity. While the tone moves ambiguously between tender and bittersweet, social and isolated, frivolous and crushing, the overall feel of the film is simply vitalizing. Even through the grimness of its shots of tiny lambs moving to the voice of Dinah Washington, oblivious to their impending slaughter, Burnett discovers a transcendent beauty. Everyone owes it to himself to see it.