The Charles Burnett Collection (2007) – By James L. Neibaur

 Milestone Film and Video’s release of the Charles Burnett Collection has found its way onto most of the Best Film and Best DVD lists of 2007, and deservedly so. The centerpiece is Killer Of Sheep, Burnett’s brilliant 1977 debut feature that explores the African American experience in Watts through the eyes of a weary blue collar worker. It’s pointed look at life’s limitations while embracing the many easily overlooked victories is spotlighted by Burnett’s neorealist approach. Long considered one of the seminal independent films, its lack of accessibility was due to rights issues with the music used to underscore the drama. Its 2007 limited theatrical release, and subsequent availability on DVD, allows us to understand just why Killer Of Sheep rests comfortably on any discerning critics short list of Best Films. The stark black and white photography and realistic images are among this fine feature’s many assets.

Along with this feature, the Charles Burnett Collection offers the filmmakers 1983 feature My Brother’s Wedding, including the released version that was rushed into festival competition prior to Burnett making a final edit, and the subsequent 2007 Director’s cut. Due to the 1983 version’s mixed reviews, this film was withheld from release. Both versions are available on this disc, allowing us further insight into Burnett’s cinematic prowess.

The collection is rounded out with several acclaimed short films, dating from 1969 to 1995, a commentary track, a Killer of Sheep cast reunion video, liner notes by New York film critic Armond White (a longtime champion of Burnett’s), and, finally, Burnett’s latest short film Quiet As Kept, which deals with hurricane Katrina.

Burnett’s most noted mainstream efforts include To Sleep With Anger and the TV movie Night John, and while each of those films offer some insight into the filmmaker’s capabilities, this reviewer must consider Killer Of Sheep to be Burnett’s masterpiece. The Charles Burnett Collection is an essential inclusion into any DVD library that attempts to be at all comprehensive.