SELECTED COMPLETE REVIEWS 2020s

“A revelatory historical drama that offers a powerful template for social analysis in fiction.”

-- Richard Brody, The New Yorker (“Goings On About Town)

 

 

“Filming history responsibly is one of the fundamental challenges of the modern cinema: How to reflect the gap of time separating filmmakers from the events they’re depicting, while still managing to depict those distant events with emotional immediacy? (These questions were of less concern in the era of classical cinema, when filmmakers took for granted their ability to represent all forms of experience, recent or ancient.) Bill Duke’s first feature, The Killing Floor, from 1984, displays an ingenious approach to the matter, bringing a straightforward story and a distinct historical period movingly, passionately to life…Duke’s directorial imagination endows the very act of historical representation with political power...With The Killing Floor, Duke does more than dramatize a crucial historical moment and its critical conflicts of power.  He sets forth an original and fruitful template for the cinematic analysis of social systems and confrontation with history.”

-- Richard Brody, The New Yorker

 

“…underseen…it has all the heft and energy of a theatrical movie epic, which suits its subject: the fight, among Black and white stockyard workers in early-20th-century Chicago, to form an interracial workers union.”

-- K. Austin Collins, Vanity Fair 

 

 

“The Killing Floor came together, barely, in Chicago in 1983, 12 years after the demise of the Union Stock Yards. Chicago film history remains the richer for its existence and its recent digital restoration.”

-- Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune

 

 

“Recently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and made available for the first time digitally this week by Film Movement after being long out of circulation, the film feels more timely than ever as it observes how the colors of black and white are superseded by green as the workers who spend countless hours butchering and cleaning up after cow carcasses aren’t treated much better than the meat they process and a coalition forms between those who find that the promise of greater opportunity in Chicago, whether it’s African-Americans relocating from the South or immigrants from Poland and Ireland who may not get stopped by cops as frequently as their co-workers yet nonetheless are marginalized due to their tenuous citizenship status.”

-- Stephen Saito, Moveable Fest

 

 

“The Killing Floor has a made for TV movie feel, meaning it's not as glossy as a major studio film nor as gritty and an indie, but Duke finds power in the performances of his actors… More than a quarter of a century after it was made, Duke's The Killing Floor remains a compelling piece of history that’s well worth watching during our current social unrest.”

-- Beth Accomando, KPBS-FM (NPR, San Diego)

 

 

“…as prescient and powerful as ever.”

-- John Soltes, Hollywood Soapbox

 

“Racism, racial violence and ideological divides abound. Made for PBS’ “American Playhouse,” the film is a perfect double bill with Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” (1973).”

-- Tom Meek, Cambridge Day

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“While the events depicted in this film happened over 100 years ago, it's easy to see how they've helped to shape contemporary realities. These events and issues, the intersecting of labor, class, race, ethnicity, and immigration, are brought into a remarkable clarity with The Killing Floor, and decades since its release, it's a movie that remains all too relevant…For families looking for more historical context on the systemic racism that many Americans are starting to attempt to better comprehend, The Killing Floor is essential viewing. The acting is magnificent across the board, and the story doesn't shy away from thorny complexities and ugly truths. It should inspire discussion about what has and hasn't changed since the events depicted in the movie, how events like these continue to haunt the American backstory, the development of the labor movement, and where we go from here as we strive to make a more just society.”

-- Brian Costello, Common Sense Media

 

 

“In this singular moment, there’s been a call for the privileged to elevate black voices in the culture. With that in mind, Film Movement Classics’ virtual cinema release of a new restoration of Bill Duke’s The Killing Floor couldn’t be more timely. A rich and crackling telling of a real historical flashpoint, it’s an argument for more black stories to be told by black artists… thrillingly watchable, profoundly stirring and perennially relevant. And it’s an exemplary exercise in how to dramatize history and ideas.”

-- David Bax, Battleship Pretension

 

 

“A well-researched historical drama, with a Steinbeckian sense of economic and racial justice…

a good movie to revive at this moment”

-- Tim Sika, Celluloid Dreams (Podcast)

 

 

“The Killing Floor is a marvelously acted and incisively nuanced exploration of how racial and ethnic divisions have been historically used to break up labor organizing. It’s an instant essential discovery, the kind of film I hope someday plays in classrooms to teach kids about parts of our country’s past that some teachers neglect to mention. Needless to say, it’s even more necessary viewing in an era when simmering tensions in our history are boiling over.”

-- Nathan Smith, Nashville Scene

 

“Written and produced by Elsa Rassbach, the movie is most interesting for its careful notation of how racial mistrust infected the union struggles of the era”

-- J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

 

 

“The extensive background research guiding Lee’s script is realized not just in the film’s depiction of the unionization process, but also in the language employed by the characters, as well as in the archival footage used as interstitials between scenes. And the function of those qualities adds up to far more than just period detail and regional texture: The film’s relationship to established facts and records are what drives its narrative momentum—and what eventually grants it true purpose. The Killing Floor reveals itself to be an intrinsically American historical epic.”  

-- Jake Mulligan, Dig Boston

 

 

“[A] striking illustration of the need to synthesize class and race…Not without its limitations, it belongs alongside “Salt of the Earth” and “Matewan” as truly engaged, working-class cinema.”

-- Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist

 

 

“…there has never been a better time to watch this powerful film than right now…
The Killing Floor is a truly compelling, blistering, and vital historical document.”

-- Jen Johans, Film Intuition