Films thought lost, but which are spoken of with admiration and respect one’s entire life, have a quality of resurrection when they suddenly, unexpectedly appear – alive, healthy and as worthy as one had been led to believe.

Killer of Sheep’s release on DVD should be greeted by America as families in Russia kissed and embraced exiled loved ones assumed dead to the gulag. Here the film is – after so many years – and we find its heart, its essence, intact.

Music rights, only recently resolved, kept Killer of Sheep more a rumor than a film-going experience for all but a lucky few. I first heard of Charles Burnett and his film in an interview with Danny Glover, who told an entertainment magazine he would only make a ,i>Lethal Weapon sequel if the studio financed Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger.

Fifteen years later I had the opportunity to see Killer of Sheep at a screening on the UCLA campus. Two years after this I saw it again, when the restored print was shown at the Nuart.

“Those of us who learned to write from the Blues,” Murray Kempton remarks in a 1987 article called “Bessie Smith: Poet,” “are to be envied, and those of us who have since forgotten the lesson are to be pitied.” In the liner notes that come with the DVD, Armond White wonders: “Do contemporary film watchers have the language – the Blues-based temperament – to describe and understand the mystery and power of Burnett’s Killer of Sheep?”

Clarity, humanity, pain, exhaustion and visions of indescribable, ecstatic joy: this is Burnett’s material, shaped by an aesthetic, a temperament, unique in film history.

Grade: A+

Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection is currently available.