Killer of Sheep (Charles Barnett, 1977)
This movie is the best expression of The Blues that I've ever seen. Not the music, the emotion. You look at Henry Sanders' face, and you see a man just beaten down by life. In movies like Menace II Society, you see the ghetto portrayed as a warzone, where at any minute you could be killed by crossfire. I'm not saying that doesn't happen, but Killer of Sheep gives you a much less sensationalist look at the hood. Obviously, I've never lived in a ghetto, and I have no experience to base this on, but this seems to me to be a more truthful take on what ghetto life is like: just a constant, wearying depression.
But, as with the blues, it's not all depressing. There are images of children at play on the streets, railroads and housing projects of Watts, and of adults grasping at whatever tiny bits of joy they can grab. It's a movie about the broad spectrum of inner city life, of human life.
Killer of Sheep was made as a student film while Barnett was at UCLA. It was finally restored and re-released last year, and is now available on a DVD with Barnett's 1984 feature My Brother's Wedding and a handfull of his short films. Warning: the film's title comes from the main character's job at a slaughterhouse, and there are some truly horrible images from that job in the film.