There are first films like Citizen Kane or Breathless, which, as radically new and fully achieved as they are, unfairly overshadow an entire oeuvre. And then there are first films -- perhaps even more radical -- that haunt an artist's career not through precocious virtuosity, but because they have an innocence that can never be repeated. This second type includes Charles Burnett's legendary Killer of Sheep, which was finished in 1978 and, despite its enormous critical reputation, is only now getting a theatrical release. Made while Burnett was a 33-year-old grad student at UCLA, Killer of Sheep is a study of social paralysis in South Central Los Angeles a dozen years after the Watts insurrection; its protaganist, Stan, works in an abattoir (hence the title) and is depressed, dreamy, and always worried-looking. The subject matter harks back to the heyday of Italian neorealism, but Burnett uses the film language of experimental documentaries for his urban pastoral -- an episodic series of scenes that are sweet, sardonic, deeply sad, and very funny.