Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in director Charles Burnett's ultra-low-budget but visually stunning 1977 debut film Killer of Sheep. Because it's Black History Month, today's "Rock Box" post is the second of two consecutive posts about existing songs from Killer of Sheep, a work that SeeingBlack.com referred to as "an important missing link between the Blaxploitation era of movies of the 1970s and the 'New Wave' of Black filmmakers that began with Spike Lee's debut in 1986."
Which moment in Killer of Sheep does it appear?: "This Bitter Earth" accompanies the film's most memorable scene, in which Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) and his nameless and neglected wife (Kaycee Moore) slow-dance, perhaps the only worthwhile part of Stan's day, which is mostly spent at a grueling job at a slaughterhouse. Washington's couplet "What good is love/That no one shares" is like a comment on the end of the scene. Stan, exhausted from work, walks away, and his wife--who clearly hoped their dance would turn into something more--is heartbroken.
The song also accompanies the film's closing images at the slaughterhouse where Stan works. The pre-2007 version of Killer of Sheep concluded with Washington's cover of "Unforgettable" instead of "This Bitter Earth." But because the company that owns "Unforgettable" got stingy while Burnett and Milestone Films were trying to resolve the music rights issues that prevented moviegoers from seeing this much-praised film for years, Burnett had to replace "Unforgettable" with "This Bitter Earth."