came from Pittsburgh. That is where
George A. Romero had carved out a business shooting television commercials for
local clients. Of course, he harbored
filmmaking ambitions. Eventually, his
upstart debut would revolutionize horror cinema, spawning all kinds of
controversy and imitators. Yet, at the
time, Romero was not at all certain he would be able to complete production and
post on the now classic The Night of the
Living Dead. Rob Kuhns goes straight to the source for his behind the scenes
look at the making and legacy of the zombie classic in The Birth of the Living Dead (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York at the IFC Center.
has been over forty years since the original Living Dead was first released with little fanfare in an old school
midtown grindhouse theater. Despite uniformly negative reviews (from the few
critics who even bothered to cover it), Romero’s classic took on a life of its
own. In fact, the entire city of
Pittsburgh had already sort of rallied behind it, perhaps inspired by local
late night creature feature TV host Bill Cardille’s weekly drumbeat of publicity
(you can spot him late in the film as the newsman interviewing the sheriff). During production, the police department provided
helicopters free of charge and many of Romero’s customers appeared as zombies.
of the cool things about Birth is the
way Romero vividly remembers each and every extra. Those who have seen the film countless times
will be fascinated to learn how many cast members also performed crucial
functions off-screen. Romero’s co-producer
Russell Streiner (instantly recognizable as Barbara’s ill-fated brother)
emerges as a particularly resourceful figure.
Kuhns also includes an endearing stinger-tribute to the late Bill
Hinzman, the first zombie who chases her into the farmhouse.
Birth is also fan-friendly, featuring
Gary Pullin’s distinctive comic art to illustrate various stages of the
production. It will further reassure
diehards to know the doc comes via Glass Eye Pix, with Larry Fessenden on board
as both a talking head and executive producer.
a bizarre turn, Birth periodically visits
a Bronx middle school, where a teacher uses Night
of the Living Dead as part of his “Literacy through Film” course. Yes, this is a classic film with considerable
subtext, but showing graphic depictions of cannibalism in the classroom is
wholly inappropriate. Evidently, “de-sensitize them early” is the Board of Ed’s
motto. Only in New York.
is on stronger footing examining the wider cultural significance of Night.
According to Romero, Ben the central POV character was not originally
written as an African American, but Duane Jones just nailed the audition. Nonetheless, the added implications of the
final scene would have been hard to miss, especially since Romero was
consciously incorporating images of the 1960’s civil strife.
If you are a mature adult, at least old enough
to vote, you really ought to be familiar with Night of the Living Dead. While
Birth offers some shallow general
political analysis of the late 1960’s, it specifically contextualizes the Romero’s
film quite adroitly. Recommended for
zombie aficionados who want to deepen their Living
Dead viewing experience, Birth of the
Living Dead opens this Wednesday (11/6) at the IFC Center.
Labels: Documentary, George A. Romero, Larry Fessenden, Living Dead films