By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
Now, it's something you would see. You'd see Denzel Washington, no one would be saying, "What are you doing here, Mr. Black Man?" But in those days it was very unusual, and not to talk about it was stranger still. Most films with a racial component, there was a great deal of hand-wringing, trying to make it clear to an audience the role of a Sidney Poitier in a film, for example.
On a similar note, the juxtaposition of some of the newsreel footage of race riots and Vietnam with shots from the film make another element clear. It was eye-opening how similar they looked.
I think that's the power of the documentary. You really see—you're taken back to the handheld footage of Vietnam, then you cut to Romero's shots of the zombies and you really realize the immediacy. The same with the race riots, and how shocking it looks. As he points out, seeing those German shepherds going across a field—these were images that really had resonance to the nation at the time. They sort of suggested the trouble in the streets, and the violence in Vietnam.
I think it's also just seeing 16mm footage and it feels handheld and really kind of immediate. That was the other thing, I think maybe if you see newsreel footage like that and it's cut in with Romero's footage, you see how immediate the film felt. It wasn't staged like a Vincent Price movie or a Universal picture, where the monsters were sort of quaint by then, in comparison to what was happening. That's the thing that I think Rob was going for by intercutting all those elements.
He also does a good job explaining how revolutionary the story structure was at the time, with it just picking up as a slice of life that quickly turns dark. Horror movies like that are more common now, and it's not obvious to modern audiences how unusual that was at the time.
Another thing I like about it, is it's just one night. I mean, that's certainly been done before and after, but it gives it a simplicity and almost a unity of time, where you're almost seeing everything in real time. Every little decision: "Well, let's try to go out the back door this time." or "Let's board up the windows this time." I still think that's resonant, and you see a lot of new films screw that kind of thing up.
I think the acting is a little stiff and so on, but I think the movie still has a strange power. The black and white just makes it feel creepy. There's some goofy stuff—Romero himself makes fun of his special effects at times, just appallingly awful—but there's a mood in the whole film that I think holds up. Of course, because I still recall how I felt when I saw it. I showed it to my 13-year-old who likes the occasional zombie movie and he was unable to see its merits. [Laughs.] He was respectful to me, but it was kind of like, "Nah, I don't think so."
Are there any amusing or interesting anecdotes you'd like to share from the production of the film?
[Laughs.] Well, no. Honestly, on a doc, you have the interviews, and those were all done by Rob and I wasn't even present for the interviews I set up. I know they spent three days with George Romero and that was spectacular and I'll tell you that's there lots of great additional footage that they'll be trotting out on the DVD. Just wonderful stories about his youth, growing up . . . Romero is clearly the heart and soul of the movie,and there's plenty more of that as well.
The other thing that I found, which is not an essential part of the movie, but it's certainly a strange little departure, is the teacher who uses [Night] to teach inner-city kids. [Laughs.] I met that guy and he was my web designer for a while and I just couldn't believe that he was doing that with those kids. I told the director, Rob, that maybe he should go up and get some of this footage. It just seemed to stand in such contrast to Roger Ebert's lament that the poor children who saw this film would be incapable of dealing with the imagery. Well, here we have children half the age seeing the movie and sort of cheering along -- although they have some poignant things to say. That was just another element that I thought would be interesting, and Rob stuck with it and put it in the movie.
What would you say to new-school zombie fans, who maybe had something like The Walking Dead or Zombieland as their intro to the genre, as far as the doc and why it—and Night of the Living Dead itself—is worth their time?
Well, without being too parental, I'd say it's really important to know where stuff comes from. This is one occasion where there's an absolute, definitive origin of all the zombie movies and all the zombie culture that we live with. And it's funny! And it's a history lesson without feeling like a history lesson. So, kids, 75 minutes—why not? It's a good time. [Laughs.]
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