Monday, 17 July 2017

George A. Romero (1940-2017) – Rest In Peace

George A. Romero, the man whose name is inextricably linked with the living dead, has passed away. He was – and is – one of my favourite filmmakers, and a great source of inspiration. Indeed, the man and his work are a big part of the reason why I wanted to get into filmmaking in the first place.

The impact Mr. Romero had on me during my formative years cannot be accurately calculated, but it was significant. After initial exposure to his cinematic legend via all manner of references in movies and TV shows to some evidently landmark film called “Night of the Living Dead”, my first real encounter with the man's work was through a magazine article in SFX. We were on a school trip to Paris and had stopped at a service station where a small sub-heading on the front of a magazine caught my eye. I'd recently become aware of Romero's name and his gore-ific Living Dead films, and – at the brink of entering my teen years – these flicks held a mysterious sway over me. They intrigued me, and they even felt somewhat illicit to my young mind. I bought that magazine and devoured the career-spanning article about the man and his work time and again for years afterwards, and I still own that same copy to this day...

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My first experience of his cinematic outings was 1985's Day of the Dead, bought on VHS for £5.99 in a local Woolworth's. I vividly remember drawing the curtains as my Dad mowed the grass outside and being blown away by the film's more graphic elements – not just the gore, but the sheer verbal assault of the foul language – surface things to a young mind, sure, but the film has continually grown in my estimation ever since. While the visceral aspects of the film remain as potent as ever, its bleak outlook on mankind on the edge of destruction – still warring amongst themselves over petty differences like race and class – has become more and more powerful with each viewing. Every time I view it I discover new things that are unveiled to me with the passage of time and the experiences and frustrations of everyday life on this planet. I highly recommend you check out Lee Karr's brilliant book covering all aspects of the making of the Day of the Dead.

Romero's work, especially during his heyday, has always been powerful. Dawn of the Dead will be remembered as his masterpiece, a sly and darkly humorous swipe at the rise of consumer culture, and I recall being utterly stunned after viewing it for the first time. The screen cut to black as the clock chimes fell silent and I remained glued to my seat having experienced something profound. Gradually, over the years, I relished in exploring more of his back catalogue of films and marvelled at them – outings such as Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies, and Martin are all highly influential and prefigured popular trends by decades. Creatively, too, Romero's influence was keenly felt. I'd spend hours drawing pencil sketches of scenes from 'The Living Dead Trilogy' in obsessive detail, and with friends we'd take a video camera and some old toys and make our own version of Night of the Living Dead on the floor of my bedroom; I even made my first claymation which was inspired by the most famous scene in Day of the Dead.

Much has been written about the politics and social commentary of his work, but not enough is written about his craft as a filmmaker. Learning on-the-job via newsreels, commercials, and documentaries, Romero gained a slick and efficient style that maintained a raw sense of realism. The parallels between news footage of the civil rights movement and zombie hunters with police badges are plain to see. One of the most astounding aspects of Romero's craft as a filmmaker, however, was his editing (most keenly felt in the films he made during the 1970s). Shooting fast and gathering a huge array of different angles and frames, Romero was able to create a sense of breathless pace that few of his contemporaries could muster. The Crazies is, at times, relentlessly paced with few repeated shots, while a home invasion sequence in his lesser known suburban drama Season of the Witch (aka Jack's Wife) is a master class in itself. Further assessment of Romero's style in his early work can be found in Document of the Dead during a segment detailing the opening of Martin, his superb modern day take on the vampire.

In addition to his firmly realised social politics – seen again most recently in 2005's Land of the Dead, and 2007's Diary of the Dead – George A. Romero stood as a testament to the undying fire that burns within the heart of a fiercely independent filmmaker. Look no further than Knightriders – the almost mythical tale of a group of motorcycle stuntmen and their roaming medieval battle show – to discover everything you need to know about his attitude to Hollywood corporatism. His view was no doubt confirmed by numerous failed projects during the 1990s (the biggest of which was his take on a remake of The Mummy, which went on to become a summer blockbuster at the end of that decade) as he stepped outside of his filmmaking home and family of Pittsburgh for La La Land. A move to Canada in the new millennium offered him some more of that indie outsider experience, but unfortunately he had become typecast as the 'Director of the Dead' having been so influential over an entire sub-genre of entertainment – and yet, the zombies had moved on to other pastures without him. Despite this, there is no denying Romero's legacy and just how important he is not only to the horror genre but cinema as a whole.

Many of us 'zed-heads' considered him to be 'Uncle George' – with his looming height, large spectacles, big smile, and sixties slang – and his work has shaped our lives, our outlooks, and even our creative endeavours. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for all you have given us over the years. You may now be gone, but you'll never be forgotten – may you rest in peace, Mr Romero.

1 comment:

Blind2d said...

Well said, and thanks for writing all this. :) He will truly be missed, but what a life. We were all so lucky to have him around for as long as we did.