Sunday, July 16, 2017

George A. Romero (1940-2017)

Romero died bitter. Once you get past today's obituaries, a Google News search will point you to interviews published earlier this month, as he struggled to raise funds for another Dead film that he had co-written and planned to produce. He railed against today's zombie movies and shows, convinced that such things as World War Z and especially The Walking Dead, products he apparently saw as bastardized versions of his vision, had made it impossible for him to get financing for his modestly-budgeted ideas. Romero apparently took it as an insult that he had been invited to direct episodes of Walking Dead, and he showed what strikes me as a reactionary blindness toward that show's significance, based on what fans of the show tell me, when he complained that it had reduced the "zombie apocalypse" to a mere backdrop for what he called soap opera, while the Dead films always were elevated, or so the auteur implied, by his inclusion of satiric subtexts. I don't watch The Walking Dead, but the impression I get from those who've watched and commented on it is that such a show can't help but comment implicitly on the world of here and now. In short, in his frustration Romero was unfair to those who followed in his footsteps or, as he may have seen it, stood on his shoulders to reach glories denied him. But George A. Romero was a filmmaker entitled to some indulgence of his unfair moods. The shows he despised at the end of his life were only further proof that Romero himself had made, in Night of the Living Dead, one of the handful of most culturally influential movies ever made. It introduced the world to what is still often called a "Romero zombie," to distinguish it from both the voodoo-driven thralls of past movies and the more articulate (sometimes muscularly, sometimes verbally) brain-eaters seen later. It was a milestone in horror cinema despite its tiny budget and its unlikely appearance as a black and white gore film in 1968. It was also indisputably a work of genius that earned his follow-up zombie films Dawn and Day the status of unique events, and not just because their standard-setting gore defied the ratings system and normal exhibition policies. A second trilogy of 21st century films was less successful, but Land of the Dead was still a great entertainment that advanced Romero's mythos in major, tantalizing ways, and Survival of the Dead proved him still a fine storyteller in the pulp tradition at the effective end of his career. It's important now to remind people of the great films Romero made outside the zombie genre. My favorites include his vampire film Martin and especially his neo-Arthurian biker movie Knightriders, while Creepshow, his and Stephen King's homage to EC Comics, still has many fans. In the end, Romero had a right to be bitter, if only because he never cashed in on the incredible popularity of his zombie innovation the way he should have, but lived to see many others feeding on the harvest he'd planted. But if history can be a solace, Romero should rest in peace -- unless, like John Leguizamo in Land, he wants to see "how the other half lives."...

2 comments:

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hobbyfan said...

I suppose he feels the same way about iZombie perhaps?