October 18, 2013
George A. Romero
Gale Anne Hurd
Documentaries appeal to all sorts of celluloid fans. These kinds of pictures offer a lot of inside info that, if not for docu platforms, may never be unearthed for the legions of genre fans to absorb. A poorly assembled documentary won’t manage much more than a hazardous series of smoke breaks and some heavy berating of the film. A wonderfully made documentary on the other hand, is sure to leave viewers captivated, hanging on the words of those providing commentary and chomping at the bit for a look at some excavated facts or footage. An extreme wealth of work is invested in a top notch documentary, and it shows. It always shows. Guess what? Director Rob Kuhns just delivered one of those special films that’s going to live on as a “great” of the documentary genre.
Birth of the Living Dead puts George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead on the hot seat, and everyone involved in this production delivers the kind of answers that faithful followers of the picture are going to appreciate on a grand level. There’s no need to provide you with a synopsis. It’s a documentary about the film that spawned the zombie craze, and being afforded something of an inside examination of the filming experience is truly gratifying.
Throughout the film George Romero gets extremely candid while remaining noticeably jovial. He’s got the look of a filmmaker who hasn’t lost any love or ambition, especially when it comes to zombies in particular. Mr. Romero divulges a strong dose of shooting details, but he’s not afraid to face and discuss the countless ways the picture has been perceived. And he does so with a warm charm that makes it near impossible to do anything other than sacrifice your attention to his words… to soak up a little bit of that charisma from an energetic legend who released this tangible sensation of true hunger. Come on… nearly half century in the business and the man hasn’t lost his appetite? Amazing, but true!
A number of other personalities lend their opinions on the early masterpiece, including The Walking Dead executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, filmmaker/actor Larry Fessenden who’s popped in a number of horror films and has taken a fancy to directing himself. And these are but a few of the bright minds that weigh in on the impact of the film and its social relevance given the timeframe in which it was shot and released.
In fact Romero crams quite a few shots in the pic that could by all accounts probably lead to some violent exchanges between the victimized and the aggressive racists of the world. This could, quite literally ignited small riots. In 1967 African American men weren’t supposed to portray heroes, and they sure weren’t supposed to be embraced by the white man. But Jones commands respect, and the absolute, unfiltered truth is that Duane Jones forced the world to respect him. He was an admirable figure that fit into a group of whites just as well as a group of blacks. The guy’s got just enough respect for himself and others to work with an endless list of Hollywood talents, regardless of race.
And while we’re talking Duane Jones, it’s important to note that his approach to the heroic role of Ben produced some wildly daring exchanges and a shift in the perception of the black man. Racism ran rampant in the ‘60s, but I believe this man – Duane Jones – single handedly played a major part in obliterating some racial barriers. Did he turn society around with one film? No, but he (and Romero) made major strides toward equality. See not only does Duane portray the protagonist, he works as a beacon of unity. Let’s face it, if the world fell apart overnight, skin tone and heritage would fly from the window in an instance. Zombies overtaking the world? You can bet that those still living would disregard any prejudices. In such a setting, man would most likely come together as a whole to battle side by side. In a world where monsters overrun the streets, and living beings are few and far between, instinct would likely leap to the forefront and everyone would probably take to a sudden case of color blindness. In Night of the Living Dead humanity comes together, despite any differences, because they understand that ignorant racism doesn’t hold relevance when it’s man versus monster. As human beings, we fight to survive, and if the threat is imminent, we’re going to join forces to exterminate an unfathomable menace. At the end of the day, mankind needs mankind, and race means nothing. Jones was believable in the lead because viewers understood that fact. Screw color, let’s try to see to it that humanity prevails over the monstrous. One human nation, all discrimination aside, right?
But beyond the social commentary of the film (which in a sense was an accidental blessing; Romero didn’t pen the script with the initial intent of casting a black man to hammer home a point), there are numerous angles to tackle and examine. That’s precisely what we’re gifted from this film. It’s something of a Night of the Living Dead A-Z production, covering countless bases. And we could probably discuss this infectious production for hours on end. It’s amazing. It’s engrossing, and thank the horror powers that be it’s a completely thorough look at a classic piece. This ladies and gents, is a documentary that simply cannot be missed.