George A. Romero: 1940 – 2017

It is with a heavy heart that we heard today that George A. Romero, god-father of the modern zombie, has passed due to Cancer in Toronto today. Romero of course gave us the Dead series of films starting in 1968 where he envisioned zombies not in the traditional Haitian, plantation sense, but as the end of the world, and as a (possibly accidental) metaphor for racism and the 1960s. It was also a rip-roaring good horror flick that has stood the test of time for nearly 50 years for being ahead of its time (in part due to the lead character Ben (played by Duane Jones) being black, but also in terms of narrative and filmmaking style).

The director started making industrial/commercial films for various companies after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but after Night of the Living Dead he was a pretty major indie filmmaker and followed Night with a sequel, the more ambitious, both in gore and metaphor, Dawn of the Dead, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest films the genre has ever made. And while 1985’s Day of the Dead is kind of ignored by the mainstream lovers of the genre or considered ‘lesser’ than the first two entries, I personally love it dearly.

While Romero was often type-cast as ‘that zombie director’ he also re-invented the witchcraft film with Season of the Witch, government conspiracy and chemical weapons, The Crazies, the venerable vampire film as an addiction metaphor, Martin, as well as the creature feature anthology with Creepshow. There are so many nutty little corners of his career, from directing an episode to Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood, to (effective!) primate freak-out horror Monkey Shines, and gonzo medieval motorcycle cult favourite, Knight Riders.

Romero struggled in the 1990s and 2000s as he churned out a few more Dead films (including a modest sized studio entry, Land of the Dead) to diminishing returns. He moved to Toronto and acted as part-time mentor to several members of the local filmmaking community, and was popular at conventions and in repertory screening Q&As. I recall seeing him enthusiastically offer his unvarnished opinions on the large resurgence of the Zombie Genre he helped popularize in the early 2000s, a renaissance that has continued to this day. It is notable, that like John Carpenter, many of his classic films have been officially and unofficially remade, and homaged in every conceivable way.

Mr. Romero will be missed, but his contributions to the wilder side of cinema will likely never be forgotten.

The L.A. Times has more.

Friday One Sheet: Boutique Romero

 
 

The boutique poster market has been growing in leaps and bounds. Kicked off by Tyler Stout et al. and the Alamo Drafthouse, this little niche has been spreading steadily for years. There are several great designers right here in Toronto, including Justin Erickson of Phantom City Creative who did all those lovely one-sheets for Twitch’s Back to the 80s series. This one, for George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead, is $25, and golly, I’m tempted to buy it.

Film on TV: December 13-19

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Fish Tank, playing Wednesday on Sundance.

Mostly repeats this week, but some great ones. TCM closes out the Moguls and Movie Stars series, reaching the end of the classical Hollywood studio system, and has a bunch of 1960s greats on Monday and Wednesday to go along with that, plus Cabaret on Tuesday, Ingrid Bergman’s first American film on Friday, Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe on Saturday, and the always enjoyable Grease on Sunday. But if you only watch one thing this week, and you have the Sundance channel, please catch Andrea Arnold’s amazing Fish Tank on Wednesday night. It’s due out on DVD from Criterion in February, so this is a great chance to see it early if you missed its limited theatrical run earlier this year.

Monday, December 13

3:35pm – Sundance – Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman
As an architectural photographer covering modernist architecture during the mid-twentieth century, Julius Shulman captured some of the most iconic images ever of homes and other buildings, basically creating an entire generation’s perception of Los Angeles and Palm Springs especially. This well-designed documentary is a great primer on his life and work, and through his work, on modernist ideals and architecture itself. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in photography, architecture, modernism, or Los Angeles.
2008 USA. Director: Eric Brickner. Starring: Julius Shulman, Dustin Hoffman.

7:00pm – Sundance – Eraserhead
David Lynchís first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film ñ what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.
(repeats at 3:30am on the 14th. and 10:00pm on the 18th)

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls & Movie Stars: Fade Out, Fade In
TCM’s History of Hollywood wraps up this week with the 1960s, the end of the classical studio system period. As the moguls who basically created Hollywood in the 1920s began losing control of the studios, the system itself broke down, mirroring the upheavals in the society around them and allowing an influx of new, young talent that would take us into New Hollywood and beyond. But that’s beyond the scope of this documentary series. This is one of the most exciting decades in film history for me, and TCM has programmed a nice collection of films to go along with it, representing socially conscious prestige pictures, lower budget cult films, and two of the films that truly signaled the beginning of the New: Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider (on Wednesday).

9:00pm – TCM – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Interracial marriage may not be quite the hot topic now that it was in 1967 (although if you check some parts of the American South, you might be surprised), but at the time, Katharine Houghton bringing home Sidney Poitier to meet her parents Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film) was the height of socially conscious filmmaking.
1967 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway.

12:00M – TCM – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Aging stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford play an aging child star and her sister in Robert Aldrichís cult favorite. Hard to think of better casting for a story like this.
1962 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Wesley Addy, Maidie Norman.

2:30am (14th) – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawaís The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawaís film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ainít no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus thereís a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

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Film on TV: November 29 – December 5

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Night of the Living Dead, playing Saturday on TCM.

Among new things this week we find Charlie Chaplin’s first full talkie The Great Dictator on TCM on Monday, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, a relatively early oddity in Frank Capra’s career, on TCM on Tuesday, late Truffaut film The Last Metro on IFC on Thursday, and Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead on TCM on Saturday. TCM brings out some 1940s greats to go along the latest installment of Moguls and Movie Stars, which focuses on wartime Hollywood, so stay tuned for those Monday and Wednesday night.

Monday, November 29

11:30am – TCM – Gold Diggers of 1933
The story’s nothing to get excited about (and in fact, the subplot that takes over the main plot wears out its welcome fairly quickly), but the strong Depression-era songs, kaleidoscopic choreography from Busby Berkeley, and spunky supporting work from Ginger Rogers pretty much make up for it.
1933 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Guy Kibbee.

1:15pm – TCM – 42nd Street
By 1932 when 42nd Street came out, the Hollywood musical had already died. So excited by the musical possibilities that sound brought in 1927, Hollywood pumped out terrible musical after terrible musical until everyone was sick of them. 42nd Street almost single-handedly turned the tide and remains one of the all-time classic backstage musicals. It may look a little creaky by later standards, but there’s a vitality and freshness to it that can’t be beat.
1932 USA. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Starring: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel.

8:00pm – IFC – Barton Fink
One of the Coen Brothers’ most brilliant dark comedies (heh, I think I say that about all of their dark comedies, though), Barton Fink follows its title character, a New York playwright whose hit play brings him to the attention of Hollywood, where he goes to work for the movies. And it all goes downhill from there. Surreal, quirky, and offbeat, even among the Coens work. It’s based loosely on the experiences of Clifford Odets, whose heightened poetic style of writing has clearly been influential on the Coens throughout their career.
1991 USA. Director: Joel Coen. Starring: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, Tony Shalhoub.
(repeats at 1:45am on the 30th)

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls and Movie Stars: Warriors and Peace Makers
TCM’s Hollywood History series enters WWII, examining how Hollywood reacted to the war – everything from war-themed films to escapist entertainment to explicitly political films. A selection of those films directly inspired by the war and war efforts play tonight, then several other non-war themed 1940s films play Wednesday night as part of the series.

9:00pm – TCM – Casablanca
Against all odds, one of the best films Hollywood has ever produced, focusing on Bogart’s sad-eyed and world-weary expatriot Rick Blaine, his former lover Ingrid Bergman, and her current husband Paul Henreid, who needs safe passage to America to escape the Nazis and continue his work with the Resistance. It’s the crackling script that carries the day here, and the wealth of memorable characters that fill WWII Casablanca with life and energy.
1943 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains.
Must See
(repeats at 6:00pm on the 5th)

12:00M – TCM – The Great Dictator
Chaplin’s first completely talking film, and one in which he doesn’t play his Little Tramp character. Instead, he’s both Hitler and a Jewish man who looks strikingly like Hitler. This obviously creates confusion. Brilliantly scathing satire – it always amazes me that it was made as early as 1940.
1940 USA. Director: Charles Chaplin. Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard.
Must See
Newly Featured!

2:15am (30th) – TCM – They Were Expendable
There are films that don’t seem to be all that while you’re watching them – no particularly powerful scenes, not a particularly moving plot, characters that are developed but don’t jump out at you – and yet by the time you reach the end, you’re somehow struck with what a great movie you’ve seen. This film was like that for me – it’s mostly a lot of vignettes from a U-boat squadron led by John Wayne, the only one who thought the U-boat could be useful in combat. But it all adds up to something much more.
1945 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond.

3:45am (30th) – IFC – The Piano
I often find Jane Campion films overly pretentious, but this one strikes the right chord, with Holly Hunter as a mute woman in an arranged marriage who finds love with one of her husbands’ hired hands – but stealing the show is her young daughter, an Oscar-winning performance by Anna Paquin.
1993 New Zealand. Director: Jane Campion. Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin.

4:30am (30th) – TCM – Hollywood Canteen
One of several films made during WWII that largely functioned as excuses for studios to parade their stable of stars on-screen in cameos, musical numbers, and comedy bits – in this case, the central device is the major Hollywood USO location of the title with a standard soldier-starlet romance plot, and the film has basically the whole Warner Bros. lot running around. It’s entertaining though not that good, and fun to see so many big stars playing themselves for a change.
1944 USA. Director: Delmer Daves. Starring: Robert Hutton, Joan Leslie, Dane Clark.
Newly Featured!

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Flyway Dispatch 4 – Craig Verian: “400 Lonely Things”

Around here we’re always looking for new and interesting things in the world of film. When it’s juxtaposed nicely with music we’re all the more excited. So when we heard about this little mash-up, or remix if you will, of the music and imagery from George Romero’s classic, Night of the Living Dead, we were more than just a little intrigued. Much like Girltalk does with music samples, Craig and “400 Lonely Things” manipulates this classic film’s imagery and sound to create it’s own beast: TONIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Listen to the pubcast below for more info and a sample from the short’s soundtrack…

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LINKS:
400 Lonely Things

Sign of the Times: Pontypool.

zombiebadge[A big special thank-you to recurring Cinecast guest host Matt Gamble (and author of Where the Long Tail Ends) for allowing us to re-print his essay on Bruce McDonald’s semiotic horror picture Pontypool, apropos of its Canadian DVD release yesterday. Matt tackles the meaning and the metaphor of the word Zombie, where the genre has been, and were it is going:]

Pontypool: Or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the New Zombie

Being born in 1976 I have missed most, if not all, of what I would consider the major tide changes in horror film making here in the United States. The two closest to my heart, and in my opinion the two most important films, being Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some might say that I was able to witness a similar precedent with The Blair Witch Project, which is a fair point to make. But I think that over the course of time since The Blair Witch Project was released has proven the film to be far more influential in the marketing of films, and specifically the rise of viral marketing, then it has influenced the horror genre.

But while The Blair Witch Project certainly was influential, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were revolutionary by comparison. Both were low budget shock fests that relied far more on mood and atmosphere to set the table for the scares they were about to serve the audience then most of the other low budget fare of their time. Night of the Living Dead was serious whereas other horror films of the day were campy. And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, despite its reputation, isn’t bathing in gore as many of its contemporaries were, but rather is a subtle and subdued fright fest. Neither are particularly scary by today’s standards and styles, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre relying on an general level of creepiness rarely matched in any other film, and Night of the Living Dead almost suffocating the viewer with tension. And while these two might not be the best horror films ever made, particularly in the case of Night of the Living Dead where most people, myself included, view its sequel Dawn of the Dead to be the superior film, but these two films introduced audiences to new concepts and styles in horror, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre masterfully manipulating audiences with its “based on actual events” premise. As much as I would like to discuss The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the lack of zombies in the film make it a bit difficult to directly correlate to the film that made me want to write this piece in the first place. But Night of the Living Dead on the other hand, brought about a whole new and terrifying meaning to the word zombie, which is quite relevant to what I wish to discuss.

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