Sunday, May 30, 2010

George-ography: A Romero Retrospective

(Is it just me or is George getting...hungrier?)

Geoff from Enter The Man Cave decided to do something a little bit different than anything we've seen before this week, in the form of a biographical retrospective highlighting some of the lesser known facts of George Romero and his contributions to the world of cinema. Among other things, he reminds us that ole George is and always will be the master, no matter how much of a turn for the worse his Dead series has taken over the years. Aint that the truth!


On February 4, 1940 in New York, the world was blessed by the birth of one of the most influential and highly underrated directors in filmmaking history. While some of his current works (Diary of the Dead) may not be on par with his classics (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead), Romero's greatness will always be retained even if his next film is 90 minutes of someone producing excrement.

The unusual ride to history began with his first gig filming a segment of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. That's right. George Andrew Romero's first notable gig after his graduation from Carnegie-Mellon University (sans his short films and commercial ads), was a segment of Mr. Rogers getting his tonsils yanked out. Sounds pretty graphic for an episode of Mr. R's, but it actually foreshadowed things to come.

After his visit in the "Land of Make Believe", he formed Ten Productions with his buddies and filmed a little film called Night of the Living Dead. The rest is history. NOTLD created a new horror genre, a new horror creature in the zombie and contained underlying social commentary about the radical times of that era.

More importantly, Romero went against the grain when he cast Duane Jones, an African-American, as the male lead role in NOTLD. This was extremely groundbreaking at the time, as Jones became credited as the first African-American lead in a horror feature and more importantly, he portrayed a role that was written without any ethnic distinction. Romero did not write the role for an African-American but selected Jones simply because he deemed him the perfect actor for the part. This major footnote in cinematic history is often overlooked, but is important in terms of building towards what thespian diversity is today.

Between 1971-73, Romero released There's Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch and The Crazies and followed with Martin and Dawn of the Dead in '77-'78 to close out the decade. Besides Dawn and Martin, the other films were not viewed as being on the same level of greatness as NOTLD from a subjective standpoint.

His films in the 80's included Knightriders, the anthology hit Creepshow and Monkey Shines. In 1985, he released the third film in the Dead series, Day of the Dead, which was not as much of a financial success as its other series predecessors and not as enjoyable in the eyes of many people. An interesting factoid is that his former colleague John Russo released the Living Dead horror spoof Return of the Living Dead in the same year, which gained its' own level of success even though it is in a separate universe and completely detached from the prior three Dead films.

In the 90's, Romero directed Two Evil Eyes and The Dark Half. After releasing Bruiser in 2000, he released three more films from his official Dead series, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and more recently Survival of the Dead.

Other non-feature film efforts include his producer credit for 77 episodes of the NBC television series Tales From the Darkside. Romero also filmed a commercial for the Japanese version of Resident Evil 2 (Biohazard 2) which is a great :30 spot that encompasses the spirit of the game. The ad shows the game's two lead characters Leon Kennedy and Jill Valentine versus a horde of zombies in the Raccoon City Police Department. It is available to view on YouTube, and fans are encouraged to check it out.

This commercial generated enough excitement in producing a full length live-action feature film based on the Resident Evil video game series with Romero approached to direct. He originally passed on the offer, but then wrote a script with his own vision of the film. He tried to re-vitalize the offer to include his script, but was then turned down in favor of Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil...and the many future sequels that spawned. Romero's script is floating around on the internet and can be obtained with a quick Google search. It might not be the best script Romero has written, but it is interesting to read what very well could have been.

George A. Romero might not have the resume or the awards of a Francis Ford Coppola and a Martin Scorsese, but he is an important figure in cinematic history. Critics and skeptics can easily dismiss his more recent efforts as him losing his touch on the pulse of cinema, but nothing will ever tarnish his legacy. Breaking racial barriers, creating commentaries on the state of consumerism and social classes under the guise of horror films and making the zombie a new category of legendary horror monster are just some of accomplishments that sets Romero in a class of his own.

-Geofree Capodanno


The Frog Queen said...

Mr. Rogers?!? Really? Wow, have a whole new respect for that show :)

Thanks for the great walk down a lesser known path of Romero's history. I enjoyed myself.

And now excuse me as I head out and go pick myself up the Tales from the Darkside series....I knew I wanted to watch them again for a reason. :)


Crazy Brunette said...

Yep, I got no fucking CLUE who this guy is...

Awesome though!

Chuck said...

Good Job Geof! Very enlightening piece on a great director of horror...loved the Dead movies for reasons I can't even explain.