Would you believe Mr. Rogers Neighborhood? That is where George Romero claims to have made one of his scariest movies ever, but if you want to know more about that you will have to see "The Birth of the Living Dead" the phenomenal new documentary by Rob Kuhns from First Run Features.
This film is not only about the making of a movie. It is much, much more. This is about the birth of an iconic American legend. This is about a masterpiece that has not only spawned countless other books, films, sequels, video games, a popular TV show, and conventions. This little independent film has stood the test of time so well that it is even being used to help teach literacy to school children.
In the summer of love, 1967 the word guerilla was used to describe the warfare in Viet Nam, not film making. Movies were made in Hollywood mostly. They all had "happy endings". Black men weren’t allowed to touch white women on television, let alone be the lead protagonist in a movie. Except for Sidney Poitier and such great pains were taken to see that he didn’t insult white people that other black people fighting for civil rights like H. Rap Brown said of him "Even George Wallace would love that nigger". In case you’re wondering Governor Wallace, was the man who while in office, stood at the doors of the University of Alabama to prevent integration. Yes this was long before anyone could just use their smart phone to record anything and post it online. Those were Dark times, rife with fear, anger and riots.
This film not only gives us insight into those times but into the man who wanted to make a movie and in so doing, started a revolution. What he finally produced was not just a movie but a phenomenon that not only smashed all manner of movie clichés and stereotypes but also served as an allegory for the real everyday monsters that existed then and still exist today. Perhaps that is why even forty five years later this movie has not only stood the test of time but has become such a huge part of our collective consciousness.
Although I learned many interesting tidbits about the production of "Night of the Living Dead", "The Birth of the Living Dead" is not just a behind the scenes "making of" documentary. It is many unsettling lessons in one sitting. This film is not only an excellent lesson in film making, distribution and genres. It is also a historical and sociological one. To paraphrase Mr. Romero "God changed the rules, there’s no room left in hell". It’s still happening now and these things are probably just going to keep coming until we redeem ourselves somehow.
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