Monday, August 3, 2009
Part two, Night of the Living Dead
Right before Halloween one year when my daughter was still in high school, I bought a copy of Night of the Living Dead on video. We'd watch it Halloween night - Caitlyn didn't plan to go trick-or-treating that year and we had no plans for celebration except...the movie. We settled in with the dogs, the neighborhood kids had stopped ringing the doorbell, the candy was mostly gone and we were ready to watch what was for me the holy grail of zombie movies. Right away my daughter mentioned that she couldn't believe we thought this movie was scary or even a little bit creepy and how could we think this was such a great movie? I tried to explain the feelings a movie like Night of the Living Dead invoked in me and she gave me the blank fish look and left the room to talk on the phone to her friends. My husband and I were astounded....how could she?....did you hear what she said?...can you believe anyone not being captivated? In my opinion, my daughter's generation may be victims of so much everyday violence in their everyday world that the intensity of Night of the Living Dead is completely lost for them. Her comment was, "this is nothing compared to what I've seen on the news". And perhaps it's true, but to allow yourself to be captured by the Night of the Living Dead is to watch amazing cinematic history and I was not going to be bummed out by her media-saturated and jaded view. I was going be transported for an hour and a half to that cemetery, to that abandoned farm house, to the zombies of the Night of the Living Dead.
"They're coming to get you Barbara". Ahhhhh! I just watched it again and am still, I'm happy to say, enthralled by the movie. Poor Barbara, I feel so unsympathetic towards her, she's this mousy church girl who becomes completely unhinged as events unfold...she's perfect. Apparently the actress Judith O'Dea was so convincing that the previously intended strong woman character was changed once George A. Romero saw Judith in action as Barbara. She manages to avoid shambling zombie number one, but ultimately her weakness and hysteria makes you want her to be THE FIRST to go. It really does.
According to IMDB: "The social commentary on racism some have seen in this film was never intended (an African-American man holing up in a house with a white woman, a posse of whites shooting a black man in the head without first checking to see if he was a zombie). According to the filmmakers, 'Duane Jones (I)' was simply the best actor for the part of Ben". Poor Ben, he's the only one of the humans that the viewer can feel remotely sympathetic with. He's the only voice of reason, the only "still living" with any kind of a plan. You want him to succeed, you want him to survive. I didn't see this movie for the first time until probably the late 70's and wasn't in the least aware of the significance that the protagonist was played by a person of color. This wouldn't have seemed unique to me at the time and it wasn't until much later that I understood how (although unintentional) historically groundbreaking this was.
George A Romero's use of still photography as the credits roll at the end of the film run are some of the most powerful and truly creepy aspects of the whole movie for me. Originally premiered in Pittsburgh, PA in 1968, Night of the Living Dead will always be one of my favorites. The word Zombie is never mentioned once in the entire movie but it will forever remain my #2 favorite Zombie movie and worth watching again and again.
I still hold on to the hope that Caitlyn some day will grow to have an appreciation of this film.