Criterion Blu-Ray of the Day : George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

Night of the Living Dead

I’m watching George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on Criterion’s beautiful newly released 2-Disc Edition.

 

DISC 1: THE FILM

I’ve seen the movie before, years ago, as well as other Romero films. And while understanding the significance of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I have never been a fan of the zombie/ghoul genre. Most likely due to its over-saturation by lesser filmmakers just regurgitating Romero’s novel approach, as well as simply not being a fan of gore.

Romero’s re-imagining of the Zombie as a flesh eating corruption never stood well with me. It was the myth of the ghoul, rather than the older Haitian mythology of the Zombie. A Zombie, as understood from Haitian lore, was something dead, that had been transformed into something beyond death and beyond corruption, more in common with the Jewish Golem, and seen most visually in the Val Lewton produced I WALK WITH A ZOMBIE

Romero’s flesh eating, rotting monstrosity, that was all corruption, could not be more different than the idea of the Zombi. However, to Romero’s credit he did identify the creatures accurately in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as ghouls, but for whatever reason ; the press or marketing latched onto calling them by the incorrect nomenclature of Zombie. If I had to guess, I would think the more exotic sounding Zombie, simply appealed to them more, than the more crude (but accurate) term of ghoul.

So while I appreciated NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I was never the biggest fan of it. It’s a little too strident for me, and argumentative, filled with unlikable people, which may or may not be accurate in such a situation; but was for me, not what I wanted to spend time viewing, and was a bit plodding because of it.

However, re-watching the film, on this Criterion release I have a new appreciation for the film. 

First thing that strikes you is how stunning this film looks, in this Museum of Modern Art remastered edition. The Black and White cinematography is beautiful, and I see now exactly how stylish the film was in its use of camera angles and shadows. It may be Romero’s most beautiful film because of its noirish and dutch angle filled aesthetic.

2nd, the very structure of the film, while commonplace today, at the time the ‘house under siege’ motif was new, most notably seen in 1964’s Vincent Price vehicle THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD managed to build on that premise, and deepen it, by adding group dynamics to the mix, as well a claustrophobic ‘you are there’ intensity, in its cinema verite shooting style. Not to mention the creation of a whole new breed of monster.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, taken in context of when it was made, is ground breaking in terms of how it is filmed; the mixture of science fiction, horror, group dynamics and intended irony and unexpected social commentary, along with the running commentary of the media helping to tell the film’s back-story. And just the general bleakness of the film is astonishing, even watching it today. Given how truly threadbare and Indy this film was, in a time before the concept of Independent film even existed, its nihilism still has the power to impress.

Duane Jones gives a compelling performance as Ben, and is the bedrock upon which the film cements itself as a classic. But all the performances are surprisingly intriguing, from Russell Streiner and Judith O’Dea and William Hinzman (lead Ghoul) who effectively open the film in a now iconic sequence, to on-screen couples Keith Wayne and Judith Ridley and Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman, and Kyra Shon as their daughter.

A word on Marilyn Eastman who plays Mrs. Cooper, she gives, in a small role, one of the best performances of the film, up their with Dwayne’s work. You can not take your eyes off of her when she is on screen, she is so nuanced and compelling in a very contained performance, that plays all the more effectively in counterpoint to the histrionics and testosterone around her. She also was part of the crew and is on this commentary, and her insights are always an informative part of the commentary.

DISC 1 SPECIAL FEATURES

Regarding the Special Features, Co-producer Russell Streiner in the INTRO TO NIGHT OF ANUBIS feature, explains NIGHT OF ANUBIS was the working title for the film as it was under production. NIGHT OF ANUBIS was actually the 2nd title for the film, they originally wanted to title the film THE NIGHT OF THE FLESH-EATERS. However a cease an desist order from a studio with plans to release a movie called FLESH-EATERS led to Romero coming up with the title NIGHT OF ANUBIS.

So the movie would go all through production with the title NIGHT OF ANUBIS, however once the film wrapped the distributors did not like the title ANUBIS, found it too esoteric no doubt, so the name was changed for the last time for its release, and the film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was born.

FIRST COMMENTARY

Romero and select Crew- It’s not the most interesting commentary, one reason is because there are so many voices on the commentary, and they are all going in different directions, and largely they are discussing minutiae even by commentary standards. Whether eye-glasses were supposed to be half on or all on, and discussions like that.

It is initially a very pedantic, pedestrian, minutiae focused commentary. However the commentary does pick up in moments, and becomes quite incisive, such as about 25 minutes in as they discuss the actors, among them the lead Duane Jones. and the thoughtful changes he made to his character. One intriguing thing is, it was colorblind casting. The role was not written for a Black guy, they actually had another actor, a White Actor, they were going to go with, but then Dwayne Jones came in an auditioned. His audition impressed everyone and he got the part.

It was a threadbare Pittsburgh production, and for the character of Ben they just needed a big guy to play him, as initially he was supposed to be a Brutish trucker. So largely they lucked out with Duane, as they got an actor who brought so much more to that character, than was on the page.

Necessitating rewriting that character for the more erudite and thoughtful presence that Duane brought to that role.

That in hindsight the film is notable for a Black protagonist, I think overlooks the stronger blessing of that casting; which is that they were lucky enough to get a great actor for that role. Duane Jones ended up bringing a unique variable to that performance, that would have been lost –  not just by an actor of a different ethnicity, but an actor of lesser sophistication. By any actor that was not Duane Jones.

There is a humanity Duane brings to a brutish character, that careens it away from the facile, surface level histrionics— to instead explore someone captivating and heroic and flawed. The takeaway from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is not that they cast a Black actor in the role, but rather that the best actor for that role, was a great actor, who was also Black. It is a subtle distinction but I believe an important one, that is still not quite embraced today.

Another interesting segment on the commentary, is an hour into the film, where they discuss the making of one of their more involved shots, the Washington DC based tv coverage, where the crew drove down to DC, and play the roles of reporters and military personnel. Involved, because for all intents and purposes this was just a very small Pittsburgh production, done by the crew, in any free time they could carve out, around their full time jobs.

The commentary than segues into discussion of Duane Jones before his passing. From this point to the end, the commentary gets far more intriguing. Overall, while not always fluid, this commentary gives you historic insights into the film and the performers that otherwise would have been lost to time. For this reason while not a great commentary, there are gems in here that make it an essential commentary.

 

SECOND COMMENTARY

Commentary Two has even more people involved, so lots of similar voices overlapping. Russell Streiner (producer/actor ‘He’s coming to get you, Barbara!‘), helping to sheep-herd this conversation, gets it off to a more compelling, entertaining start than the first commentary. And it places this commentary in time, to hear them discuss the upcoming laserdisc release. As someone who remembers laserdisc and still own some, it is a nice nostalgic touch.

And I like that, in this commentary, they reassert that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was not made as a social message film, they were simply making a horror film, and Duane was hired simply because he was the best actor who auditioned for the role. Add to that a running gag about Marilyn Eastman and lumber, and it is just a fun, affable commentary.

 

DISC TWO : A WHOLE DISC FULL OF SPECIAL FEATURES

Holy cow. Is this a loaded, feature rich release. This disc includes over 12 special features. Including interviews with the cast, and new documentaries made just for this release. It is just  wonderful grab bag of content that you can revisit and dive into at your leisure.  Including just a wonderful 1987 audio interview with Duane Jones recorded with Tim Ferrante.

“That moment, the total surrealism of the racial nightmare of America, being worse than whatever we were doing as a metaphor in that film, lives with me to this moment.”

-Duane Jones, 1987

 

SUMMATION

All in all, is a must own physical media release. In terms of beauty of the product on your shelf, and the content itself, and booklet. I came to this release a bit hesitantly, because as I mentioned I was never a huge fan of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Revisiting this film, and listening to the commentaries, and going through the special features, I have to say this is one of the treasures of my collection. Highly Recommended.

 

Get your copy here!

 

Short Film of the Day : Nzingha – Brazil Olympics 2016

https://static.shortoftheweek.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/27093-nzingha.jpg

 

NZINGHA Directed by Anderson Wright

 

I’ve recently become obsessed with Fencing.

So this short film was completely in my wheel house.

 

A great and inspirational little documentary.

 

You can also view it and other related videos here!

Documentary of the Day : RED OBSESSION (2013) narrated by Russell Crowe + Best Wine Deals on Amazon!

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RED OBSESSION – Described as “stunningly shot and entertaining”, this documentary explores the obsession for Bordeaux, the holy grail of fine wines, by a booming and voracious Chinese market.

I’m not a wine person, I’m definitely not an aficionado who is going to plunk down hundreds, thousands and even millions for a bottle of wine. I would say a $20 bottle, the occasional blue moon, is about my speed; that said I did enjoy this documentary, finding it informative and enlightening.

Worth a watch. Grade: B-. Available via Amazon Prime and Netflix.

 

And if interested in trying your own wines, and like me aren’t big on liquor stores, Amazon can ship the wines to you. Check the following links:

Wines that Rock, Rainbow III Mixed Pack, 4 X 750 mL

Naked Winery Dinner for Two Mixed Pack, 2 x 750 mL

Naked Winery Fireside Lovin Mixed Pack, 2 x 750 mL

ONEHOPE California Reds III Mixed Pack, 3 x 750 mL

Vampire Vineyards Vampire Mixed Pack, 3 x 750 mL

2009 Lookout Point Winery Rattlesnake Hills Malbec 750 mL

Lookout Point Award-Winning Reds Mixed Packs, 4 x 750 mL

Enjoy and tell them HT sent ya!

Documentary of the Day : THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR : SATAN CAME TO EDEN

Documentary of the Day : THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR : SATAN CAME TO EDEN
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THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR ; SATAN CAME TO EDEN – Directed by Daniel Geller, completely engrossing true life tale and mystery about a band of Europeans in that time between the World Wars, and their search for an escape from society’s madness, that would breed madness of its own. Grade : A.

Documentary of the Day : THAT GUY… WHO WAS IN THAT THING

thatguywhowas

Today courtesy of Netflix streaming you can watch the pretty darn awesome and informative 2012 documentary THAT GUY… WHO WAS IN THAT THING. 16 actors, known in the business as character actors, discuss the ups and downs of being an actor in Hollywood, in this heartfelt documentary. Recommended!

http://instantwatcher.com/titles/191786

Documentary Review: A BAND CALLED DEATH

“Try your best in life, to keep your promise to God; and give God time enough to keep His promise to you.” Bobby Hackney, quoting his Dad

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abandcalleddeath

I am that most horrible of things. I am a collector and a romantic, and those two things together tend to make me… sentimental about certain things.

Those two things tend to make me extremely emotional about certain things.

And I try to avoid things that will make me either emotional or sentimental. But sometimes that’s not for you to say. Sometimes there comes along something worthy of both sentimentality and emotion.

The documentary A BAND CALLED DEATH is one of those things. The phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ is oft heard, but little acknowledged; you’ll acknowledge it in the watching of this film, about three Black Brothers in a thriving early 70s Detroit, creating a hyper brand of rock, a punk music, years before punk; and the winding road that winding music… takes them on.

Just a brilliant, wrenching film, the feature film debut of Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett makes you want to scream, and create, and believe in family and generations, and believe in being a better man… and that confluence of feelings, is a rare and rarefied thing. A gift.

A highly recommended documentary, viewable free via streaming, that will spur you for posterity and for joy… to buy not just the documentary, but the cds associated with it.

A Band Called Death (+ Digital Copy) –

For the Whole World to See – Here is the long awaited CD/Album referenced in the documentary. Here music that was almost lost for all time, but for a man’s faith… that the world would come

Maximum Soul Power – And here the next generation, inspired and building upon what came before

Just riveting all around. Click the links, and for little, own much.

THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS – Exonerated Former Convicts Start a Detective Agency?!

I have about a 100 blogs in my blog and webcomic folder. Far more than I can check in on, anywhere near as often as I would like to. But today is the day I check in on some of them.

You lucky devils!

One of them for this post is the site SHADOW AND ACT. the stories they cover can be hit and miss with me, however one that grabbed me as a hit was the story of the Freedom Fighters.

This real life tale, reads in part:

“There’s a new detective agency in Dallas, Texas, started by a group of exonerated Black men who have all spent decades in prison… for crimes they did not commit.”

Not only is that a documentary in the making, I can see that premise making for a Fantastic television show. Probably HBO. 🙂

Read the story here.

More blog updates to come!

What I’m reading and watching! Quick ratings!

What I’m reading! Quick ratings!

BATMAN AND ROBIN BORN TO KILL by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason- After reading one disappointing ‘NEW 52’ book after another (ACTION COMICS by Grant Morrison comes to mind) I went into this read with some trepidation, but it was unwarranted. Tomasi crafts a solidly engaging read that is good from first page to last and complimented by great art by Gleason and Gray. Strongly Recommended! B+.
Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to Kill (The New 52)

SUPERMAN BATMAN SORCERER KINGS- Is a hodge-podge of four different stories, none of which really ever rises to become anything more than tedious. D.

What I’m watching:

Just finished watching Michael Moore’s SICKO and CAPITALISM A LOVE STORY back to back, and they are both powerful, essential, if not always easy viewing.

CAPITALISM A LOVE STORY is particularly brilliant, has been called Moore’s Magnum-Opus and I concur. It’s a courageous, informative, and well put together film. Sometimes Moore has a way of perhaps working a theme into the ground, and beating us over the head, and I felt that in SICKO, acutely. ‘Yeah, okay I get it, other countries have better healthcare than the US, how many examples are you going to show me? Move on to solutions.’.

Somewhere in most of Moore’s films that thought process rears up, however it didn’t in CAPITALISM A LOVE STORY. Potentially Moore’s last film it is undeniably his best. And both films, will make you want to make real, hard changes in your life. As it makes clear that the people you entrust with your well being… don’t care about that… at all. Both films should really be seen, and CAPITALISM must be seen.
Capitalism: A Love Story

DVD Review: THE CAPTAINS written & directed by William Shatner

I just watched William Shatner’s THE CAPTAINS. Oh My God!

It is jaw dropping unbelievable. It’s like a god damn train wreck. Avery Brooks either has dementia or is on a different dimension (and I say that with no joy, being a huge Avery Brooks fan, but yeah his portions are cringe inducing), Shatner is attacking and trying to make Kate Mulgrew and Patrick Stewart cry. He’s openly jealous and arm wrestling Chris Pine. The only one he kinda gets along with is Scott Bakula, and mostly because Bakula feeds into his ego, and the rest of the episode is William Shatner going down memory lane and shamelessly looking for compliments at every turn.

It really is painful to watch at times, and I say that, also being a huge fan of William Shatner. That said, when Shatner’s ego and showmanship gets out of the way, it’s good viewing. The convention riff at the end is a lot of fun. And there is some good moments between Stewart and Shatner. And good revelations between Mulgrew and Shatner.

All in all, train-wreck moments aside, it’s incredibly important what Shatner has written and directed here. The cringe worthy moments accepted, endured, fast forwarded… at the end of the day, we’re all better for Shatner having immortalized these reminisces. In many ways it’s William Shatner’s last word on the iconic character he created.

Shatner a man perhaps feeling distinctly his mortality, making a concrete capper to his career and his life. Much of this is a vanity project, an auto-biography of self, window dressed as an interview with others. William Shatner utilizes the other actors to tell his story.

William Shatner trying to immortalize his place in this enduring mythology called Star trek, to not be lost in this new Christopher Pine age. So on that level, THE CAPTAINS is at heart a very selfish vanity project.

However, that said, Shatner does his homework, and does allow actors to come to terms and discuss arguably the most iconic role of their respective careers. And it does, by weight of just the actors involved, become a bit of cinematic history, as none of the actors are getting any younger and this film is arguably the last time all six of the actors who played the role of Captain will ever share a film together.

And to have William Shatner helm such a meeting, well… all things said… who has more right to do so.

It deserves at least a rental, and for those who count themselves as fans, possibly a purchase. It’s worth a look and has by its very nature become something that will, its relative quality issues aside, stand the test of time. Forty years from now when only Chris Pine, and the captains that follow him remain, people will dig out this film, to find out who Shatner and Stewart and Brooks and Mulgrew and Bakula were.

And if that is Shatner’s gift to himself and his family, at the end of the day, it’s also a gift to us, a gift to posterity. There are worse gifts to get.

SHARKWATER AND MAY YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH TO DRINK

“I think the problem is that we don’t really understand what we are. In essence we’re just a conceited naked ape, but in our minds we’re some sort of divine legend and we see ourselves as some sort of God; that we can walk around the Earth deciding who will live and who will die, and what will be destroyed and what will be saved. But the fact is we’re just a bunch of primates out of control.”

“We’re now in the midst of a third World War but this time the enemy is ourselves, and the objective is to save the planet from ourselves. There’s no hope for the masses of humanity to do anything, they never have, they never will. All social change comes from the passionate intervention of individuals or small groups of individuals.”

“Slavery wasn’t ended by any government or institution, women got the right to vote not because of any government, the Civil Rights movement the same thing, India with Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa with Nelson Mandella, again it’s always individuals, you need those individuals with the passion and the energy to get involved. Infact I don’t know any government or institutions that are doing anything to solve any of the World’s [current] problems. All over the world though, I am seeing individuals and non-government organizations that are passionately involved in protecting ecosystems and species. And that’s where I see some optimism, that’s where results are happening.”
—SHARKWATER


Sharkwater

Save Sharks

Now I’m no bleeding heart (maybe just spotting), and being severely traumatized by JAWS 🙂 I have no particular love for Sharks. Though to be candid, I have no particular love for anything that could potentially take a bite out of me. Be it lions, or tigers, or bears, oh my! Or even the neighbor’s poodle.

That said I believe that everything has a right to be, and a place, a part in a design, part of the beauty, the puzzle that makes the world spin. And each species we lose, is that puzzle broken a bit more, the world spinning a bit more haphazardly, and beauty and strangeness and wonders… lost.

And while I have respect for hunting and fishing, I think to kill an animal not for food or survival is a sin. And killing hundreds of thousands of sharks simply so you can cut off their fins to feed as aphrodisiacs or curatives to people with more money than sense, doesn’t count as either food or survival. It counts as an aberration. Sin. A mortal one, if you are moved by such outmoded concepts as sin and salvation.

Part of the… flaw of industrialization, is people stopped hunting for their own needs or even the needs of their village, and began over-hunting and overfishing to meet huge corporate quotas and profit margins. And that way lies in extinction. Short term them-the animal, long term us-the man.

And that said, like most of you I have my own problems. Problems as long as my arm, and pressing, and saving sharks falls pretty low on my list of things to tackle. Way below trying to save people from dropping bombs and starving and otherwise exterminating each other. That said, for a pointedly non-religious guy I believe in some really non-scientific bs.

I believe there is a wisdom that shapes our ends. I believe God puts in front of us maybe not what we want to deal with, but what we need to deal with. I believe in no accidents. For whatever reason I, a broke writer in this day, in this time… watched this DVD, and it moved me, and I’m writing about it.

I’m not a millionaire, or a politician, or a soldier of fortune, so I’m not going to address the problem in those ways. But each according to their strengths. Maybe it was put in my path so I’ll write about it, and someone who never comes to the blog, will come to it this one day, this one time, this one moment.

And maybe he’ll be moved, to move another piece, according to his strength. Part of some chain that binds us all. And something good, will come of it.

I don’t know. But I believe there are no accidents. I believe there are only things that move us, cups that come to us, challenges, and we can either accept and drink deep or pass them by.

Whatever is on my plate, I will not pass by the cup that comes to me. Never have, never will.

And so I write this post.

And I the Shark Hater, I talk of Sharks. And the end of Sharks. A wonderful world is it not.

At the end of the day I reckon all that separates a good man from a bad, is how much beauty we take out of the world contrasted with how much we put in. A good man hopefully leaves the world more beautiful than he found it. I reckon a man whose claim to fame is helping make a species extinct, and litter the oceans with dead carcases, take wonder out of the sea… well I’d guess that’s villainy that will stain a person’s soul, and everything he touches… even onto the ending of the world.

Easier ways to make money I’d gather, at least… less damning ways.

Watch SHARKWATER. It’s worth the viewing. And if it doesn’t move you to get involved, not just in that cause, but any cause, then don’t worry about it. It just means you’re already dead. Or maybe worse, were never alive.

For the rest of you, check the site link above. Get involved. And if the cup comes to you, I wish you… the strength to drink.

Sharkwater


“Future generations are going to look back, and they’re going to think of us as barbarians. They’re going to look at us as barbarians for what we’re doing. The fact that we’re burning all the fossil fuels in a few generations, that we’ve wiped out the oceans, that we’ve driven species to extinction. And worse, this is the worst part, we know what we’re doing. The scientists know, the environmentalists know, the companies know, and the general public knows, and yet we’re allowing ourselves to do it.” —SHARKWATER