On the Scene: George A. Romero's 'Diary of the Dead'
I don’t usually get so excited about a movie that I buy tickets right off the bat, but that’s exactly what I did last week when I saw that NYC’s Museum of the Moving Image was presenting a preview screening of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, with Romero himself (pictured, right) on hand to discuss the movie . (It officially opens this Friday.) Seeing the film early was one thing, but a chance to hear Romero talk about his work in person was too good to pass up. Romero, best known for inventing the modern zombie movie, is also the director of one of my favorite films, Knightriders (thankfully, a Hoff-free film).
Diary follows a group of college students who are making a horror film in the woods when they hear that the dead are coming back to life and attacking the living. The kids decide to split when it becomes clear that the news is legitimate, but one filmmaker decides to document the experience to get “the truth” out to others. I could tell I was among Romero geeks when we all shared a laugh at one character’s complaint that “zombies don’t move fast,” a transparent critique of the super-fast zombies in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and 28 Weeks Later. Of course, it wasn’t just inside jokes and black humor that got to the audience; the gory, scary (and occasionally surreal) scenes had us all screaming too.
(After the jump, read Romero’s take on torture porn, the blogosphere, and the so-called “media octopus.”)
After the credits rolled, Romero appeared and got a standing ovation. Although I was disappointed not to see him in his trademark fishing vest, Moving Image Assistant Curator Livia Bloom moderated an interesting discussion with the Bronx-raised filmmaker. Diary is Romero’s first independently produced zombie film in over two decades. More than just a mere monster movie, it serves as an indictment of the public’s obsession with recording everything they see. “It’s maybe the angriest movie I’ve made since Night,” Romero says. But he couldn’t deny that the film also has his trademark gags and slapstick-y moments, adding that he “can’t resist a joke.” When an audience member queried him about a rumored sequel to Diary, Romero laughed and said that a plot was not worked out yet, “but there’s a hell of a lot more I’d like to say about this media octopus that doubles in size every hour.” (And by the way, “media octopus” is definitely my favorite new phrase.)
Not surprisingly, Romero is extremely opinionated about this octopus. “We’re all being co-opted by this new media. You see something happening outside your window, get a shot of it, send it in, we’ll put it on the air and send you a CNN mug.” He also spoke about the dark side of the blogosphere: “I say, not so facetiously, that if Jim Jones had a blog, he’d have millions of people drinking the Kool-Aid.”
When the conversation turned to modern horror films, Romero said that they just didn’t do it for him. “If somebody could give me a succinct reason for torture porn to exist, please hold your hand up and tell me. Is it anger? What kind of anger? Just because I’m pissed off at the world doesn’t mean I have to be cruel. I don’t get it.”
What struck me most about Romero was his candor. He spoke about everything from the remakes of his films (Romero purists were thrilled to hear he has nothing to do with them) to his frustration in trying to get personal projects financed. But despite Romero’s generally serious tone, he got the biggest laugh of the night when he revealed his nostalgia for editing his own films. Reminiscing about shooting on real film and cutting it together himself, he said, “smoking a cigarette over that flammable glue… puts a little danger into the process. I miss it.”