ON THE DAY that George A. Romero‘s star was dedicated on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Oct. 25, 2017), the entertainment industry trade journal Variety marked the occasion by publishing a 1972 interview with the late filmmaker conducted by journalist and show business historian Alex Ben Block. The interview has not been available until now, and as a lifelong fan it’s hard to overstate how exciting it is to read “new” quotes from Romero in the wake of his passing.
But the interview has historical value as well. Consider the fact that it was conducted four years after the release of Night of the Living Dead, somewhere around the premiere of Romero’s third feature, Season of the Witch, and yet nearly the entire Q&A seems devoted to understanding how Romero and his partners achieved such stunning success working outside of the Hollywood system, within the limitations of Night‘s relatively small budget. Today we often hear the film referred-to as groundbreaking, and a game-changer, but the fact that a legit film journalist was trying to understand the phenomenon four years after the film’s debut really puts flesh and bones to those clichés.
I’M A NUT for historical context, and this interview offers a lot.
It’s interesting to note, for example, that as of 1972 Romero still wasn’t using the word “zombie” to describe his creatures. He was still calling them ghouls. As far as we know he didn’t employ the z-word until 1978, when Peter (Ken Foree) uttered it in Romero’s Night follow-up, Dawn of the Dead (which always made sense to me since the character was of Carribean descent, and the word has its origin in that region).
Also interesting is Romero’s insistence that Night of the Living Dead looks “crude” not because of budgetary restraints or lack of filmmaking experience, but because he wanted it to look crude. To make his case, he reminds everyone about his and his partners’ background making television commercials:
“We make a living making a glass of beer look like heaven, and we could have glossed this up too. This is one of the talents our shop has, making things look beautiful. Maybe that’s why we went as far the other way as we did.”
When asked about the inevitable opportunities in Hollywood that would arise from his early success, we find that Romero’s celebrated leeriness of corporate filmmaking was very much in evidence even early on:
“I’m very afraid of it. I really am.”
“My primary thing is wanting to be in control… in every aspect, to do exactly what I’ve wanted to do.”
AND IF you’re a Romero fan, you know that his story ended a lot like it began. To read the entire interview, visit Variety.