. . . Night of the Living Dead

. . .

Kyra Schon Bosco We're doing everything possible. Movie Comment: Night of the Living Dead

"But if in either period brain tentacles had come out of Ludwig's ears and started waving about, it would have been even better." -- UFO Breakfast
Even more than most mad scientist movies, David Cronenberg's dedicate themselves to a Nietszchean critique of ego: The will never swaggers more than when in the grip of compulsion, and consciousness feels feeblest precisely when it has most freedom of choice. Thus an admirably honest way to make a plot seem driven by "character development" is to let physical metamorphosis take over the actual steering.

But self-loathing remains a form of self-obsession, and more often than not remains a form of self-aggrandizement; Cronenberg's heroes seem awfully close to the wannabe-macho breast-beaters of mainstream indie film, even if they're more likely to crack ribs and break skin doing it. Nietzsche never successfully became Beaumarchais.

And so I often find myself instead turning for relief to less egocentric misanthropy, whether it be the lowbrow slapstick of Herschell Gordon Lewis or the political savvy of George Romero's more sophisticated social comedy.

As much as I like Dawn and Day of the Dead, their nostalgia for a Howard-Hawks-style camaraderie of competence sweetens the medicine a bit -- although, true, opposing camaraderies always seem ready to spring up in the interest of mutual annihilation. As much as I respect The Crazies, its ambition and budget clash a bit too noticeably -- although, true, now is probably a very good time to revisit its weave of biochemical weaponry, governmental incompetence, and mass panic. OK, never mind; the "although"s win.

But the point I was going after is that Night of the Living Dead is still about as bracing a pleasure as the terminal ironist can find. In a genuinely novel emergency, all human connections and reactions seem tailor-made for maximal entanglement. Love (familial, romantic, or purely neighborly) betrays, hate betrays, rigidity betrays, compromise betrays, and even Hawksian competence reduces to newsprint images of lynching parties and genocides. No one can think things out without immediately becoming slaves to their own analysis ("It's important to be right, isn't it?"); no plans can begin without a power struggle and no plans can be carried through without disastrous improvisation.

Despite the lapses in acting and pacing, Romero's decision to leave the script unchanged after Duane Jones's casting makes the movie far more time-resistent than, say, Shadows. And the next-to-final irony -- that the brave leader is wrong and the snivelling villain is right -- not that it really makes a difference, given the final one -- is not only satisfying in itself but a continuing source of new satisfactions in the form of viewers who miss the point and thus help prove it all over again.

. . .

Movie Comment : Senza Pietá (1948)

Like Odets scripts and Cassavetes movies, most of the Neo-Realist canon looks simultaneously contrived and lazy, coasting on rhetorical conceit. Alberto Lattuada was a real director, though, complete with whistle and megaphone, and co-screenwriter/assistant-director Federico Fellini was no realist.

Re-doing Carmen as a noir and Carmen as an innocent victim is a sweet idea, although it leaves the lead little to do but be draggled she's sometimes as much a prop as the sister in Night of the Living Dead. But John Kitzmiller plays fall-guy with the proper mix of dopiness and gravitas, and Giulietta Masina provides occasional shots of oomph in a transition from Gloria Grahame (in a supporting role) to Joan Blondell (in a supporting role).1 Linking it to the other occupation movie we'd seen that day, Lavorno's evil crimelord is embodied by the manager of the Hotel Majestic.

Interracial love and an unflattering view-from-below of the American occupation explains why this didn't get distribution at the time. What keeps it out of sight now? Inertia, most likely.

1   As noted by Joan Blondell scholar, Juliet Clark.


Ray, that really happened.

I know; I saw it with my own eyes!


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