Monday, 10 October 2011

Review of George A. Romero Interviews

Of particular interest to Romero fans is this new collection of interviews edited by Tony Williams. Prof. Williams’s previous work includes the critical study The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead (Wallflower Press, London, 2003) and the acclaimed study of family in the horror film, Hearths of Darkness (Associated University Presses, London, 1996). The interviews in this new collection cover a period of over forty years – from 1969 to 2010 – spanning Night of the Living Dead to Survival of the Dead.  The interviews illustrate the various stages in Romero’s career with the majority covering the years from 1973 to 1982 – arguably Romero’s richest period creatively. 

Three of the interviews are conducted by Prof. Williams himself (including one taken especially for the book). Many are rare and difficult to find, including an important one from 1979 by Williams, Robin Wood and Richard Lippe at the Toronto Film Festival retrospective of horror films (the event for which Wood wrote his landmark essay, The American Nightmare). Also included is a Paul R. Gagne interview from 1985 - Gagne’s The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh (Dodd Mead, 1987) still being the most comprehensive book written on Romero – and two interviews by Dennis Fischer, who wrote the influential Horror Film Directors (McFarland and Co, 1991), including one previously unpublished that covers Bruiser.

There is much here for fans and scholars alike: Romero talks openly about the themes in his films (intriguingly, he speaks of Night as an allegory as early as 1973), about his artistic methods and his (often painful) experience in the film business. He is sometimes wary about pinning specific interpretations on his films but his commitment to social commentary is clear and consistent throughout. As critical appreciation increases over the years so do the quality of the interviews: those taken around 1982 show the director at the height of his powers, in complete command and knowing exactly what he wants to say. However, readers seeking the definitive Romero political ‘statement’ may be disappointed: when Robin Wood asks Romero his attitude to the possibility of social change, Romero by no means rejects notions of social engagement but says he doesn’t think of his work primarily in such terms; the desire to change society might be present but is not a primary conscious motivation. Instead of glib answers, what we get from Romero – in both his films and interviews - is the sense of his working through a complex set of ideas about society, the individual, communication and responsibility. This process is on-going and subject to refinement as each interview – and film - proves, but the themes themselves remain consistent and coherent.

Prof. Williams presents each interview in full with no evidence of editorial tinkering. At times this means some repetition; many of the interviews rehash Romero’s background and Night of the Living Dead. This also makes the featured chronology and filmography seem a little redundant. Romero scholars may experience déjà vu at times. Parts of the interviews, for example, have been quoted by Gagne in The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh. Land of the Dead is under-represented: only a short piece is included which even then is more an article than an interview. This seems a bit slim considering the importance of Land as Romero’s return to the screen after several years away. Having said that, the interviews covering Romero’s experience in Hollywood 'developmental hell' prior to Land are particularly fascinating, detailing as they do his failed projects such as The Mummy and Resident Evil.

Prof. Williams omits an afterword from the collection; presumably so that more interviews can be added in future editions. Let’s hope that this is the case. Romero seems to have more films in him – Let’s hope he gets the chance to make them.

George A. Romero Interviews (ed. Tony Williams), University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2011.


Wes M said...

Many thanks Jon, this book is new to me and I might pick it up at some stage because I like the interview format - one of my favourite books to dive in and out of is a book of Stephen King interviews called Barebones. Speaking of King, is there any word in the book of Romero's abandoned adaptation of The Stand ? For me this is one of the major one-that-got-away films.

Jon T said...

Thanks, Wes. Yes, I have Barebones - King gives a good interview. Romero doesn't speak much about The Stand. It was made into a mini-series in 1994 by Laurel and directed by Mick Garris based on the King script. In the book Romero says his involvement was limited to some work on the script with King, no actual writing, just helping to trim it down to a manageable length. Yes, it is a shame. It strikes me that Romero's split from Laurel deprived him of a few projects like this in the 1990s, a decade which turned out to be quite a lean one for him.