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George A. Romero on “Diary of the Dead”

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By Aaron Hillis

Although a strong case could be made for why “Martin” and “The Crazies” are neglected classics, the richest work in horror maven George A. Romero’s oeuvre always seems to be populated with wall-to-wall zombies. Romero invented cinema’s undead flesh-munchers, at least the modern mythos, but his intelligence and staying power among cinephiles comes from how he uses the genre to reflect and poke holes in real-life societal ills. 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” the granddaddy of them all, famously invoked Vietnam-era paranoia, with an ending that showed how mankind could be just as monstrous as the moaning hordes. 1978’s consumer-dependency spoof “Dawn of the Dead” followed, then 1985’s macho-fascism rampage “Day of the Dead,” and 2005’s “Land of the Dead” played like a greatest hits whack at 20 years of corporate greed and political corruption.

It’s now a quintet with Romero’s “Diary of the Dead,” a terrifying, whip-smart, often darkly hilarious critique of new media. Resetting the series’ timeline, the film goes back to day one of the zombie infestation, as seen through the eyes of film students making their own horror flick. As the news begins breaking, one student makes it his compulsive duty to record every second of history as it’s being made, and in turn, Romero’s film is structured entirely as a documentary-within-a-film — think “Cloverfield” with brains, “The Blair Witch Project” with substance or “Redacted” with zombies instead of disingenuous guilt. I chatted with Romero on February 5th (a day after his 68th birthday), or as the media played up its primaries branding, “Super Tuesday.”

There’s something fitting about “Diary of the Dead” coming out in an election year. Exactly how deep does your cynicism run when it comes to American politics today?

[laughs] I’m pretty goddamn cynical, but I’ve been that way forever. I don’t know, can you predict what’s going to happen? I just worry that there’s too much prejudice against a woman or an African-American to beat Romney, god forbid. I have no idea which way it’s going to swing. Before we made “Night of the Living Dead,” we had a little production company that did beer commercials, industrial films, and so forth. We also did political campaigns, and in fact, we did Lenore Romney’s campaign to be governor of Michigan. Harry Treleaven and all the boys who brought you Nixon ’68 were there, and it just gave me an inside look at the scene. I’ve been pretty cynical about it ever sense.

What about in the long view? Are we better or worse off now?

I just can’t believe people can get suckered into the same old kind of political game-playing. It’s like Oral Roberts: there’s a way of talking, a way of winning issues. It’s ridiculous, there’s no straight talk. Part of what inspired this film is that, like that old show “Crossfire” on CNN, which was just people screaming at each other. You never got any information. Is the planet warming or not? We ought to be able to answer that question. There’s too much unmanaged information, and half of it is just opinion. Obviously, there are tremendous advantages to having this incredible access to information. I use the web all the time, and it’s fabulous. But it’s also wide open for the bad guys: how to build a bomb, how to order a hooker, whatever! It’s all on there.

Was the emerging media idea your main reason for rewriting the series’ history, or had you always intended to go back to the beginnings of the zombie rising?

No, I had the idea first, that these would be film students with a camera, and they could document it. I couldn’t really do that three years in after it had become Thunderdome! They wouldn’t be attending classes anymore, so I felt I could go back. It’s sort of returning to the roots, and it’s a film about people who were very much like what we were like when we made the first film. It was really like coming home.

02202008_diaryofthedead.jpgIt’s definitely coming home. “Diary” seemed to me like your angriest film since “Night,” a clear-headed evaluation on how we’re choking ourselves with so-called information. In a world with both tabloid TV and “Faces of Death,” how would you suggest we determine what’s worth documenting?

[laughs] Man, I don’t know! How do you draw that line? There’s a certain belief in journalism that if there’s a story, it’s worth reporting, no matter what the story is. Now they’re saying, “Hey, if you see a car chase or a fire outside your window, shoot it, and we’ll put it on the air.” It’s trivializing it, when there’s always been some management figure saying, “This is a big enough story.” That’s not right either, but the point is now it’s every which way but loose: “Look, that cat has a third ear, put it on CNN!”

Most of the stuff that plays solidly for three, four days a week seems pretty trivial to me, compared to some of the real problems we’re having in the world. It’s hard to define what you think is worthwhile. Ultimately, it comes down to somebody’s judgment — is Arianna Huffington any more of a judge than Joe Schmo in Chicago? I prefer the old days when it was being managed. Maybe I was being manipulated, but I always thought I was able to see through that. It bothers me a lot more having thieves and bad guys shouting at me.

So the next time I see Britney clogging up my television, what am I supposed to do with this these resentments your film exudes?

I know! That’s what’s so frustrating about it. It’s really a new question. With the power people still in control of the mainstream, all we’re getting is garbage. I’m sure there are people out there writing blogs, these timid little voices in the wilderness being straight-ahead, honest and trying to point out major issues and big problems, but they get lost in all the other smoke. I thought it was a bit demeaning, some of the questions sent in to the [CNN-YouTube] presidential debates. Some cat with a guitar gets on there and he’s entertaining. Somebody dresses up like a snowman, they throw them in. Here you are, running for this important office, and… I don’t know. There was something impolite about it.

If there aren’t any easy solutions, how destructive do you think media’s failings could potentially be?

I don’t think it’ll ever destroy the world because, in the end, there are enough people that either don’t pay attention or aren’t going to get suckered in. How bad could it get? It could be Nazi Germany on a grander scale, but somehow we seem to recover from that stuff. It amazes me that people are so willing to follow, that’s what scares me the most. People will send their last dime to some television evangelist without asking any questions. Someone who has impressive qualities and claims to be a leader and have some answers is going to get a lot of followers.

It’s a scary world. I’m half-Latino and my name is Latino. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood, and I was always getting knocked around by the Italian kids. So I know that the world can turn on you. You just don’t want anything that creates this kind of tribalism. Nobody listens to Rush Limbaugh unless they’re “with” what he’s saying. That’s the kind of shit they want to hear. And nobody is going to listen to these bloggers unless it’s the kind of shit they want to hear, but it’s pretty easy to preach radical ideas that a lot of people think is common sense. The idea of terrorism is having the same kind of effect, so that all over the world, people see this as a viable solution, and it’s just happening everywhere. I worry about when people get online and start preaching.

This is officially depressing, so let’s end on a lighter note. I loved your self-referential joke about why zombies can’t move quickly. What were your thoughts the first time you saw a sprinting zombie in a movie, such as Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake?

Obviously, I was… disappointed? Not a strong enough word. I thought it was ridiculous! First off, there are two sides to this argument. I grew up on “The Mummy,” man, the Christopher Lee “Mummy.” I like the idea of this big, slow, lumbering dead thing. He’s never going to catch you if you run, but you can drill him full of holes and he just keeps coming. There’s just something inevitable about this monster, and I think that’s scarier than things running at you. The other side of the argument is that I just don’t believe it. These things are dead, they’re stiff! Like in the “Return of the Living Dead” movies, where they’re digging their way out of graves. How does a weak zombie dig his way out of all that mahogany?

“Diary of the Dead” is now in limited release.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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