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Monday, August 07, 2017

Romero Retrospective: 10 on There's Always Vanilla (1971)

I want to go through all of George A. Romero's feature films and give my ten random thoughts on each, culminating in a best to worst list.  Let's see if that happens. No promises. I have been known to flake.  But there is nobility in failure, that's what I tell myself. I am compelled! He was a personal hero and inspiration, no shocker there, and we the fans have lost one of the great American bad asses of cinema. So to crank this up, let's start with the black sheep in his filmography, one I first watched just a few days ago, the lost Romero gem made right after NOTLD, There's Always Vanilla!

1. You have to let me ramble on about 1971 for a moment. Best year in cinema. I'm calling it. To be a film nut that year meant being spoiled on one awesome movie after the next. Check it, just off the top.

The Incredible Two Headed Transplant
Dracula Vs. Frankenstein
The French Connection
The Corpse Grinders

So much awesome. More then that. I love the way the world looks in 1971 movies. Analog, and mechanical, and empty. Where are all the people? Was there a pandemic I didn't know about? What world does Two Lane Blacktop take place in? I want to go there. 

People looked less polished. Now everyone looks like they are vying for instant internet celebrity. 

1971, I wasn't there, but when I want to escape, I watch anything from 1971. My pet year.

One last thing, cool stuff that happened in 1971.

The Microprocessor was invented (the end of analog)
Charles Manson conviction (the end of the 60's)
Disney World Opened (the end of fun)

Finally, one of my favorite filmmakers made a movie in my favorite year that I hadn't seen yet! Are you kidding. Hard to find... unless you have the YouTubes. Lo and behold!

I jumped in, bracing myself for disappointment. This could be obscure for a reason. I mean, Knightriders, you know what I mean.

2.  You talk junk about horror movies? Horror Directors? You want to dismiss them as hacks who don't stack up to your darling Kubricks and Hitchcocks? Watch this movie and tell me the difference between this and Shadows from Cassevettes or Mean Streets from Scorsesse. Tell me those guys didn't also get stuck in their own movie jails, having to make the same sort of movie again and again. Romero had early success with flesh eaters, but the man who got turned on to filmmaking by The Red Shoes certainly had a bunch of movies in him, and not all of them climaxed in someone being disemboweled.

Choke on them!!! Choke on them!!!

Romero is a hell of a horror director because he is a hell of a filmmaker. Period.  If you like how a filmmaker talks, then you want to listen to them ramble on if it's about zombies or hippies in love. This almost makes me want to give that Craven violin movie a chance.

The recitals of the children give me strength.

3.  Let's talk early Romero. What I love about his movies up to Creepshow is his merciless editing. He hits those scenes, chop - chop -chop, and overlays some random small talk over it, somebody jabbering away, or some tangential conversation, while the rhythm of that edit, chop - chop -chop. I love it so much. You feel that hand and that brain making those choices and going for it. It's frantic and bold. That commercial style he came from, making detergent commercials for years before getting into features grabs you.

I was watching this little regional counter culture flick, and was amazed how slick it was, how different it was.  Compare it to what was coming out of Atlanta around the time.

4. This movie is strong, and it's a shame Romero could never shake the zombie tag. His dead game was too strong! This, Season of the Witch, Knightriders, and Bruiser shows he had other things on his mind. After cramming him info that zombie pit for 40 years, we complained when Survival of the Dead wasn't super inspired? Shame on us. He gave us different stuff, and we tossed it back at him. Had fans gone to see these outlying movies, maybe he would have been given room to breathe. Who knows what he would have made given the chance!?

5.  Our leading lady is Judith Ridley (Judy) from NOTLD, and she is great in this! She must have taken classes in the two years after that one. 

Emote. Emote. Emote
She is a model and aspiring actress in the movie and there are great scenes that take place on commercial sets, in particular a beer commercial. These scenes have a great kinetic energy. Romero cuts the hell out of them!

6.  In these commercial scenes, you can see Russell "Johnny" Streiner from NOTLD. It's the band all back together again. He has shaggy hair and hippy glasses, being a cool director type. It is a riot.

Dig it, Daddy-o.
7. The humor lands on it's feet, especially when the hippy hero gets a job at an advertising agency. They have to come up with slogans to inspire kids to join the army ('Nam) .The actor playing the boss's Yes Man had great timing. I looked him up, and he was a regular for 30 years on Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood.  He died in 1998. 

His name was Robert Trow. His name was Robert Trow.

Romero worked on Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood. They say Fred Rodgers was the Roger Corman of the Pittsburgh Film Industry. Maybe that calm prosaic demeanor inspired the zombies. Wouldn't it have been awesome to see a zombie invasion on Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood?!

Let's see who's at the door, kids.


8.  I loved how sparse the apartments are in this. Could be from the budget, but everything looks beaten up and worn down. Loved it. Pittsburgh '71 is my jam!

Future Train!

So bleak!

So oppressive!

So modern!


9.  The abortion scene was freaky. Our heroine gets pregnant from the hippy guy, and he's a bum, so she goes to see a twitchy back alley doctor, by way of a scuzzy mob type guy, played by no other than the master of ad-lib, Mr. They're Dead They're All Messed Up himself, George Kosana!

It's 1971, abortion was still illegal until '73, so this was in the air, and Romero has never been one to hide his politics. This scene brought to you by Don't Let This Happen To Your Daughter.

10. Overall, this is a cool peak into an alternate bizarro universe where Romero was known for his heartfelt comedic dramas. It's pretty good, and deserves to checked out by the curious, the cult, and those who fixate on 1971.

Bonus: Bill Hinzman, NOTLD Graveyard Zombie also makes a cameo as a barfly. He looks like the Hills Have Eyes guy, the one who left the desert to sell insurance in the city. 



More Romero Ramblings to come...

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