Monday, October 28, 2013

'Birth of the Living Dead' wraps Circuit tour

From Rob Kuhns

October 24 - Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC

The drive from Clemson to Clinton was only 90 minutes so I got to spend a little time in downtown Clinton, a ridiculously charming and friendly little town (see photo below). 

I kept expecting to run into Rod Serling emerging from an alley (“Picture if you will, anytown USA.  On this bright Autumn day a visitor will soon arrive. He'll bring with him an unspeakable evil.”) Molly McGehee (Professor, Southern American Literature) greeted me in front of the Neville Building on the small but beautiful campus. She and some of her colleagues -- Terry Barr, American Literature and Film, Creative Writing, Southern Jewish Literature; Lynne Simpson, Shakespeare and British Literature, Composition Course on Ghosts; Robert Stutts, Creative Writing; Jerry Alexander, Romanticism, Victorian Literature – graciously took me out to an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Professor Simpson is from Pittsburgh and I enjoyed reminiscing with her about the vibrant culture there and about seeing Star Wars for the first time at a downtown theater. Professor Barr teaches film courses, frequently relating films with their historical context. Everyone seemed to love their job – they were great company. The Serlingesque experience continued when a group of clowns came into the restaurant to celebrate one their birthdays. Fortunately they came towards the end of our meal – I won't mention names, but some of us are afraid of clowns.
Rob & Dr. McGehee
The Clinton screening was held in a kind of lecture hall and was packed with maybe 70 students and 10 or so faculty members. This was an amazingly engaged and responsive audience! There was a lot of boisterous laughter and they seemed to hang on every moment.  A great way to wrap things up! It was great fun to talk with an audience that was clearly so enthused and excited about Birth. A number of the professors, including Professor McGeehee, were teaching about the historical events of the 60s, which perfectly tie-in to some elements of Birth. One of the questions was, "Was Romero as much fun as he seems?" The answer was, "Absolutely."  Romero was exactly the same off camera as he was on - incredibly brilliant, funny and entertaining.
After the Q&A I talked with a student who was in the process of editing a film he had shot, and he asked me if I had any basic advice about editing. I told him it was important to break the process up into bite-sized chunks so that you're not too overwhelmed trying to solve all the problems at once. I emphasized the importance of taking your time with the selecting process - breaking up and categorizing shots so that you know them well and can find them easily. I think it's important to do that thoroughly before beginning editing your sequences.
As I try to wrap up the tour - hard to do because it was such a rich experience and such a whirlwind - I realized how insular Esther's and my world is in NYC. It's easy to think that NYC is the center of the universe, and that's where all the cool and smart people live, and where anything that's really important that happens. (I guess most snobs don't realize they're snobs.) It was a wonderful experience to meet so many talented and extraordinary smart people -- from Tupelo to Charleston -- who truly love, have sharp insights, and  tremendous knowledge about film. I'm sure we'll remember our Southern Circuit Tour our whole lives.

October 23 - Clemson University, Clemson, SC

Another gorgeous drive today through mountainous roads from Cullowhee, TN to Clemson, SC. The weather has been nothing short of spectacular the last few days – brilliantly sunny and crisp.

My host at Clemson University, Sarah Lauro Ph.D., (see photo at left), gave a talk that afternoon called “The Transatlantic Zombie,” which was about her book of the same title. The evening screening took place at the McKissick Theater in the Hendrix Student Center.  There was a great turnout – some faculty members were there, but it was mostly students, many of whom attended her talk earlier. This was the first time the film got introduced by a zombie scholar, which I thought was pretty cool. At the Q&A I asked who in the audience had previously seen Night of the Living Dead, and nearly everyone raised their hands.  One man said he saw it in the mid-70s on a triple feature with a horror movie called, Torso, which he called, “terrible” (I believe him! I looked it up on imdb and the plot synopsis started with, “Someone is strangling coeds in Perugia.”) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (a movie I love). He said he has yet to recover from the trauma of that night nearly 40 years ago.

After the screening, I went to a local hangout with Professor Lauro and some of her colleagues and students. One of her students, Michael, 50, is a mechanic and engineer who is pursuing his Bachelor’s (and plans to pursue a Masters and Ph. D.) with the intent of becoming a history teacher. He saw Night as a young boy and told me he used to keep his radio on as he fell asleep at night. On more than one occasion, the commercial for Night would come on just as he was starting to drift to sleep – terror set in and there’d be no sleep that night. Michael also had not-so-fond memories of Iron City Beer, a Pittsburgh-based brand that Romero made commercials for. I was once again sorry Esther couldn’t share this experience with me – she would have had a blast.

There’s been a delightful surprise at every turn on this trip. Thanks very much, Professor Lauro and company, for a very fun and informative night!