October 7-13, 2004
Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead ($14.98/$49.98 DVD/Fri., Oct. 8, 8 p.m., $12, Broadway Theatre, 43 S. Broadway, Pitman, N.J., 856-589-7519) Forgive the pun, but you really can't kill Night of the Living Dead. No less a vital expression of the American character than Mickey Mouse, but without a phalanx of lawyers at its side, George Romero's 1968 horror classic has fallen victim to public domain, issued in innumerable substandard versions (Amazon.com lists 31 at present), not to mention chopped up and half-remade for a dubious "Millennium Edition." To an extent, 20th Century Fox's new edition continues the indignities, containing as it does a gaudy colorized version and commentary from Mystery Science Theater 3000's Mike Nelson. (I've often thought it would have been a nice idea for the show to take on movies that weren't substandard dreck, but start with Citizen Kane, why don't you?) Luckily, the disc also contains a restored black-and-white transfer which brings out the original's eerie newsreel authenticity.
In contrast to Night's historical mistreatment, Anchor Bay's "Ultimate Edition" of Dawn of the Dead (the 1978 original, not the inferior if occasionally on-point remake) is generous to a fault. No less than three complete versions span its four discs, including the extended cut from its Cannes premiere and an alternate edit by producer Dario Argento, who was contractually allowed to cut his own version for the European market. (Argento's version has more creepy goblin music and emphasizes gore over character.) The curious will want to stick with the single-disc version, released earlier this year, which emphasized the cartoon orange-red of Tom Savini's fake blood (perhaps it's that mall lighting). You sometimes hear people talk about Dawn as if it's pure satire, but despite the salient image of lifeless creatures tromping through a shopping mall, the film only drives its point home with a few crucial lines. It's nowhere near the conceptual brilliance of Romero's 1973 The Crazies, in which the National Guard takes on small-town citizens driven mad by a mysterious gas. It's the Vietnam War refought on U.S. soil, with Americans literally fighting themselves.
I owe my Crazies love to Exhumed Films, who screened the film as part of a double bill with John Carpenter's The Thing earlier this year. Upping the ante, Friday's triple bill opens with the third part of Romero's Dead trilogy, the unfairly maligned Day of the Dead (1985), follows it with Carpenter's schlocky The Fog, and rewards night owls with Messiah of Evil, a 1973 diamond in the rough directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, whose terrifying writing credits include American Graffiti and Howard the Duck.
I Vitelloni/La Dolce Vita ($29.95/$34.98 DVD) Separated by seven years, Federico Fellini's third and seventh features are as thematically similar as they are stylistically different. By 1960 and Dolce Vita, Fellini had shaken off his neorealist upbringing, while Vitelloni shows him still trying to fuse earthy prose and sentimental poetry. But though the two films don't work as a continuous story, they might as well have the same protagonist: Vitelloni's Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi), so desperate to flee his provincial village, might have ended up as Dolce Vita's Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), churning out gossip for newspapers while never pursuing his dream of being a great writer. What underlies both movies is the terror of mediocritywhat Moraldo flees home to escape, and what Marcello throws himself into rather than risk falling into it unwillingly.
There's a mediocrity at the center of both movies, especially in the altar-boy fidelity with which Fellini deploys the symbolism of his Catholic youth. (Compared to Buñuel's, Fellini's is penny-ante sacrilege.) But considering the context, the tin-hearted quality of both movies only deepens their confessional pull. La Dolce Vita is the richer of the two by far, though its deliberately interminable party sequences seem a heavy-handed way to get at Marcello's growing disaffection.
Koch Vision's long-awaited Dolce Vita boasts a glossy transfer (though it seems to have been artificially darkened from the source print) and a second disc of almost totally irrelevant extras, most of them outtakes from Ginger and Fred. (Commentator Richard Schickel manages to repeat himself several times without ever scratching the movie's surface; four decades later, the fact that the movie was the first to depict the paparazzi is hardly its most distinguishing feature.) The half-hour retrospective documentary on Criterion's Vitelloni disc, however, is riveting stuff. Especially touching is the revelation that Fellini stepped in for Interlenghi to dub Moraldo's final farewell to his tiny town, which obliterates any argument as to the character's autobiographical nature.
Misc. Picks More scary stuff (it is October, after all): Bikers serve fresh meat to unsuspecting diners in The Undertaker and His Pals, a Secret Cinema joint on the roof level of the South Street Whole Foods parking garage (Thu., Oct. 7, 8 p.m.). The Colonial keeps on hauntin' with The Invisible Man (Sun., Oct. 10, 2 p.m.). Don't be afraid of the graffiti artists in Style Wars, though, which inaugurates a monthly series at the Prince, sponsored by the Mural Arts Program. The free screening is followed by a panel discussion with writers Pez, Knife and Sub, as well as former Mayor Wilson Goode (Tue., Oct. 12, 7 p.m.).