With the “Definitive Document of the Dead” you have to take the good with the bad. It completely glosses over Romero’s production of “Day of the Dead” to where it’s almost an irrelevant foot note in the legacy of the Dead films. Yet, the documentary does go back to Romero years after “Day” to where he’s directing “Land,” “Diary,” and “Survival” implying that they’re all valid and relevant projects of Romero’s career. Difficulties in Hollywood and the studio system are side stepped, and often times the documentary can never decide if it wants to be a Hollywood inside look or a fandom tribute, so it tries to be both.
In spite of the hazy intent and lack of focus, “The Definitive Document of the Dead” is definitely a mixed bag of treats and baffling explorations in to George Romero’s history as a filmmaker. It chooses to acknowledge most of his film work as very powerful statements in the history of cinema as a whole, and completely ignores his other work. The film by Roy Frumkes parallels many of cinema’s greatest works with Romero while choosing to oddly juxtapose his vampire film “Martin” against the palette of hues and striking imagery from “Night of the Living Dead’ and “Dawn of the Dead.” In that aspect it tends to reach, but it still does provide a hefty view of indie filmmaking in any climate. Though the film is primarily set in the seventies where George Romero was filming his masterpiece “Dawn of the Dead,” the principles behind indie filmmaking and the hurdles he experiences are still relevant in today’s cinematic climate for many aspiring filmmakers alike.
Studios still don’t know how to market unique pieces of genre work, and directors are still having trouble seizing control over their own creative property. The Romero featured in the making of “Dawn” is a man stepping lively. He has lost control of his masterpiece “Night of the Living Dead” and is now working to not only finish “Dawn of the Dead” within budget, but keep it as his own property to prevent another public domain monstrosity. In the future interviews, he reveals with much surprise that the remake of “Night of the Living Dead” was engineered in an effort to regain the rights to his original film. The original “Document of the Dead” chronicled the making of “Dawn of the Dead” and spends about a half of the documentary exploring the making of the film and the effects work. The behind the scenes footage is still very dazzling with examinations behind low budget filmmaking.
There’s even a long anecdote about filming in the mall after hours and being out the doors in time for the opening of the actual mall to prevent from scaring early shoppers to death. When Frumkes comes back to Romero almost three decades later, there’s a more worn and tired George Romero who has seen his obstacles with the studio system and has witnessed what it’s like to be a man everyone wants a piece of. He’s inspired countless satires, and lampoons, and he has been one of the most iconic faces of horror, and still has a lot of enthusiasm for the art of filmmaking. There isn’t mention of his troubles on the set of “Land,” nor is there thoughts on his changing of filming from his beloved Pittsburgh to Toronto, but we do get the sense that the man is merely doing whatever he can to get his own visions made. In the final half hour there are scenes of Romero filming his newest “Dead” trilogy, and his ideas are still very volatile, even in the cynical climate.
There’s a long and drawn out reunion of extras and stars from the “Dead” films in the middle, all of whom explain their experiences on the sets of “Night,” “Day” and even the “Night” remake. It’s a pretty ho hum series of stories and redundant recollections, but we do garner a glimpse at heavyweights like Danny Boyle, and Dario Argento. Added are scenes of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright playing with a zombie sculpture, and Romero provides insight in to many influential zombie films like “Shaun of the Dead,” and Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” treatment, all of which are just pure nuggets of wisdom and knowledge. For Romero fanatics and zombie film enthusiasts, this is a video diary worth owning and treasuring. It’s a flawed documentary with a new set tone that can never decide if it wants to be for the fans or for folks interested in the Hollywood system, so it aims for both niche audiences and doesn’t quite succeed. However for a rare fantastic glimpse at Romero filming his masterpiece “Dawn of the Dead” along with looks in to the creativity of Romero, “The Definitive Document of the Dead” is very much worth owning and treasuring.