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DVD Review: THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD
By Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)
May 3, 2013 - 9:00:00 AM

THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD is the newest (and hopefully final) version of director Roy Frumkes's terrific behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) which was filmed on location while the movie was actually being shot.  The fun of watching the new cut of this film is to see the additional footage that Roy has taken in the years since 1978 when he and his crew spent a weekend on the set of Mr. Romero's revered zombie epic.   What this 16mm documentary illustrates quite clearly is the overall creative process that a director must experience, and it gets its point across to the average moviegoer who may not know how a movie is made.   

George Romero on the set of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

The Monroeville Mall blanketed in snow, January 1978

Dawn went into production in October 1977 at the Monroeville Mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania and lasted roughly six months.  Mr. Frumkes was given access to the mall set over a weekend in January of 1978 to follow Mr. Romero and the cast and crew around.  Most documentaries that appear on DVD and Blu-ray nowadays are nothing more than self-promotion pieces. THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, on the other hand, actually takes you behind the scenes of the film and enlightens the viewer on the creative process, specifically the teamwork and the collaborative nature of the people working on the film.  Mr. Frumkes talks to Tom Savini, Michael Gornick, John Amplas, Richard Rubenstein, the cast of DAWN, and of course director Romero.  The documentary gives us a great look into his creative methods of filmmaking.  As shooting progressed, Dawn took on a comic bookish feel and there is an obvious lightening up of mood. Whereas Mr. Romero had a crew of about eight people on MARTIN (1977), Dawn has a cast and crew in the hundreds. The most fascinating part of the documentary, for myself anyway, is where Mr. Romero describes the rhythms created by editing and spatial design. Prior to his foray into feature filmmaking, Mr. Romero honed his editing skills by making many 30-second commercials.

Tom Savini on the set of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

Roy Frunkes

After a discussion about the distribution of the film and leaving it unrated with a running time of just over two hours, the documentary switches gears to the 1989 summer filming of TWO EVIL EYES (1991). Mr. Romero discusses how he wants a family atmosphere on the set without any of the political Hollywood nonsense.  There is also a follow-up segment on LAND OF THE DEAD (2005) which focuses on Mr. Romero's daughter, Tina Romero, who discusses how she got involved in filmmaking.  Be warned: there is a trailer for a hard-core sex parody of NIGHT, and I'll let your imagination guess what the title of this film is!  While this trailer does not contain any overt sex, there is much nudity.

There is also footage of the Chiller Theater convention in 2005 which features a reunion of the cast of DAY OF THE DEAD, discussions with Greg Nicotero, Bill Lustig, and some of the cast and crew of DAWN. The final segments, all of which are shot on standard definition video, ends with Mr. Frumkes heading to the Toronto set of DIARY OF THE DEAD in the fall of 2006.  While these last few segments are nowhere near as incisive as the footage shot for Dawn, they still are relevant, fun to watch and make THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD a worthy addition to the libraries of Romero fans.

The documentary is available in two versions: as a single, stand-alone standard definition DVD with a newly-recorded commentary provided by Mr. Frunkes running 102 minutes that covers DAWN up to DIARY, and as a limited edition DVD/Blu-ray combo set that includes a standard definition DVD with the aforementioned extras, plus a Blu-ray of Mr. Frumkes's original, 1978 documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, which runs 66 minutes and was scanned in high definition from the 16mm master.  If you have a Blu-ray player, it is worth spending the extra cash to get the limited edition, which also contains a fold-out poster of Wes Benscoter's beautiful new cover art for the DVD and Blu-ray.  Have a look at this artist's website.  His work is excellent. 

Click here to order the DVD from Amazon.com.

Click here to order the limited edition DVD/Blu-ray combo direct from Synapse Films.



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