Working with George: Retracing George Romero’s Impact on Independent and Avant-Garde Filmmaking in Pittsburgh

Curator's Note

While George Romero is known as a singular auteur, less appreciated is his role in the independent film community of Pittsburgh. After Night of the Living Dead he remained in the city for several years, kickstarting a boom in movie-making. 

Tony Buba, a blue-collar documentarian, was a close associate of Romero’s. Buba worked as a sound recordist and helped scout locations for Martin. Set in Buba’s town of Braddock, the empty streets and gothic-looking steel mills provided a moody backdrop to the vampire story. For Buba, "It was almost like going to school." Tony Williams notes that aspects of Martin appeared in Buba’s films such as Sweet Sal, in which a street hustler deals with loss and self-denial in a declining community. Romero’s attention to economic downturn in the Rust Belt, in Night and Martin, informed Buba’s film career.

Peggy Ahwesh, an artist and local filmmaker, worked as a production assistant on Creepshow. Ahwesh said of Romero, "He’s an important model for how to make independent personal films. I liked George’s style, and he was such a warm, human person. George’s groove was: ‘Have fun; make a movie; make friends; mess around.’" She added, "I like that he’s a populist. There was as little hierarchy as there could be on a feature film." Romero’s taste for horror re-emerged in Ahwesh’s The Scary Movie and The Deadman Trilogy; and the idea of collaborative, nonhierarchical filmmaking became a key principle in her Pittsburgh Trilogy.

This clip from Martin features Romero in the Bubas’ Braddock home, playing Priest Howard. Light-hearted and intimate, the scene condenses his legacy in Pittsburgh where he shared his good humor and working methods with a generation of independent artists. 

Comments

Even when working with Universal Studios

Thanks for your post, Ben—it’s an enlightening account of the local dimension of Romero’s work and, I think, a fitting way to conclude this week’s posts.

I simply wanted to add that your emphasis on the nonhierarchical character of Romero’s work reminded me about telling moment in one of his interviews regarding Land of the Dead, where Romero laments that the money spent on fancy cigars for Dennis Hopper could have paid for extra days of shooting (https://tinyurl.com/ohszc2f). Though a simple comment about budgets, I think it speaks to the ethic Romero’s productions evinced and what you’ve underscored here (even when working with larger film studios).

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