Live Live Cinema: Night of the Living Dead
02/11/2023 - 12/11/2023
Creator and Composer: Leon Radojkovic
Co-directors: Sam Snedden and Sophie Roberts
Silo Theatre presents
Dates: 2 – 12 November
Times: 7.30PM, Sunday 5PM
Prices: $35 – $75
Venue: The Hollywood Avondale
Silo Theatre: https://silotheatre.co.nz/show/night-of-the-living-dead
It’s George Romero’s 1968 cult classic like you’ve never experienced before: immaculately choreographed and made live. In this heart-pounding collision of cinema, theatre and music, Romero’s film is accompanied by two performers racing across the stage to voice every character and create every sound effect, while playing an original score composed by Leon Radojkovic (Live Live Cinema’s Little Shop of Horrors, Dementia 13 and Carnival of Souls)
Hailed by critics as a manifesto for the modern horror, Live Live Cinema: Night of the Living Dead sees a group of strangers trapped in a farmhouse, fending off a horde of flesh-eating zombies. An allegory for America in the 60s with enduring relevance today — a society eating itself from within — this unlikely revival takes you deep into the belly of the beast for an exhilarating theatrical experience.
Join us at the iconic Hollywood in Avondale for a performance feat that truly has to be seen to be believed.
Cast: Jack Buchanan and Isla Mayo
Design: John Verryt, Rachel Marlow and Sara Taylor
‘Night of the Living Dead’ is outstanding, magnificent, disturbing, weird, with top-quality performances & great direction,
Review by Lexie Matheson 07th Nov 2023
Let’s start by getting this bit out of the way: Night of the Living Dead is outstanding. It is magnificent, wonderful, disturbing, weird, entertaining, moving even, with top-quality performances, great direction, and a concept to absolutely die for.
Having read what I’ve just written, I need to add that Night of the Living Dead is actually even better than that. It’s riveting, innovative, dark, exciting, and brave.
So, what exactly is it?
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 low budget horror film that has subsequently achieved cult status. It cost around $129,000 to make but has earned $30,000,000 at the box office. It’s in the public domain which means anyone can use the film stock to do whatever they please with it.
Night of the Living Dead, the 1968 movie, is at the heart of this production, but its essence is essentially in what’s been added.
This project falls into the Live Live Cinema category which means it’s “any kind of film screening with additional performance or live interactivity inspired by the content of the film”. It is the finely tuned result of an artistic and curatorial collaboration, one that produces a “screening experience made up of both live interventions and film exhibition.”
You get to watch a coolish old movie with great modern-day actors – much more about them later – and all of it enhanced by the very best of contemporary technology.
It’s art, Jim, and just as we want it.
Silo tells us that “it’s George Romero’s 1968 cult classic like you’ve never experienced before: immaculately choreographed and made live.” It’s a “heart-pounding collision of cinema, theatre, and music. Two performers race across the stage voicing every character and creating every sound effect, while playing an original score composed by Leon Radojkovic.”
Yes, it’s certainly all that, especially the “heart-pounding collision” bit.
It’s also a subcategory of both the Expanded Cinema and Live Cinema forms and, since it’s the brainchild of creator and composer Leon Radojkovic, it’s probably best to let him explain his modus as he does so well in this interview with Sophia Satchell-Baeza in The Monitors: “we work with films from the sound era, meaning that not only is there a new score performed live, but also a cast of voice actors, each overdubbing multiple roles live, and a foley artist working like a maniac to create every sound effect. Essentially the aim is to create a vibrant and thrilling live cinema experience. In the same way live music is more visceral than a recording, and theatre can be more visceral than film, cinema combined with live elements seems to create an experience that is much more engaging and immediate than your usual trip to the multiplex.”
That’s it in a nutshell, and that’s exactly what you get.
Sorry if you already knew that.
I didn’t, so my experience was certainly coloured by my discovery of this, to me, new and unique form of genius. Increasing my fascination is the socio-cultural context of the work, a context that I, as an older person, lived through ~ and it certainly feels as though I’m still living through it, and that we’re still not there yet.
If anything, racism is as bad today as it was in Alabama in the ‘60s, and Ukraine and Gaza are the new Vietnam.
The audience experience is also somewhat non-traditional, and significantly different to what a 60’s crowd would have experienced. For starters, no standing for the national anthem and no people smoking in the auditorium.
The venue is the Hollywood Cinema in Avondale which is a rather rare space because it still shows 35mm films and is, according to the website, “dedicated to movie lovers”. My ‘plus one’ who grew up in the Waikato remembers school camps in Tamaki Makaurau in the 90’s where a visit to the Hollywood to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show was included as an obligatory ‘rite of passage’. Built in 1915, the neo-classical building started life as the Avondale Town Hall, showed movies from day one, and was the first example of a cinema in the whole of Auckland. In its 108-year history, it has screened every type of moving image known to mankind from the early silents to today’s digital forms – and it may even have a season of Night of the Living Dead in its archive.
I rather hope it did.
It’s fair to say that the venue is picture perfect for this show.
It’s also fair to say that The Silo has a unique and dedicated audience, earned and retained over many years, and they turned out in good numbers for opening night.
The semi-darkened auditorium is suitably mysterious, and the proscenium arch stage is lit enough for us to see performance detritus strewn about, the purpose of which becomes clear as the evening progresses. Every possible sound producing object imaginable is used to bring the film to fitting life with the human voice still the most effective overall.
The film, on the surface, is a perfect example of an el cheapo, 60’s, low budget zombie movie and the audience responds in-kind with outright laughter, sniggering, chortling, a fair amount of mocking glee, the odd woohoo, that is, until the disdain gives way to long periods of deeply engaged silence as the excellence of the performances takes over and quiet becomes the order of the day.
This is, as great theatre should be, a multi-layered experience, and I exited the theatre after 90 exhilarating minutes with a Gilbert and Sullivan earworm gnawing away at my psyche demanding its own audience.
Too damn right it was odd! G&S seldom cross my mind.
As I waited for my ride in the balmy West Auckland night, I could hear Patrick Evans (Captain Corcoran) and his youthful paramour (Buttercup) from my 1950’s schooldays warbling ‘things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream, and jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers’. I wonder if this is a message and that I’m somehow missing something, and have underestimated this low brow, low budget, rather tatty visual novelty as being just great fun but nothing more.
Mrs Moore, long gone, my 3rd Form English teacher, warned me against judging books by their covers, citing, at the time, George Eliot’s Mr. Tulliver who utters that exact phrase when dismissing Defoe’s The History of the Devil by saying how “it was beautifully bound”. It is, of course, much more than that, and so is Night of the Living Dead.
Much, much more.
Google, thankfully, returned me to my late teens and reminded me that George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968 and was begun “during a period of extreme racial upheaval and state-sanctioned violence against African Americans”.
Of course it was, and this all plays out in the newscasts and the subtle anti-racist narrative of Romero’s film.
I hadn’t missed it, but I had undervalued its importance.
America was locked into the war in Vietnam. The recently passed Civil Rights Act which aimed to ban all discrimination, saw African Americans and other minorities still struggling despite the legislation. ‘Black Lives Matter’ tells us today that not much has changed, and the denouement of Romero’s film has echoes of George Floyd today and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Democratic Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in our not-too-distant past.
This, of course, is the world into which this film was born.
The Kerner Commission in 1967 did its best to identify institutional racism but it was hobbled by the Conservatives in Congress and eventually pushed aside despite painting a horrifying picture of brutal discrimination, racism, and poverty in black communities across the land.
A white knee on A black neck isn’t a new phenomenon.
In 1968, America was certainly in turmoil, and it’s impossible not to see this reflected in both Romero’s film and in the outstanding contemporary work of directors Sophie Roberts and Sam Sneddon, conceiver/composer Radojkovic, and their two brilliant performers. They certainly make the connections.
So big thanks to them, to Dr Google, and to G&S. They say it takes a village …
Romero’s casting of African American actor Duane Jones as his central character and making him the most moral and most articulate person in the film is an act of casting anarchy decades before its time. Not only is an African American man cast in the leading role, but he is also in total control of the narrative while it’s the white folks who are losing the plot and making all the diabolical mistakes. Presenting the cops and the militia as white trash thugs is redolent of both then and now and suddenly the final act of the film comes into stark relief as both a courageous, contemporary poke in the eye to a racist government that has been replicated countless times over the subsequent sixty years ending in today’s police-led racist shame.
Donald Trump didn’t just come out of nowhere, and who can forget George Floyd?
As the house lights dim, the two performers – Jack Buchanan and Isla Mayo – appear without fuss and proceed to dazzle us for the next 90 minutes. Their performances are flawless as they illustrate the moving images behind them with perfectly timed sound and articulated action that never misses a beat. Quite literally, never misses a beat. There are times when the performers are beyond busy and it’s to the credit of everyone involved that the occasionally wonky narrative remains perfectly cohesive. It’s utterly breathtaking work from everyone.
Radojkovic’s composition is radiant. Everything from the keyboard and guitar brilliance to mind-bending effects manufactured with microphones, through to the organic wild sounds of boxes dragged across the floor, banging doors, and echoing footsteps, the whole shebang is co-ordinated to the nth degree. It was beyond my capability to sense where direction, composition, and performance meet, such was the outstanding synergy on display throughout.
Special mention must be made of the actor’s duplication of the voices dropped out of the celluloid and replaced live by Mayo and Buchanan. Both are superb. Buchanan’s virtuosity is seen at its best when voicing a TV presenter, an interviewer, an interviewee, the local sheriff, and a couple of misogynistic home-grown cops all in the same conversation while giving each a distinctive tone, texture, accent, and personality while syncing each perfectly with the moving image.
It’s breathtaking work.
The audience agrees. Many stand to applaud, and this is an educated theatre crowd with high expectations. As arts experiences go, this is as comprehensive as any I have ever had. It’s stayed with me and disturbed me – not the horror of the film with its flesh-devouring zombies but it’s indisputable mirroring of the then and now, and the dread that comes when the realisation hits that we’ve not really moved forward very much, if at all. A deep breath, and election results hit home. As horror shows go, the next three years might easily qualify as a new Night of the Living Dead but without the joy of central performers of the brilliance of Buchanan and Mayo, and masterful creatives of the quality of Roberts, Sneddon, and Radojkavic running the show.
It doesn’t bear thinking about.
At least Captain Corcoran and his Little Buttercup have finally shut up.
What next then? You can have the joy I had because Night of the Living Dead is on for a limited season, so you have a few more opportunities to experience this absolutely outstanding work.
I can’t recommend it enough.
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