Night of the Living Dead Term Paper

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Even in shots that might be steady, such as the sheriff is standing and talking to his men, frequent cuts are used in place of slow zooms or pans to shift the eye's focus.

Ramero uses scale to great advantage in this sequence to help build a sense of detachment from all the humans character. This detachment of course feeds into the audience's ability to accept the lesson that "we're them." This sense of scale begins with the very distant helicopter, which is so small and isolated on the screen. This proceeds to showing the hunters as tiny, wrong-ways-up specks on the ground. It is impossible to tell from the air whether the hunters are men or zombies, because they are so distant. This distant scale cuts into a close shot of the hunters walking, with the helicopter in the background. At this point the shots begin to become more disjointed. There is a cut to a helicopter landing, with more hunters panning into the shot. Another cut shows a cop car coming across the bridge, and then there are very close, consecutive shots of the dogs getting out of the cars. From there the shots cut to a seated hunter, and pans to receive other hunters into its view. What is important here about scale is that none of the other characters every quite seem to fit into the shot. Whereas much of the film had careful framing, particularly in contemplative or humane moments (moments associated more with violence and zombies became less framed), this segment seems to disassociate people from their entire bodies. Sides, heads, torsos, and so forth will all be cut off in odd ways. This too, in addition to being an instance of framing, is an instance of scale -- humans are tiny in the world at large, but among themselves they are too big (perhaps too "full of themselves") to be able to be seen and understood completely by others. Ben in particular, when he is shown walking about the house, consistently has his head cut off in the shots, which may foreshadow his oncoming loss of his brain to a bullet. Of course, when Ben is not active, when he is contemplative and hiding, then the picture shows him to be central and carefully framed and scaled as a central figure. This reminds we, as an audience, emphasize with him, but (as the shift in his scale will show) he too is us and not us.

At the end of this sequence, the technique of panning around photographs is perhaps one of the most important of the technical choices made at that point. This break from traditional narrative film-making is excused by the fact that the credits are being (as unobtrusively as possible) displayed at this time, which relaxes some of the expectations of the audience regarding what "should be" happening at this time. Yet these images are in no way secondary to the rest of the sequence, for they fulfill its central purpose of creating horror at the meaninglessness and cruelty of Ben's death. The use of halftone photographs gets across a sense of history in the making and of historical and social importance which could hardly be achieved as successfully through a simple live-action ending.

Another important building block both in this shift from fantasy to social commentary and also in the force of that social comment, is Ramero's use of lighting and color as narrative choices. At the beginning of the end sequence, he uses very stark black and white tones to paint the trees against the sky, or the helicopter against the clouds. This serves to remind one of the dramatic nature of the horror and the story. Subsequently, however, the scenes with the police and the hunters are all very bright. Shadow, where used, is thin and gray. There is a very strong realism to the lighting as if it were indeed shot entirely with a hand-held camera in the daylight for archival purposes. This helps to create the historical feel. However, on the first shots which switch from this day lit scene into the house, one sees a very dramatically lit scene. Ben is still in the fantasy-horror world. Half his face and form is hidden in darkness, while the other side is brightly lit. The intense shadows and shapes recall to one many of the forms and lighting techniques which existed among the horrific zombies in the night that just passed. As long as Ben remains in these intense shadows, he is part of that world. Yet when he emerges from the basement and into the living room, he too takes on a bright realistic lighting. There is a sense of the docudrama in the lighting in which he dies, though the shadows emerge again in the use of still photography.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating uses of color in this sequence is the subtle way in which costume colors are used to identify Ben with the zombies. Throughout the final sequence, all of the zombies (and Ben) are primarily dressed in white or light gray colors, especially from the waste up. The women wear light colored dresses; the men wear white shirts, and Ben dresses in light colors on top and bottom. Nor is this just a function of the clothing styles of the era, for at the beginning of the film most of the zombies had been in dark colors, and even a few scenes before at least half the zombies had been dressed in dark or mixed colors. At the very end, the human hunters are dressed about equally in light and dark colors. The zombies, however, all have about them this almost otherworldly glow from the light colors with which they are associated. This glowing "whiteness" is a link between the zombies, and at this point Ben too is symbolically become white with them. There is a degree to which one could read racial motivation into this choice. Ben is the only non-white character in the film. The zombies are white, and the hunters are white. So there is some degree to which the white forces are attacking this black man -- and at the end, after he has compromised his ideals and hid in Harry's basement or allowed his companions to be killed, or killed them himself -- he too becomes symbolically white. Of course his clothes are light colored throughout, but there is a particular radiance to them in the sunlight which did not exist before. Of course, the use of white to characterize the zombies could also refer visually to the idea of ghosts, or even to the idea of purity which is being destroyed by the hunters who, in turn, have become the calloused predators.

As this brief discussion of possible racial readings in the color choice suggests, this sequence is one which depends strongly on audience perspective and can be considered as simply or as sociologically complex as one wishes. There is a very large degree to which this sequence seeks to manipulate audience perspective, emotion, and expectation. This is done both for artistic effect and, on assumes, to help make the social point regarding the zombie-self.

The audience's expectations are thwarted in numerous ways in this sequence. At the beginning, there are sounds of birds singing, and the light of sunrise and sound of birds seems to imply, quietly, that everything will now end well. The presence of a helicopter actually seems to encourage that thought, for all night Ben and the others have been waiting to be rescued, and it seems likely that a helicopter shows the presence of rescuers. When lines of slowly shambling hunters are seen, they may immediately appear to be zombies. When the next cut shows that they are human, a subtle connection between the humans and zombies is made -- but just as importantly, the audience is once more led to believe that things will now resolve well. The following shots both inside and outside the house indicate that the zombie mess is being quickly cleared up and that Ben has successfully weathered the storm. Then, as Ben goes to the window, with hardly any warning whatsoever, the hunters see him and abruptly take aim and shoot him. This is of course not what the audience was expecting, and that shock opens them up to a horror with the humans for their blindness and their conspicuous lack of reasonable precautions when shooting other human bodies. (if the sniper could see well enough to take a shot through Ben's brain, could he not also see well enough to tell that this man was holding a gun and was not a zombie?) it is precisely this outrage that opens the audience to the two guiding lessons -- that humans are no less brutal…

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This is the moment at which the audience is most strongly drawn in as a force to observe the historical horror and recognize that "we're them." Not only has the audience's favorite character been killed by humans instead of by zombies, but additionally he is being treated like "meat" even by the humans. This is the deep significance of the hunters carrying meat hooks rather than (for example) crowbars: humans just like zombies consider those they have destroyed to be nothing more than meat. Humans, like zombies, kill and eat living beings, and the meat hooks which pull out Ben would otherwise be used for other carcasses of other beings humans had killed. Of course, this is not just a message about vegetarianism. It is a message about the way in which humans objectify each other and this leads to racial violence and holocausts.

This movie very bravely dares to go against the racial conventions of its day in casting a black lead, and dealing subtly and metaphorically with the damage done to him. This sequence in particular, which shows white men dragging a brave and noble black man through the fields to be burned surely had strong connotations in 1968 in the middle of civil rights battles and race riots. That George Ramero claims the casting was totally color-blind may indicate either that this subtext was created after the casting, or that somehow evolved unnoticed by the director himself. However, it is certainly present for the audience in this scene. If nothing else, the audience must face its own racial position in its feelings regarding the life and death of Ben, and the very recognition of such human violence reinforced the central message that zombies and humans are more alike than they are different.

In conclusion, this sequence is probably the single most important one in the movie, though of course it cannot stand alone without all the foreshadowing and characterization that proceeds it. In this scene, through plot and genre twists, through tricks of technique and lighting, and through the careful manipulation of the audience, Ramero creates what is probably the single most memorable and influential sequence in zombie film history.

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