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Tribute: George A Romero’s films about the undead were actually about America’s living

The American director, who died on July 16, infused fresh blood into the zombie film and inspired countless imitators.

American filmmaker George A Romero (February 4, 1940-July 16, 2017) has died at the age of 77, after fighting a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”, according to his manager Chris Roe. Romero, a stalwart of modern horror filmmaking, directed 16 films in a career spanning four decades. His feather in the cap was the Living Dead series, which created the tropes for and defined the modern zombie film genre.

Romero’s zombie films are particularly revered for the way they commented on American society through a B-movie perspective.

The Living Dead series began with the low-budget, black-and-white, independently produced Night Of The Living Dead (1968). The movie was a marked departure from previous productions: its zombies were flesh eaters as opposed to undead souls ambling around under the spell of sorcerers or aliens.

Most importantly, the zombies were white, middle-class people who, after being reanimated, began to terrorise their neighbours. This was a turnaround from films that drew from the Haitian zombie tradition and featured black characters. Through Night Of The Living Dead, featuring a black protagonist who is shot dead by a white policeman, Romero looked at deeply embedded racism embedded in America.

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Night Of The Living Dead.

His next zombie film Dawn Of The Dead (1979) is the most well-known installment in the series. The action shifts from rural Pennsylvania to a suburban shopping mall outside Philadelphia. Since Night Of The Living Dead, almost all of Pennsylvania has been taken over by zombies. If Romero criticised race relations in Night Of The Living Dead, he took on American consumerist culture in Dawn Of The Dead. Hordes of zombies run wild in the shopping mall where they have gathered almost instinctively. Like Night Of The Living Dead, the second installment also featured wanton violence, with a generous dose of gore courtesy Tom Savini.

Romero’s subsequent Living Dead films went on to marry his critique of American society with the elements of the zombie film genre that he either devised or improved upon.

Dawn Of The Dead.
Dawn Of The Dead.

Romero’s zombie movies spawned numerous remakes and imitations. But he was displeased with modern zombie fare, which he felt lacked a satirical edge and focused on pure action or horror. He famously called the AMC series The Walking Dead a “soap opera with a zombie occasionally”.

The director also did not take kindly to fast-moving or running zombies and the fact that they departed from their undead origins and were instead a result of a viral epidemic or biological experiment, even though he had explored the very idea in one of his better non-zombie films, The Crazies (1973).

While it was not commercially successful, The Crazies was a competent horror film that extended the us versus them dynamics that were an integral part of his debut feature.

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Martin.

The 1978 film Martin (Romero’s favourite among all his films) looks at society’s reaction to the titular 17-year-old hero who believes he is a vampire. Martin (John Amplas) wants to be free while his granduncle Cuda (Lincoln Mazzel) treats him like an old-world Nosferatu and forbids him from being his age. The local disc jockey calls Martin “The Count”, and Martin becomes a sensation in his neighbourhood.

Romero departed from the horror genre in Knightriders (1981), which looks at the trials and tribulations of a travelling motorcycle troupe. The next year saw the release of his delightfully schlocky anthology film Creepshow, written by ace horror author Stephen King. In the ’90s, Romero’s biggest contribution was Two Evil Eyes, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, which he co-directed with Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento.

Romero also appeared in his films in cameos. The one outside production in which he played a small role was Jonathan Demme’s Silence Of The Lambs (1991). Romero plays a Federal Bureau of Investigation officer keeping an eye on the dreaded cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

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Dawn of the Dead.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.