United States – 1978
Director George Romero
Experiencing the original Dawn of the Dead to the fullest requires something more than a love of zombie cinema, it requires an intimate and profound understanding of American culture and the subtle and often overlooked social commentary of George Romero’s anti consumerist narrative. Part of this is exemplified in the main protagonists of the film; Peter, Fran, Roger and Stephen whom, devoid of any real character exposition hypothetically represent different cultural archetypes. But to cloister oneself in the confines of Romero’s narrative, like his protagonists in their cathedral of consumption, is to commit the same error Romero himself criticizes; the failure to question the nature of truth. Denial, especially within the post-modern meta-academic delusion is still not any kind of solution. To really experience Dawn of the Dead you need to look outside of the mall, through the keyholes at the outside world. To really experience Dawn of the Dead, you need Iron City Beer.
And this was just my goal when I invited some of my closest friends over for a night of flannel shirts, work boots and Pittsburgh’s finest lager, and most importantly a viewing of George Romero’s 1978 masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. The first time I saw Dawn was both prophetic and comedic for the same reason, and probably only to me. Nevertheless by that time I had tasted my first beer, and loved it, and by my third viewing had become intrigued by the scene in which the protagonists fled the city in Stephen’s stolen rotary-wing aircraft. As they pass over the pastoral farming landscape of southwestern Pennsylvania Stephen mutters, “Those rednecks are probably enjoying the whole thing.” (00:19:15)
Subsequent shots of the rednecks in question showed that his assessment was more than likely correct. But they weren’t just having fun, they were drinking Iron City Beer and having fun. Somehow in a bizarre twist of meta-perception, these guys really were enjoying the Dawn of the Dead. Unlike our protagonists who, by the time I had worked all this out mentally were already moping around in their mall. They were enjoying it the way I wanted to enjoy it; in participatory fashion.
Unfortunately when Iron City Beer first blipped on my hazy teenage radar in Dawn, it was for all intents and purposes a relic of a bygone era. Nevertheless it stuck in a corner of my brain and stayed there. And a good thing too, since ten years later working-class ironic-cool managed to drag Iron City out to the west coast in the wake of its better known “award’ winning competitor. My plan upon seeing it on retail shelves in my neighborhood was to really experience Dawn of the Dead along with my closest friends. For this event we would need the obvious stockpile; a gaggle or three of Iron City mortar-round bottles. Thusly provisioned by the local grocery mart, we safely ensconced ourselves in the house and settled in for an evening of watery lager and overt cinematic metaphors.
As elected representative of those present, I can safely declare the event a success. As it turned out, Iron City Beer had absolutely nothing to contribute to the experience unless you count innumerable bathroom visits and a shitty, shitty hangover. Based on personal experience I’ll wager that by the time the next Day of the Dead rolled around those rednecks were in pain. Fortunately for Romero and Dawn, the film remains awesome and its subtle cultural criticisms as timely as ever. It’s one of those few from its time that can be watched again and again given enough lapse time, and still reveal a new experience. Clearly those rednecks had one thing right though, to experience Dawn of the Dead you need good company.
And for the sake of box art, this is the first legitimate copy of the film I got, a double VHS from Anchor Bay. They subsequently suckered be into buying two different versions on DVD one of which, the Divimax version, we watched for this event. Below is the interior "gatefold" art from the above VHS version.
After exactly two years I'm pleased to announce that this is the 200th post on LVA. At roughly 8 posts a month what we lack in quantity we make up for in quality. You keep readin' 'em and we'll keep makin' 'em that way.