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George A. Romero

“Tony Williams: You’ve often mentioned that Tales of Hoffmann (1951) has been a major influence on you.

George Romero: It was the first film I got completely involved with. An aunt and uncle took me to see it in downtown Manhattan when it first played. And that was an event for me since I was about eleven at the time. The imagery just blew me away completely. I wanted to go and see a Tarzan movie but my aunt and uncle said, “No! Come and see a bit of culture here.” So I thought I was missing out. But I really fell in love with the film. There used to be a television show in New York called Million Dollar Movie. They would show the same film twice a day on weekdays, three times on Saturday, and three-to-four times on Sunday. Tales of Hoffmann appeared on it one week. I missed the first couple of days because I wasn’t aware that it was on. But the moment I found it was on, I watched virtually every telecast. This was before the days of video so, naturally, I couldn’t tape it. Those were the days you had to rent 16mm prints of any film. Most cities of any size had rental services and you could rent a surprising number of films. So once I started to look at Tales of Hoffmann I realized how much stuff Michael Powell did in the camera. Powell was so innovative in his technique. But it was also transparent so I could see how he achieved certain effects such as his use of an overprint in the scene of the ballet dancer on the lily ponds. I was beginning to understand how adept a director can be. But, aside from that, the imagery was superb. Robert Helpmann is the greatest Dracula that ever was. Those eyes were compelling. I was impressed by the way Powell shot Helpmann sweeping around in his cape and craning down over the balcony in the tavern. I felt the film was so unique compared to most of the things we were seeing in American cinema such as the westerns and other dreadful stuff I used to watch. Tales of Hoffmann just took me into another world in terms of its innovative cinematic technique. So it really got me going.

Tony Williams: A really beautiful print exists on laserdisc with commentary by Martin Scorsese and others.

George Romero: I was invited to collaborate on the commentary by Marty. Pat Buba (Tony’s brother) knew Thelma Schoonmaker and I got to meet Powell in later years. We had a wonderful dinner with him one evening. What an amazing guy! Eventually I got to see more of his movies that I’d never seen before such as I Know Where I’m Going and A Canterbury Tale. Anyway, I couldn’t do the commentary on Tales of Hoffmann with Marty. But, back in the old days in New York, Marty and I were the only two people who would rent a 16mm copy of the film. Every time I found it was out I knew that he had it and each time he wanted it he knew who had it! So that made us buddies.”


George A. Romero, George A. Romero: Interviews
tags: cinema
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George A. Romero: Interviews George A. Romero: Interviews by Tony Williams
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