By Cætlin Benson-Allott
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Additional info for Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship From VHS to File Sharing
13 As the movie’s heroine, Barbara (Judith O’Dea), flees to a nearby farmhouse to escape the first zombie attack, the movie blends its deep focus with canted camera angles and incongruous framing devices and thereby increases the spectator’s investment in Barbara’s plight. These techniques emphasize the uncanny horror of Barbara’s homecoming by implying that it will not turn out as planned—or that it was not preplanned, that it was captured live, like television. After she finds the front door locked, Barbara turns and runs downhill toward the camera, careening around the house to locate its kitchen door (Figure 2).
In contrast Romero’s still images represent death to cast aspersions on the motion picture’s capacity to convey truth. Romero’s still frames call into question the credibility of his motion picture at the moment it visually imitates and stands in for other communications platforms. He questions his own medium, in other words, to cast doubt on the verisimilar potential and political investments of mass media. Notably, Romero does not repeat this technique in his subsequent zombie films, which are less focused on media critique.
There is bitter irony in this allusion, however, since the reference also reminds the spectator that like most acts of twentieth-century racial violence, Ben’s death will not be recorded or reported. 16 This return to motion is the crux of Night of the Living Dead’s political and spectatorial project, because it melds Romero’s critique of US racism and media depiction of violence with an interest in its own format and the viewer’s experience thereof. The transition out of and back into motion (over the course of a murder that will never be reported) exposes the material limitations of film, and by extension television news and 36 / DISTRIBUTING THE DEAD newspaper photography, to capture and communicate real violence.