I should get some stuff out of the way first. I've already written about the Black Museum here and appeared with the lecturer I'll be talking about here. I say all this to let you know that I came into last night's event "Unearthed: A Cultural History of Zombie" presented by The Black Museum's co-curator Andrea Subissati with... well... a little bit of a bias.
For those of you that don't know, The Black Museum is a brand spankin' new lecture series happening in Toronto at the Projection Booth East. It's a lecture series about horror films and I mean lectures in the board sense of the word. The "talk" or lecture is purely dependent on the speaker, no two lectures will ever be done the same way which is what makes The Black Museum so facinating. Co-curators Subissati and Paul Corupe have put together a diverse and intriguing line up. This "semester" started with Splice and Cube director Vincenzo Natali talking about The Architecture of Fear and last night was Subissati's turn at the microphone with her lecture "Unearthed".
If you've never had the pleasure of meeting Andrea "Lady Hellbat" Subissati, I firmly believe that you're missing out. She's smart as a whip, funny, curious and engaging which makes her a great teacher.Subissati's lecture, on the surface, is not that far removed from your standard film studies analysis. The beauty of last night's lecture was that it was not a film studies lecture. Subissati's research is based in sociology and the combination of that within film studies provides a fantastically interesting, mind-blowing revelations. Subissati's conclusions are simple yet truly interesting about the way we perceive monsters and ourselves. Her film sources primarily stem from George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead which, while not my favourites, are probably the clearest examples of societal satire. Romero's initial trilogy is a perfect crystallization of zombie culture before it became part our mass consumption. Post-28 Days Later zombie films are (in my opinion) the reanimated corpses of Romero's work. That's not to say they're bad, just that Romero's did everything they do first and with out the overly emphasized meta-lense.
Subissati also used the zombie's root in Haitian mythology and proved that zombies do in fact exist, just not in North America. The lecture was an interesting and engaging look at the mythology from one culture that became part of our North American modern cultural mythology. While pretty much everyone in attendance last night needed no convincing as to why horror movies are so damn important to our culture, Subissati explained it anyway which helped ground my understanding of how this zombie boom has lasted for so long and why people who are not necessarily horror fans have been able to gravitate towards the undead.
It was a fantastic (and licensed) evening and if you're in the Toronto area I highly, highly recommend checking out the remaining lectures. The Black Museum is excellent brain food.
Terror Frame by Frame October 25th
White Zombie and the Birth of Zombie Cinema November 8th
Echos from the Sleep Room November 22nd