BD. Region B. Anchor Bay. 15.
On April 5th, Roger Willian Corman turned 94. He’s still producing films, though at nothing like the intimidating rate at which he used to churn ’em out. I won’t bore you with his stats, which are anyway quite difficult to take in and comprehend. If you know anything about Corman, it’s that he’s been prolific… that his films are intended to entertain and usually do… that they’re all made on improbably low budgets… and that over the years they’ve provided the breaks for an equally improbable number of people who went on to become Hollywood Royalty. As George Hickenlooper observes in Alex Stapleton’s 2011 documentary, “You couldn’t imagine The New Hollywood without Roger Corman”. Among the alumni of “Corman University” who appear here to pay tribute and offer thanks are Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda, Jonathan Demme, Bruce Dern, Pam Grier, William Shatner, David Carradine, Irvin Kershner and Gale Ann Hurd. Perhaps Messrs Stallone and Coppola weren’t asked to participate. Perhaps they were and declined. It’s their loss. Admirers such as Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth have their say. You can bet Dick Miller does, too.
The documentary’s opening places us in ringside seats for the shooting of 2010’s Dinoshark, before rewinding more than 50 years to an earlier, less agreeable nautical encounter, a two year stint in the Navy (“the worst two years in my life”), which convinced the young Corman that he didn’t like being told what to do. Nor did he care very much for what director Nathan Juran did with the first script he managed to sell in 1953 (The House In The Sea, filmed by Juran as Highway Dragnet the following year). In response, our Rog produced Wyott Ordung’s Monster From The Ocean Floor (1954) himself, likewise the same year’s The Fast And The Furious (directed by John Ireland and Edward Sampson). The latter involved Corman with the fledgling American International Pictures and he took on the direction of the western Five Guns West in 1955. The first steps had been taken on that proverbial journey of a thousand miles.
Corman’s monster mashes, crime epics and juvenile delinquent sagas were sure fire drive in smashes and indeed, none of his pictures ever failed to turn a profit with the notable exception of his 1962 anti-racism message movie The Stranger aka The Intruder, starring Bill Shatner. The failure of the film that came closest to the European Arthouse movies that tallied with Corman’s personal viewing tastes sealed his subsequent dedication to e.g. mad science, motorbike marauders and those much admired Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. As Alan Arkush remarks on the series of Women In Prison flicks that our man produced in the Philippines: “They don’t need plots, they need girls shooting Filipinos out of trees”. Producer Gene Corman talks about The Stranger and other collaborations with his big brother and it’s good to see him and that other key Corman, Roger’s wife Julie, having their say and getting some of the credit that’s due to them. Julie (below) contributes some priceless deadpan observations on being romanced by somebody as monomaniacal and driven as Roger. Yet Polly Platt recalls another side to him, that when she was abandoned by Peter Bogdanovich and everybody else in Hollywood stopped taking her calls, Corman was the only one who rallied round and offered his support.
Corman comments that round about the time of his biker movies and The Trip (1967), he felt like “the straight guy in a pretty wild movement”. Eli Roth describes RC, with his old world elegance, diction and manners, as an apparent square who’s actually supercool. More than that and even more so than Rene Magritte, to whom it is often applied, Roger Corman is the personification of Flaubert’s injunction to “be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”. “Clearly, my unconscious is a boiling Inferno” reasons Roger. Long may it continue to bubble…
Corman’s World climaxes with Roger receiving an honorary Oscar in the presence of his collaborators, peers, friends, admirers and those over whom he has exercised such an ineradicable influence. The big studios they work for have long since muscled in on the exploitation territory over which he used to rule. The question inevitably arises, why has he never made it into Hollywood’s toppermost tier? Martin Scorsese remembers Corman turning down Mean Streets because Scorsese wouldn’t mount it as a blacksploitation picture. Jack Nicholson gets a bit yah-boo petty, winding Corman up for being too stingy to get behind Easy Rider (Corman’s account of why this didn’t happen differs radically) but later we find him sobbing when he recalls everything that Corman has done for and means to him (yeah Jack, we’ve all seen Five Easy Pieces!)
A more pertinent question than the one previously posed might be, if there’s no room for somebody like Roger Corman in Hollywood’s toppermost tier, then how much value should we apply to it anyway? The plain truth is that Roger Corman is a lot like Lucifer. He might as well re-enlist in the Navy as “go upmarket”, where he’d have to comply with the edicts of a buch people whose collective IQ is not remotely close to his own… Roger Corman will not serve!