This last summer while attending the Traverse City film festival in northern Michigan I had the opportunity to see famed genre director and producer Roger Corman, twice. The initial event was a showing of two of his films in which he gave an introduction of the films and a bit about them before the screenings that followed. That night we all sat back and enjoyed first Corman’s horror comedy ‘Bucket of Blood’, a fun and suprisingly modern feeling film depicting a waiter at a cafe that the beat poets frequented in the late 1950’s as he rises through fame and attention at the lounge by producing statues of a certain sinister nature. It’s a lovely little film and I highly suggest checking it out if you can find it. The second film shown was Corman’s oft mocked live action adaption of the Marvel Comics property “The Fantastic Four”. Oddly enough, I’m willing to bet that I enjoyed this iteration of Marvel’s first family more than Fox’s recent cox office disaster. At least this movie entertained, albeit because of its laughable performances and opaque cheesiness throughout.
The second encounter was at the end of the festival when friends and I approached our seats at a panel. Michael Moore entered and subsequently sat in an eloquent armchair set upon the stage with an equally eloquent, and empty, chair to the right of him. He then began to tell us about the legacy of the man we were about to meet. He told of Roger Corman’s litany of features under his belt, near 500 as either director or producer on all. Corman made a name for himself by churning out film after film by tapping into films that could entertain first and foremost, and the drive in film circuits continually ate those films up. Then, after a short clip show detailing the blood splattered, scream filled, explosion fraught and bullet ridden genre films of B movie’s past, Corman took the stage and said “As you can see, we specialized in subtlety.” The interview progressed as Moore, clearly a fanboy himself here, peeled back a few layers of the cult director in bringing him back to his beginnings in Detroit, Michigan. Not long after his humble start the Corman family moved to Los Angeles. Originally Corman followed in his father’s footsteps to become an engineer at Standford, but after graduating and spending four days on an engineering job he realized he wanted to be involved in film. From there he got a low level job at 20th century Fox and began to rise through his opportunities there until he was producing and directing hordes of low budget films.
Roger Corman made over 400 films including The Fast and The Furious, Little Shop of Horrors, It Stalked the Ocean Floor, Galaxy of Terror, Rock and Roll Highschool, Death Race 2000, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2, Dinoshark, Sharktopus, and hundreds more. From the mid 1950’s until now Corman has had his finger on the pulse of pop culture. Through his production companies New World Pictures, Concorde Pictures, and later New Horizons Corman not only had a part in this monster of motion pictures but he also harbored an eye for spotting new young talent as well. Roger Corman’s reach in Hollywood stretches farther then you might think for a director known for such films. He discovered not only Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola, but also Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Joe Dante, William Shatner, and Sandra Bullock too! Not only that but he also brought an acclaimed collection of foreign films from the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, François Truffaut and others to US through his distribution companies too!
Roger Corman’s footprint on cinema is a formidible one. I consider him to be one of the more underappreciated heavies of the low budget world of filmmaking. This type of filmmaking is close to my heart, these films may never have won Oscars, earned moderate profit margins, or even be viewed by large amount of the public, but yet they exist, as if in a bubble. I have a certain adoration for films of this caliber because they fill out the spectrum of the entire filmmaking experience, for every ‘Gone with The Wind’ there are ten ‘Tales of Terror!’. Roger Corman made indie, guerilla, filmmaking cool and credible. He made films that clearly were different from traditional studio fare and anyone wanting something wildly different were sated by the master maker of “Movies your parents don’t want you to see”. These films frequently centered on counterculture ideas and topics, such as the acid influenced ‘The Trip’ or the infamous biker gang flick, ‘Wild Angels’ which was inspired by real life counterpart, The Hell’s Angels. As someone that wants to create typically genre fair pieces I owe a lot to Roger Corman, for he paved the way almost seventy years ago now. Even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ are clearly influenced by the king of the B movies.
To me, Roger Corman is important because his work is a reminder that film can be this glorious, important medium through which we express ourselves most deeply and intimately, but it can also be an unfiltered, pure, form of entertainment, and there is beauty in that. Any pieces that are unique and different, regardless of quality are welcome in my mind. I may not enjoy a certain film or scene for any number of reasons, but it doesn’t mean that isn’t somebody’s favorite movie or moment. If you haven’t heard of Roger Corman I suggest ‘A Bucket of Blood’ ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ ‘Death Race 2000’ or ‘Galaxy of terror’ be warned though, ‘Galaxy of Terror’ alone is a gore fest and not for the kids, James Cameron did do the set design work for the film though! Have fun, and go watch something new!