Long Live The King
Filmmaker Roger Corman looks back on a unique Hollywood career.
Thursday, October 29, 1998
Imagine the last several decades of Hollywood filmmaking without the likes of Jaws and Star Wars, or such directors as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, and you''ll begin to appreciate the influence of visionary independent filmmaker and producer Roger Corman.
As part of the Monterey County Film Commission''s ongoing "Focus on Film" lecture series, Corman will give a talk on Nov. 4 to discuss his fabled career and provide an insider''s look at the current status of independent filmmaking in the U.S.
In anticipation of his upcoming lecture, Corman spoke with Coast Weekly from his offices in Hollywood about his career in "exploitation" films, and the influence of what Corman considers the preeminent art form of the 20th century.
No other filmmaker has been more successful in producing commercial, entertainment-oriented films that tap into popular culture and the prevailing anxieties of the age than Corman, who has produced every imaginable genre of film, from horror and sci-fi to gangster movies and westerns.
Although Corman is most famous for having given notable actors and directors like Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Jim Cameron their first big break in Hollywood, his influence as producer/director of more than 600 "exploitation" and B-pictures is even more significant.
"I think with exploitation films, as with mostly all commercially oriented films, what makes them so fascinating is they are the true art form of the 20th century, part business and part art with the better films having some element of cinema art," says Corman. He also says he consciously sought to explore some of society''s predominant concerns in his flms.
"I did believe we were on the cusp of major scientific and cultural changes, and I tried to deal with both subjects," adds Corman of his earliest films from the late ''50s and early ''60s. "In sci-fi, I repeatedly came back to that duel-edged sword of science creating the possibility for great good and great bad."
In addition to his interest in sci-fi and horror, Corman seemed to possess a preternatural ability to anticipate the main cultural trends of his era--rock ''n'' roll, drugs and motorcycles.
It was Corman who produced Hollywood''s first biker movie, The Wild Angels, which paved the way for a slew of copy-cat films, including Easy Rider. It was Corman who also had the prescience to latch onto the burgeoning drug culture of the ''60s with The Trip, written by and starring Jack Nicholson.
Part of the attraction of exploitation films, says Corman, was the freedom they provided to explore extreme subjects and to experiment with new modes of filmmaking, without regard to the studios'' financial concerns or the demands of actors'' screen images.
"In sci-fi, fantasy and horror, you can use the medium without regard to appeasing a star''s requirements," says Corman.
Corman notes with no small degree of irony how the so-called "B-picture" has emerged as Hollywood''s mainstream picture, due in large measure to the impact of state-of-the-art special effects and state-of-the-art budgets.
"What were called ''exploitation pictures'' moved to ''genre'' films, and then to ''high concept'' films, sort of two steps forward and one back," says Corman.
"When Jaws came out, Vincent Canby [film critic for the New York Times], called it a ''big-budget Roger Corman movie.'' It was a better film and when I saw Jaws, I knew this was a blow to what I was doing. When I saw Star Wars, I knew there was no way to compete with such pictures that were taking the subject matter we used, and making them bigger and better."
In response to the major studios co-opting his domain, Corman responded by branching out into other film genres like action adventure and family films, and taking advantage of video and cable TV to market his films.
"Today only 10 percent [of our domestic income comes from theaters]," says Corman, "and the rest from cable, pay TV, and home video, all of which have definitely helped the low-budget and independent filmmaker." cw
Roger Corman will speak on Nov. 4 at the Monterey Conference Center from 7-9pm. Tickets $15, $12/students and "Friends of the Film Commission." For more information call the film commission at 646-0910.