I always wish I could have sat down for a beer with Roger Corman. We’d find some quiet hotel bar in Puerto Vallarta, where all his most recent, shark-related films have been shot, and just talk about work and life. The man has it figured out in a way few other cinematic masters seem capable of reaching.
As a hero, Corman took me by surprise. I’d always thought Frank Capra would be my pinnacle of Hollywood work ethic, along with greater humanist ethic to boot; if you haven’t read anything about Capra’s young life, do yourself a favour and do so, it’s food for thought in this single-mindedly depressed economic twilight. I found Corman through his movies, even though I originally had no idea there was a unifying mind at the helm of his works. Movies like The Bat, The Trip and The Premature Burial were everything I loved about simple, North American storytelling — the art of “let’s follow the main character around” as David Mamet unlovingly described it. Corman’s simple stories are mutated fairy tales for a new world filled with gruesome political and environmental concerns.
What is overwhelmingly endearing about Corman is his approach to the work of filmmaking. In the recent documentary Corman’s World, we get a glimpse into the chaos of the budget moviemaker’s career. Over the course of one hundred and twenty-five minutes, we see Corman establish his foothold in a world of sky high production value and a lot of backstabbing. After a failed military career, Corman set about making a living for himself in the only industry he had a hair of inspiration to dedicate himself to: the movies. He toiled for the big studios as a manual sortation engineer (read: mail boy), made a break for script reading; and then, following one of the many heartbreaking backstabs that make up Hollywood as seen through the eyes of screenwriters, he packed up and started his own movie production company.
The man is a master of financing — that’s the real talent behind moviemaking, “the paint” as Jack Nicholson puts it in Corman’s World — something I still can’t appreciate to its full extent. What I can appreciate is that Corman sold subversive, critical subtext to generations of drive in movie lovers. He also worked to distribute some of the masterpieces of foreign cinema to North American markets. Corman is a cinematic idealist, someone who unflinchingly declares the nobility of celluloid through his art of production. His exploitation films may be judged as schlocky when viewed next to Lucas’ newest monster or Spielberg’s great endeavours of smoke and mirrors; but according to the vitrues of creative control and sane budgeting, Corman is in a class of his own.
Moviemakers have followed suit since Corman’s heyday in the sixties and seventies. Don’t doubt it for a moment: there would be no Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth without Roger Corman. I don’t know which industry I’m headed towards, or if there will be something as simple as one industry calling my name by the time I’m thirty, but I hope that I have the courage and grace to question the machinations of my career as Corman did. He is a great innovator, a lover of young people, and a charming public speaker; he reflects the image of Mark Twain lecturing on the wonders of travel, or Pierre Berton declaring his hatred for the anti-semitism of Depression-era fraternities; he stands as another individual, cast in a heroic mold. Make sure you check out Humanoids from the Deep, followed by a Frederico Felini film right after; then, after mutant salmon and neorealism have festooned for a little while, thank Roger Corman for bringing both of them into your world.