Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Roger Corman, my idol

Today, April 5, 2006, is the 80th birthday of Roger Corman. He deserves all the well-wishes he gets today, which will hopefully be a lot. As I noted, Tim Lucas, on Video WatchBlog, has suggested that the blogging community join together and all write essays dedicated to Roger Corman today.

Few people in movies bring up as many exciting possibilities for essays. I expect I have a day of reading in front of me. I considered focusing on The Intruder, as Marty McKee did in his Happy Birthday, Roger Corman essay, or A Bucket of Blood or The Tomb of Ligeia, my two favorite Corman movies.

But, when it came down to it, I'm a terribly self-involved guy, so the most natural thing for me to write in any situation is me. In this case, there's plenty of reason and those reasons are the best examples I can think of to celebrate Roger Corman.

Roger Corman is my idol. Period. Exclamation point.

Let me note, there are generic questions that people blankly throw at people in different creative fields, some out of genuine curiosity, others for lack of a better question. The famous question for science fiction/fantasy/horror writers is "Where do you get those crazy ideas?" For aspiring moviemakers it's "What director would you like to be?", or, at least, such is my experience. A whole essay could be written about what that question in itself says about the general feeling of movies as an imitative medium, but this isn't it.

If I were more of an artsy guy, I suppose I'd frown upon the entire notion of having an answer, but give a long-winded speech about Mario Bava's beautiful images, Woody Allen's wit, David Lynch's sense of mystery and, yes, I'm already even boring myself with that. If I were more of a regular guy, I suppose I'd have an easily explained answer like "Steven Spielberg" or maybe "M. Night Shyamalan".

But the fact is, I have an answer. The man whose autobiography, How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime, I read at least semi-yearly to remind myself why I want to make movies. I suppose the pretext that I'm building suspense here is a little goofy, since I've repeatedly covered what the subject of this essay is already.

Roger Corman.

Why? Well, let me tell you.

For one thing, because, believe it or not, he was a great director. Yes, I absolutely said great and I may say it a couple of more times before I'm done here. And what better start to an aspiration is there than greatness?

There's also the amazing variety of movies he's made. Name a genre. Roger Corman's directed a couple of them, he's produced a couple of them and he's picked up a couple of others for distribution. I promise. And I didn't even peek at your answer. In fact, for most answers, it would be a couple of dozen. What more could you want from a career than that?

He also knew you could sneak a message into an exploitation movie. A scary monster, a couple of gunfights, motorcycles roaring, bare breasts, etc. Those pay the bills. That didn't mean you couldn't sneak something in with the spoonful of sugar, as it goes. Mind you, sometimes the messages were only negligible and other times they seem heavy-handed and out of place. Sometimes you do better than other when you're making hundreds of movies.

And that leads me to the most basic, primal reason I wish I could be Roger Corman. It's also the reason I will never get that opportunity. Nor will anyone else.

Roger Corman got the opportunity to start making movies in the exact right time and place. The planets converged and he got the chance to make the same kind of movies that would have been high school movies for the rest of us, "Hey, guys! Here's a cool stretch of beach. We should grab a bunch of guys and shoot a movie here!" He got to have guys like Charles Griffith writing his scripts, he got guys like Jack Nicholson, Charles Bronson and Dick Miller to star. Then he got to have them distributed and shown to a real paying audience.

In there, he got to make a few bad movies. How many directors can say they made anything close to the number of bad movies as Roger Corman and still go on to increasing commercial and even critical success? How many directors now could even survive a single movie as bad as some of the movies Roger Corman made at the beginning of his career? Only if they'd made it with their buddies in high school, right?

He also, even at the beginning, on shoe-string budgets and short schedules, managed to get in some gems, too. Today I'd like to see wonderful essays praising movies like Not of This Earth, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Teenage Doll and Machine-Gun Kelly, among other of his early work.

I'm doomed to never be all the things that Roger Corman was. I must say that even taking the impossible parts away, you still get a great moviemaker who makes movies in a variety of genres, entertains millions, tries to have something to say and always struggles to do a little better than he did before. That there is quite a lofty goal.

Such is the life of anyone with cinematic goals. There is nowhere you can step that Roger Corman hasn't beaten you to and, in most cases, done it better and more efficiently than you. That hardly means it's not worth trying.

Roger Corman, of all people, would want you to. In fact, that reminds me, I never even touched on all of the opportunities he gave to people like... Well, Roger Corman Swings (at 80) is up over on Tim Lucas's blog with a list of participating blogs. I'll bet a couple will tell you about that. If no one else will tell you, check What They Learned From Roger Corman by Beverly Gray.

I'll leave it with a most sincere Happy Birthday to Roger Corman, my idol.


Reel Fanatic said...

Very well put .. Anyone who doesn't like Corman just plain doesn't like good movies

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Great post, Neil! Very prsonal and very forward. I dig that. I should really make some time to read his biography.

I think Bava and Corman have a hell of a lot in common. In some ways I kind of think of Bava as the Italian Corman.

I recently watched FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND again and I enjoyed the hell out of it. A lot of people don't like it and consider Corman's later work garbage but I think there's good stuff to be found in FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND. It's a got a great cast (Corman's films often do) and BIG ideas. Corman always had BIG ideas. Sometimes they fall a little short in execution but I always appreciate his effort and gusto. Hollywood needs more ideas... and gusto!

Neil Sarver said...

Kimberly, thanks!

I go hot and cold on my feelings about this blog, which probably comes down to my own ego issues than anything real. But even at my best, I like the idea of the blog as a freeform piece of work more than many of the individual posts.

This would be one of the few exceptions. I remain very proud of this one. Maybe I was in touch with something or maybe because I was writing it for Tim Lucas's blog-a-thon I felt a bit of pressure to not fuck it up.

But probably just because my love of Corman is so pure.

I agree regarding Frankenstein Unbound, at least to my best recollection, it's been on my "to revisit" list for too dang long, perhaps I should fix that.

I can see why Corman could be disappointed, and my recollection is that he was, as it certainly did have big, big ideas, and I can imagine he wanted even more out of them, but as a viewer, I'm just impressed with what all he got in there.

Neil Sarver said...

And I'm sorry Reel Fanatic for taking four and a half years to say thank you for you kind words.

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