Awesome Men Through History: Roger Corman
This week is a landmark (well, sort of) for my contributions to TSB, in that it’s the first time my Self Made Man and Awesome Men Throughout History columns will feature the same person. Fittingly, this person is legendary B-movie director/producer Roger Corman, who reused props, sets, actors, and film footage as much as he could. As such, dedicating two columns to him is an homage to his work in and of itself.
The Self Made Man write-up of Corman details how he made sure his films were profitable, so I’ll use this column to talk more specifically about his films and their significance, which reflects on his enduring awesomeness.
Corman made B-movies, defined as genre films that supported a movie theater’s more respectable, higher-budget main feature. Those same movies were also sent to drive-ins and second-run theaters, which were cheaper and often patronized by teenagers, to whom the sensational excesses of Corman’s films appealed.
In this sense, Corman was a pioneer, because no one else was making transgressive teenage movies that weren’t also morality plays centered around contemporary adult values. Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause was a cautionary tale, but Corman’s Teenage Doll, to use just one example, made direct appeals to teenage rebellion without the obvious Dad-was-right subtext.
Corman was also a pioneer of guerrilla filmmaking, which is a hip and recognized style today, and would get cameramen to follow ambulances and fire trucks and film whatever was happening so he could use the footage later. Shameless? Of course. But it’s a style he perfected over hundreds of films, and other directors have used similar techniques since. Hell, Catch Me If You Can is one of Spielberg’s best movies, and the production schedule on that was Corman-esque (by Spielberg’s standards, anyway).
Corman’s movies had a specific look and sound because of these production habits, and because they were made independently, without studio pressure to water things down for middle-class tastes. The Wild Angels, for example, is a mix of vibrant, almost trashy colors, salacious content (lots of hot girls and biker fights), and the distorted surf rock of Davie Allan and the Arrows as its primary soundtrack. His best movies were visually aggressive, and that inspired a lot of other filmmakers—some of whom were mentored by Corman—to work outside the studio system as well.
This isn’t to say that Corman was trying to be subversively brilliant; he was trying to make money, as we know. But he did have taste. When he started New World Pictures, he became an American distributor of foreign films made by guys like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, and François Truffaut, among others. Their films are taught in film school now, but back in the 1960s and 70s they had virtually no American audience beyond Los Angeles or New York. Corman loved their films, however, and felt that there was an audience for them in the US, so he brought them to drive-ins across the country. Years later, companies like Miramax would do the same thing to great acclaim.
It took some time, but the industry did finally recognize Corman’s legacy, and he received an honorary Oscar in 2009 for “his rich engendering of films and filmmakers.” I’ll end with this short profile of his career before that year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.