Saturday, August 15, 2020

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011).

There's a chapter in Stephen King's full-length non-fiction study Danse Macabre with the curious title of "The Horror Movie as Junk Food".  At the start of the chapter, the author claims, "I am no apologist for bad filmmaking, but once you've spent twenty years or so going to horror movies, searching for diamonds (or diamond-chips) in the dreck of the B-pics, you realize that if you don't keep your sense of humor, you're done for.  You also begin to see the patterns and appreciate them when you find them (212)".  A bit earlier in the book, King made another claim that I think has a pretty essential relation to the concept of what he refers to as "B-pics".

He says words to the effect that the particular genre he works in as an uthor is the kind that requires an extra bit of heavy lifting from the imagination.  The reason for that is simple.  What would you do if someone came up to you and claimed there was a shape-shifting monster hiding in a sewer?  Or that an old 1958 Plymouth Fury was either haunted, possessed, or else had a malevolent mind of its own, and was going around killing people?  I'm pretty sure the Flying Spaghetti Monster was cooked up as a way of mocking that kind of thinking.  The point is that once you strip a lot of modern Horror tropes down to their essentials it gets easy to see just how ridiculous they all are pretty damn fast.  It is just possible that some of the concepts, such as the monster hiding under the bed, are able to retain an elder statesman form of dignity because some childhood fears are just that universal.  It also helps that the trope itself seems to be a kind of recurring right of passage in the budding human imagination.  Beyond that, however, it really does seem like there's this inherent hokey quality that the genre has to rely on in order to achieve its desired effects.

That's a real big deal breaker for a lot of people.  And it probably explains why Horror has been (and probably always will remain) the black sheep of the popular genre family.  It is just possible that you need a certain "hitch" in your mind in order to, as they say, "get into" it.  I'm not bothered if that's the case.  I just wish those on the outside looking in would realize that just because some of us gravitate toward things that go bump in the night, that isn't the same thing as being warped or morbid.  My own experience has been that the warped aren't interested in Horror fiction for its artistic merits.  Instead, they just use as a means to ends that are, in the long run, selfish and diminishing.  An actual Horror fan, on the other hand, is able to appreciate even the lowest rent level of schlock because sometimes even second-run material can contain trace elements of gold.

That seems to have been the case with the format known as B-pics, or B- pictures, to give genre it's full name.  It also brings us to the subject of this review.  King has a great deal of kind words for a lot films detailed in Danse Macabre that most critics would consider to be "dreck".  Nonetheless, he finds himself drawn to them.  It could be because he has a junk food mind.  Another possibility, however, is that he really can see the artistic merits of these films, and in particular of one certain filmmaker.  In the second chapter of his study, King makes mention of a small independent film company known as American International pictures.  It was the brainchild of two men, James H. Nicholson, and Samuel Z. Arkoff.

King attributes the creation of American International directly to the field of modern Horror fiction.  He explains that while the genre has always been popular, there are times when it has enjoyed various cycles of mass popularity.  "These periods almost always seem to coincide with periods of fairly serious economic and/or political strains, and the books and films seem to reflect those free-floating anxieties (for want of a better term) which accompany such serious but not mortal dislocations.  They have done less well in periods when the American people have been faced with outright examples of horror in their own lives (29)".

The moment that Nicholson and Arkoff created their new studio was during a post-war lull in the genre's prospects.  "So horror languished in the dungeon until 1955 or so, rattling its chains once in a while but causing no great stir.  It was around that time that...Arkoff and...Nicholson stumbled downstairs and discovered a money machine rusting away unnoticed in that particular dungeon.  Originally film distributors, Arkoff and Nicholson decided that, since there was an acute shortage of B-pictures in the early fifties, they would make their own.

"Insiders predicted speedy economic ruin for the entrepreneurs.  They were told they were setting to sea in a lead sailboat; this was the age of TV.  The insiders had seen the future and it belongs to Dagmar and Richard Diamond, Private Detective.  The consensus among those who cared at all (and there weren't many) was that Arkoff and Nicholson would lose their shirts very quickly.

"But during the...years that the company formed, American-International Pictures...has been the only major American film company to show a consistent profit, year in and year out.  AIP has made a great variety of films, but all of them have taken dead aim on the youth market; the company's pictures include such...classics as Boxcar Bertha, Bloody Mama, Dragstrip Girl, The Trip, Dillinger, and the immortal Beach Blanket Bingo.  But their greatest success was with horror films (31-2)".

A lot of that success was due to the fact that Nicholson and Arkoff had the bright idea of hiring a struggling young director who was pretty well fed up with the industry by that time, and who was willing to sign on to the two older men's endeavor on the agreement that they were willing to give him free reign to make whatever he damn well pleased on his own terms.  Nick and Sam told him yes.  The rest is a very interesting chapter of cinema history.  What makes it not so much unique, but something more like resonant is the extent of the influence that one man can have on an entire field of art.  It's interesting in the way that it is ever present, and yet neglected at the same time.  There are a multiple number of reasons for this.  I think the one that sticks out to me the most is that after all these years it's easy to look down on certain films just because they don't meet Hollywood's A-list standards.  That's the sort of cudgel that can be wielded with easy use, especially if we're going by a kind of adult form of the typical high-school popularity contest.

It’s hard to defend the things you love.  It’s always something personal, that can only have value to you alone.  Perhaps that explains why an average movie fan can only shake their head and wonder why artists like Robert De Niro or Martin Scorsese would heap praise on a film called Teenage Caveman.  Believe it or not, both have reason for their enthusiasm.  The director of the above title was named Roger Corman.  It also happens that Corman gave the same two men their first professional gigs as an actor and director.  For Scorsese, it was behind the camera shooting a film called Boxcar Bertha.  For De Niro, it was starring opposite Shelly Winters in Bloody Mama.  It can be a weird admission for artists of their stature to make (assuming they still have any).  I'm willing to call it legit, however in order to understand the nature of such an enthusiasm, and where it comes from, we have to talk a bit about the guy who helped them reach such an appreciation.  That brings us to the film under discussion, Alex Stapleton's 2011 documentary on The Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.

First Encounters.

Does the name Roger Corman mean anything?  It wouldn't surprise me all that much if the vast majority have no real say in the matter, other than to just respond with a series of honest blank stares.  I doubt that's anyone's real fault.  In some ways, we are each the product of our own individual aesthetic upbringing.  It just seems that some of us get lucky every now and then.  If we spend an inordinate amount of time with our grandparents, it can often be the case that they will be lucky enough to pass their artistic tastes onto their own grandchildren.  I guess what I'm saying is that before you can ever learn to appreciate an old film that wasn't made as early as the 70s, you first need to be brought up on a lot of older fare, almost from the cradle up.  It makes sense when you think about it.  They say the early years are the most formative, and what we see and hear during those years can often have a determining factor on our beliefs, actions, and tastes.  At least there's one explanation for why I knew about Humphrey Bogart before I'd heard anything about guys like George Washington or Martin Luther King Jr.

Roger Corman is just such a name.  It could be that if you aren't brought up on the kind of gateway entertainments that lead to his doorstep, then while I don't say it's impossible to build a liking for his work, the task of achieving it becomes a bit more harder.  Still, that doesn't strike me as a reason for not trying.  The way I found out about Corman was because I was (and still am) a fan of Edgar Allan Poe.  At the time, I'd just been making my way through a graphic novel adaptation of Fall of the House of Usher.  That kid's comic was told with enough skill and finesse to extend my understanding of what the genre could accomplish whenever it's practitioners put their minds to it.  Not long afterward I heard there was an actual adaptation of the novella somewhere floating around in the video racks.  The way I learned about that is on account of a Vincent Price biography I was watching at or around the same time as I was still digesting the contents of that Usher comic.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the very images from that comic plastered right up there on the screen.  Usher and the Narrator character were wearing the exact same clothing as they were in the comic book!  It has to be one of those once-in-a-life occurrences that can send a growing young child's mind into the kind of mental stratosphere from which you never really want to come down.

At the time it was happening I couldn't place a single bit of any of it into words.  All I could experience was a palpable sense of excitement, followed up by a a simple and quiet resolve to hunt down a copy of that exact film.  I was certain it had to be out there somewhere.  After an on and off again search, there it was, lying snaked in between two other video offerings in the isles of one of those old video rental stores that are now something like living archeological sites (if you can still find any of them; the store is gone now; progress).  Anyway, I brought it home and popped that sucker into a device that used to be known as a VCR.  I can still recall the excitement those opening credits were able to work on my expectations. The credits were enshrouded by a creepy, psychedelic fog, while on the soundtrack a score that sounded like it was right out of the Haunted Mansion pounded out in a manic frenzy.  What followed after all that build up still remains one of the most unforgettable film experiences of my life.

It wasn't the kind of thing I could put my finger on in the exact moment.  All I knew at the time was that here was an oldie that was good enough to creep me out to the point where there were actual moments when I felt like covering my eyes.  It's probably difficult to get anyone to understand either that reaction, or where it came from.  Still, at least I can say that I saw it, even if others can't or won't.  Looking at it from an adults(?) perspective, I think what makes it work for me still is just how respectful the director was to the source material.  Even in those moment where there are obvious bits of business added that never showed up in Poe's short story, the filmmakers were able to still add it in such a way that was respectful enough to keep the dramatic integrity of the main story intact.  Aside from that, it is also possible that House of Usher (1960) was the first film that sort of told me in telling itself that Horror didn't have to just be the domain of Freddy's Dead or Jason Goes To Hell.  It could be a legit form of storytelling with an untapped well of sophistication all it's own.

I think it's because of all this that the finale of the film still manages to pack a punch for me.  After all, isn't that what a lot of the best genre offerings are supposed to do?  Lullaby you until your defenses are down and then deliver the shock blow?  It's as good a description of what the best work in the field can do that I know of, anyways.  What made it all the more memorable was that it was a lesson that I was to have from at least two great names.  The first was Vincent Price, whom I'd already known by that time thanks to some old time radio cassettes my parents had bought me from an old indie bookstore.  It took me a while to realize who the second one was, yet I paid enough attention to the point where I soon got to know the name of Roger Corman.  There even came a time when I was able to take an interest in the artistic career of the director of House of Usher for more than just his connections to the author of The Raven.  His is a very interesting story in its own right.    

Fitful starts.

The man who is now labeled the Pope of Pop Cinema didn't really start out that way.  It's easy to look at the scene life presents to you and just accept it as a fait acompli.  The trouble with such an approach is that it leaves out all the facts.  Everything has to come from somewhere, even if the human mind finds it all too easy to accept the reality it is given.  In Corman's case, the truth is that he was a Detroit native born and bred.  As he explains it in the documentary, "Like most kids, I was interested in film, essentially all my life.  I graduated from Stanford University in California, in engineering.  I worked four days as an engineer and quit.  The only job I could get in films was (as) a messenger at 20th Century Fox, and I worked my way up from that to become a story analyst.  I read scripts, commented on them, and handed in a synopsis of the script, or the novel, or whatever had been proposed with my opinion.

"As the youngest reader I was given, frankly, the most hopeless scripts to cover.  And the story editors said, 'Roger, you have never recommended one script'.  And I said, 'You've never given me a script that's worth recommending'.  So they sent me a script which was the first thing I'd ever read at Fox that I thought was really any good at all.  And I made a number of notes on it.  The picture became The Gunfighter, starring Gregory Peck.  And the story editor got a bonus for my notes, and I got no recognition for the fact that a number of my ideas were used in the script".  According to Roger's brother, Gene, "This became a big hit for Fox.  You would have thought he'd have some acknowledgment.  This caused him to leave Fox, and become what he is today.  After The Gunfighter he corralled some funds from his parents, and some of his money, and a few friends.  (Roger) got an enormous number of deferments, and made his first film, Monster from the Ocean Floor.  And that was basically the beginning of Roger Corman".

There was a brief span of time when Corman was a just a young maverick running around out there in L.A. all by his lonesome.  They may have been lean years, but they were productive in the sense of what his experiences taught him during it all.  "I was the producer," he recalls, "the assistant director, and everything.  I would drive the truck to the location and unload everything myself.  And I wold save about an hour on the crew salary every morning.  The second picture I made was a picture called The Fast and the Furious.  It was about road-racing, and of course I had very little money...I could see the problem for the independent.  You raised the money, you made the picture, and then you had to wait for the picture to earn its money back before you could make another picture.  (However), Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson were starting a new company, American-International, and they made me an offer for The Fast and the Furious to start their company with.  They said they wanted a three-picture deal, in which I'm guaranteed my money back.  Soon as I finish one film, I go onto the next one, using the guarantee.  And that essentially started me on a regular basis of making films, and started American-International".

The Nature of the B-picture.

Once Corman was able to achieve a certain amount of stability, he soon began to carve out a niche for himself.  It's the specific nature of that niche that gives his films their own, particular identity.  For whatever reason, he had the kind of mind that was well suited to this particular format.  It's a type of film that requires a particular kind of artistic attention.  Patience is probably one of its key virtues.  That's because of a necessary lowering in the quality of the film's standards.  I suppose another good term would be to call them poverty row productions.  These were the films made without the benefit of the financial backing of a major studio like Warner Bros. or MGM.  It was possible for a lot of B-films to be made as part of a company.  However it was very rare for any of them to reach the look and status of a lavish production like Casablanca.  The companies that made B-pictures had neither the time nor the budget to waste on frills.  A lot of it was shot on the literal cheap.  That meant you had to almost pick a good location to film by just taking a camera and crew, drive around until you found a place that looked like a good setting, then you would all jump out, place the camera, get the actors in front of it, and have them perform their scene as quick as they can, and take off before anyone decides to call the cops.

It was the kind of standard operating procedure for how things went down back then.  Even if it's true, I'm still not sure if the majority of the audience that is far removed from show business could even find it believable.  There's a sort of irony involved here.  It is just possible that the average man in the street can never fathom either such working conditions, or even the profession itself.  In spite of this, that style of filmmaking is what keeps happening under the guidance of countless young mavericks out there to this very day.  I wonder why most folk don't notice it as much as they could?  Either way, those were the kind of working conditions in which guys like Corman were able to thrive.  His exploits in the field are somewhat legendary, and its helped in no small part by the fact that the majority of his collaborators are not only still with us, they have also gone on to make household names for themselves.  It may sound strange that such a personage as Marty Scorsese of Francis Coppola could ever have anything to do with B-pictures in an era where they are mostly associated with films like The Godfather, and Goodfellas.  However, that sort of overlooks the fact that getting a start in films is far from a glamorous business.  More often its just a bunch of hard work and living on the edge of bankruptcy.

That used to be the status of Martin and Frank when they decided to try and make a living behind the camera.  In this regard, it was a very fortunate stroke of luck when they both came under Roger Corman's wing.  Another individual who got to work with Corman was professional film and horror fan Bob Burns.  Burns is able to provide a very decent insight into just how low-rent the conditions where in Corman's productions.  "I don't know what the budgets were, but they were really low.  We shot it in seven days.  So that gives you an idea.  And that's everything, including the special effects, or anything else...Some weren't all that great, and Roger would be the first to tell you that".  It's a good idea of the basic charge that often gets lobbed at the director's work.  There will be a time to discuss this particular criticism in more detail later on.  For the moment it's best to move on and discuss other aspects of Corman's career.  Before we do that, the best thing to do is to pre-empt the defense by letting the director take the first shot when he admits to the viewer that, "I never had the opportunity to go to film school.  My student work was being shown on the screen.  And some of it wasn't quite as good as it might have been, but I was learning all the time".

A Cinema Rebel.

There was just one time when a Corman failed to make a single dollar at the box office.  It was the one film the director cared about the most.  Like a lot of stories of this type, it almost sounds like a cliche.  You have an artist with a creative idea he's dedicated to.  There's the skeptical executives who don't think it has a chance to work.  Then there's the hostile public.  All the ingredients seem to be in place.  I don't know how many times this has happened in Hollywood, although the classic example still remains Orson Welles's work on Citizen Kane.  I'm not even sure just how much of a cliche the whole thing really is.  What makes me want to stop and give Corman's case a considerate pause is the content of his dream project.  In order to discuss it, however, the focus has to shift just a bit.

Charles Beaumont is one of those writers who remains an unappreciated underground phenomena.  He's one of those guys who pours out hours of hard labor and toil on a series of books, scripts, and short-stories that make a brief splash during his lifetime, then quickly fade from view once he leaves the stage.  From there, history takes a familiar course.  His name and works fade from history, even as the artist himself has helped cement the future direction of a lot of the major fantastic genre in the arts.  In effect, a lot current genre films are molded by Beaumont's efforts, and the ironic punchline is that it's an open question of just how many even know he ever existed.  One of the filmmakers who knew and appreciated the author in his own time was Roger Corman.  In 1959 Beaumont published a rare, non-genre oriented book that tackled the subject of the racial integration of schools.  The text found its way into Corman's hands at a very fortunate time in the artist's development.

Corman admits he "wanted to do something a little bit different.  And I read the book, The Intruder, which is about the integration of schools in the South.  I wanted to make that picture.  I was very much in favor of integration.  I showed the screenplay to American-International and said this will be my next picture.  To my real surprise, they said they didn't want to make it.  And they'd never said no.  I took it to Allied Artists, they said no.  Everybody said no.  So I said, alright, I'll make it myself.  So my brother and I produced it in the South".

Gene Corman is at great pains to stress that they weren't making an exploitation film with this project.  He cites an old dime store paperback copy of Beaumont's novel with a tag-line that seems to promise a lot of racy thrills beneath the sheets.  Of course, none of this ever happens, in either the book or the film.  "This is not the reason we made this film," Gene maintains, "it is the exact opposite of what we intended this film to be.  It was not and is not an exploitation film.  This picture was the first film that Roger could actually make a statement about his personal feelings, as opposed to doing the Poe films, or the films that were just exploitation drive-in films".

Casting the film also proved to be a first for an unknown youngster who was desperate and hungry enough to try something crazy in an attempt to make a name for himself.  I suppose what's interesting about it is how, even before he went onto immortality, the actor was already looking to perform in the kind of material that gave the same sort of weight and integrity that he would later bring to his most famous role.  As Corman remembers, "To play the lead was a new young actor making his first film, Bill Shatner".  Looking back on his breakout performance, Shatner recalls, "All I knew is was that it was a wonderful part, and it was a wonderful opportunity for me at an early point in my career.  The character I played was based on a real person.  He was white supremacist from New York, and went down into the South to rabble-rouse, and try ways to stop the integration of the school.  What is difficult for people to understand now," says Shatner, "(is that) separate but equal was the law of the land.  That meant water fountains, it meant restaurants, it meant schools that (were) totally segregated.  It was the height of the integration wars.  It became very apparent once we were down there that people held polar opposite views of what was right and what was wrong".

Gene Corman, meanwhile, "didn't tell people what the subject matter is.  But the title, The Intruder, and with the track record of Roger, all the films.  I mean they naturally thought it was a Horror film, or something in that genre.  It was only as everything started to unfold and they saw exactly what was happening, I mean people were driving us out of locations.  We had to change motels.  I mean it got very heavy down there".

This all jibes with reports of making the same film from another documentary.  In Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of the Twilight Zone's Magic Man, Shatner and Company each go into a bit more detail about the conditions the cast and crew had to operate under as they shot the necessary footage for The Intruder.  As I look at clips of the film, I can't help wondering how they managed to get as many cooperative extras as they did to play the mob Shatner's character manages to stir up against the film's African-American hero.  Where some or most of them actual citizens of the small towns Corman filmed in?  If so, how tense was it on set?  These are the questions that can't help swirling around in my mind as I watch the documentary unfold.  From what I can gather from both Corman's and Beaumont's respective documentaries, things were pretty hot the whole time they were out there.  In fact, according to Shatner, the way the film wrapped was they finished the final scenes that needed to be done.  From there, the future star of Star Trek and the Corman Brothers each went back to the motel they were staying at.  They all went to their separate rooms, packed their bags, threw their luggage into different cars, and got the hell out of dodge.  Roger and Gene went one direction, while Captain Kirk set out for parts unknown.

It's a risky way to make a film, and what sort of made it a gut punch for the director is that it failed to make its cost back.  The whole thing was considered a flop, if audience reaction at the time is anything to go by.  A lot of audiences in certain areas of the country stayed away in droves.  In retrospect it's a very calculated strategy for clipping wings.  It's no surprise to learn the whole thing was a blow for Corman.  At one point in Stapleton's documentary, Corman starts to say the film was a success, and then corrects himself.  The truth is it was loved by the critics while the audience made it tank at the same time.  As the filmmaker admits, it's still mixed up in his head.  Some of his collaborators then go on to say they're convinced the defeat robbed him of a lot of confidence, and wonder about what could have been.  They suggest he might have stretched his creative limbs a bit more if The Intruder was more of a success.

At the risk of offense, this is the moment where I tend to part ways not with Corman so much as his collaborators.  From where I'm standing all these years later, I'm not so sure that it slowed him down all that much.  In fact, based on a lot of the films he made afterward, I'm inclined to the opinion that he took the rebuff as a kind of call to action.  As if to say, "You think you can just shut out the facts about where things are headed?  Okay, challenge excepted!"  I tend to think that's a lot closer to the truth based on where the director took his career next.  A great deal of it seems to have been an instinctive response the changing times he was living through, and how it shaped his outlook and art.  It really does seem as if his response to the emerging 1960s, and his engagement with those years are one of the key features that helped cement Corman's reputation in popular culture.  With films like Hell's Angels on Wheels and The Trip, Corman managed to achieve several accomplishments at once.  He was able to make his point a little more clearer to audiences, and he also found ways to pioneer certain film techniques that helped move the cinema forward a few notches.

It's easy to argue whether or not this was all a matter of luck or whether it was something more or less ordained.  I'm uneasy with the idea of no free will, and I don't think it's a wise idea to trust blind luck.  I think a lot of Corman's big breakthroughs are down to a combination of being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to read the scene as it unfolds.  Julie Corman, the directors wife seems to get closest to the truth when she observes, "I think he was alert that this was a time when things were beginning to change.  Certainly there weren't movies being made that reflected (the) changes in thinking of (the) young people.  And I think that Roger was alert to that.  What was going on, really, was revolutionary".  The director's co-conspirators in celluloid crime also tend to back her up.  Jack Nicholson confides, "I smoked pot at work".  It's the kind of admission which is interesting in that the biggest response he's likely to get at this date is, "Yeah, so?  What's the difference"?  I think the distinction has to do with how long it took to reach that kind of level of acceptance.  Back then, guys like Jack would have been taking their career in their hands if they'd done it on any of the major studios.  "Sex, drugs, rock n' roll; it was blowing up," as Penelope Spheeris remarks.  The crux is how much difference the passage of time makes.  Try and imagine if none of that had happened, and then where would we be?

In this sense I suppose there is almost something prototypical of Corman's situation in that decade.  He started out as a suit.  However, as things evolved he began to find more and expanding avenues of going his own way.  Sooner or later he began to notice that his own artistic inclinations were causing him to sympathize with the whole Haight Ashbury scene.  In that sense it all plays out as a kind of gradual, yet genuine realization of his own Hippie sympathies.  This sense of gradualness doesn't seem to have been lost on Corman's compatriots.  Bruce Dern, for instance, notes how he "looked at this guy in a Cardigan sweater talking about mayhem on the street!".  It was clear to Dern the boss was On the Bus, yet the contrast between the ideals and appearance was an apparent and amusing bit of culture shock. Corman tends to agree that "I was probably the straightest guy in a fairly wild movement".  "For someone who seems so square on the outside," says Eli Roth, "he's actually a very cool, interesting, hip director".  Corman "may have felt at the beginning of the 60s that I was an underdog, but as we got into the 60s I thought, "Hey, I'm with the new movement"!  All this is part of the reason for why he casts such a large shadow.  However it is his artistic efforts in all this that will have to determine his ultimate worth.

Main Strengths.

Most of Corman's greatest success have come from his work in the Horror genre.  This is something the director himself seems to have understood on a subconscious level, as it's the one genre that he kept gravitating to time and again throughout his career.  He seems to have had a tacit understanding of the field, and of his own strengths within it.  The nature of these strengths are best on display in a sequence of films that many genre fans tend to regard as the director's best work.  It was a cycle of films, none of them sequels or continuations of the other.  However each entry in the cycle was related by a single continuous strand.  All of the films were adaptations (sometimes very loosely) of various works or shorts stories by the American Gothic writer, Edgar Allan Poe.

What got the whole thing started wasn't some random spark of inspiration.  The director wasn't just lounging around in his office one day and the idea struck him out of the blue like lightning.  I'm not saying that can't happen.  My own experience is that 9 times out of 10, that really does seem to be more or less how the majority of artists get their ideas.  It just doesn't seem to be the entire truth in this case.  It was more like a series of creative strands or threads coming together to create one of those rarest of all feasts.  An artistic product where it turns out that all those cooks didn't amount to a lot of spoiled  broth.  For the director, the process or starting point for the whole thing goes back a bit further in time to when he was just a kid.  Corman explains his first reactions to the fiction of E.A. Poe in a memoir, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.  It all started for him when he was just a high school kid out in Beverly Hills.

"My studies focused on sciences and math, but I read a great deal of literature as well, including Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," which undoubtedly made quite an impact.  It was a class assignment, but I enjoyed it so much I asked my parents to buy the complete works of Poe for a birthday gift or Christmas gift.  Who knew that twenty-years later I would bring a half-dozen or so of those stories to the screen (5)".  Flash forward a number of years and the way Corman came to make the first in a series of adaptations fell into place like this.  As he tells it, the director had "proved that I could make movies cheaper and faster in a new genre, but I was ready to move on to bigger, better movies on longer schedules and to direct more experienced actors from better scripts.

"The chance to do all those things came in the visually and thematically rich gothic horror genre.  I directed a cycle of eight films shot between 1960 and 1964.  These films were adapted from the often macabre, psychologically unsettling imagination of Edgar Allan Poe, whose poems and stories I had enjoyed immensely as a youth...

"The Poe cycle started when Jim and Sam asked me at lunch one day to make two more black-and-white horror films for $100,000 each.  I said no.  "What I'd really like to do," I told them, "is one horror film in color, maybe even CinemaScope, double the budget to $200,000, and go to a three-week schedule.  I'd like to do a classic, Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher'.  Poe has a built-in audience.  He's read in every high school.  One quality film in color is better than two cheap films in black and white.  Jim wondered if the youth market was there for a film based on required reading in school.  I said kids loved Poe.  I had.  "But where's the monster?" Sam asked.  "The house is the monster."  I got the go-ahead for a fifteen day schedule and a production budget of around $270,000, a large portion of which went to the actor I wanted for the part of Roderick Usher: Vincent Price.  It was the most money AIP had ever gambled on a film (77-8)".

These days it's easy to pick these films apart as relatively low-rent affairs.  However it remains an open question of whether such criticism is, in the strictest sense, a fair one.  For instance, if a major part of the dislike of such a film is due to the very fact that it is an old film, then the suspicion of bias has already become implicit.  To charge that a film is bad just because it was made before the year 1980 may very well be a genuine display of critical taste.  The trouble is that it seems to be a fundamentally flawed one.  In the strictest sense the critic who makes such a claim has done little or nothing to demonstrate or address the possible artistic merits or limitations of any given film.  All that we have been told is that there is a point at which this one particular individual enthusiasm comes to a complete stop.  We may have learned a great deal about a persons likes and dislikes.  We still remain in the total dark about the film under discussion.  If this is the common enough state of things, then I am going to have to go with the idea that it says a lot about the limitations in contemporary audience tastes.

If these limitations exist, then perhaps it's a good idea to figure out how they came about in the first place.  Part of the reason for even going this far is the simple conviction that it's impossible for art to exist in a historical vacuum.  Nothing can just emerge out of thin air.  Every important piece of modern life had to develop from simple beginnings.  While it's a given that a lot of changes have occurred since the advent of film, this in itself can tell us nothing about the quality or value of works like either The House of Usher, a silent film like The Gold Rush, or the current incarnation of the DC Cinematic Universe.  The inescapable fact is one that the French film theorist Andre Bazin postulated a long time ago.  He said it was always best for any given film to be viewed by a critic with the best possible understanding of the material involved.  That way it was possible for the viewer to report on what was really happening on-screen, rather than just a display of individual taste that leaves others totally outside the artistic experience.

The way this all applies to Corman's Poe pictures is that it forces the critic and audience to raise the question of how the collective response to Horror fiction has been shaped and changed over the years.  It also forces one to come to grips with the question of just what kind of story is the Horror film supposed to tell?  The problem with the question is that sometimes the answer is at the mercy of the shifting tastes from one time period to another.  The result is that it can sometimes be impossible for the audience to give a definitive answer, even if the desire for an honest response is refined to it's sharpest point.  In the face of this collective obstacle, what's left to suggest is that sometimes it may do audiences more than a bit of good to go back into the storytelling the past in order to try and refine our aesthetic fear factors.  I'm not talking here about real life fear, but rather the natural imaginative reaction that accompanies any well-told tale of terror.  The logical result of real fear is to isolate the subject from reality, while it's artistic counterpart can sometimes liberate the audience into real life.

It's true a film like The House of Usher is not selling the same type of aesthetic experience as modern day equivalent like Paranormal Activity or Survival of the Dead.  However, it might be more closer to films like A Quiet Place or 1922 than most casual viewers realize.  In any event it is definitely a film that offers the usual chills associated with the genre.  It's just the way they are handled, treated, and delivered to us that makes them stand out from the way a lot of popular Horror is told today.  Even if the age of the film isn't an obstacle, there is still the question of adaptation to older forms of dramatic Gothic presentation.  Most people are accustomed to having fear doled out in a naturalistic way.  That's not Corman's approach in any of these films.  He has no interest in naturalism as a filmmaker.  He's more all about taking the situation of an isolated setting and then searching out all the surrealistic elements lurking in the shadows.  In that sense, the Horror in a lot of Corman's best work is of the quiet, hallucinatory quality.  It takes its time and asks the audience to be patient and let the matieral turn itself over in the mind.  If these conditions are allowed to be met, then when the terrors are brought out during the final moments, the natural enough result is one of the highest forms of artistic unease.

These are reactions that were in no way lost on Corman's original audiences.  They were more than receptive to what he was trying to accomplish.  To American-International's own surprise, this proved especially true with the very teenager demographic that Corman was aiming for.  Even now a lot of those old teens still retain fond memories of what it was like to see it all up on the screen.  "You'd never miss a Poe picture", Jonathan Demme insists.  "They were riveting, and stylish, and hip, funny.  And we couldn't wait for the next one.  And of course, with Roger, you didn't have to wait long".  Ron Howard admits "The Poe pictures were big for me, especially The Pit and the Pendulum.  They had this TV campaign were the blade was coming down...In fact, I think that's got to be one of the first times a TV campaign made me go to the movies".  Even the director of Taxi Driver had good things to say about them: "The artistry of the films really developed into the Poe pictures".

The films did have one fan in particular, who I think lays out the best defense of what Corman was trying to accomplish.  Stephen King goes on about the films at great length in his memoir On Writing.  He talks about them in connection with Chris Chelsey, a childhood friend.  "Chris and I liked just about any horror movie, but our faves were the string of American-International films, most directed by Roger Corman, with titles cribbed from Edgar Allan Poe.  I wouldn't say based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe, because there is little in any of them which has anything to do with Poe's actual stories and poems (The Raven was filmed as a comedy - no kidding).  And yet the best of them - The Haunted Palace, The Conqueror Worm, The Masque of the Red Death - achieved a kind of hallucinatory eeriness that made them special.  Chris and I had our own name for these films, one that made them into a separate genre.  There were westerns, there were love stories, there were war stories...and there were Poe pictures.

"Wanna hitch to the show Saturday afternoon?" Chris would ask.  "Go to the Ritz?"  "What's on?" I'd ask.  "A motorcycle picture and a Poe picture," he'd say.  I, of course, was on that combo like white on rice.  Bruce Dern going batshit on a Harley and Vincent Price going batshit in a haunted castle overlooking a restless ocean: who could ask for more?  You might even get Hazel Court wandering around in a lacy low-cut nightgown, if you were lucky.

 "Of all the Poe pictures, the one that affected Chris and me the most deeply was The Pit and the Pendulum.  Written by Richard Matheson and filmed in both widescreen and Technicolor (color horror pictures were still a rarity in 1961, when this came out), Pit took a bunch of standard Gothic ingredients and turned them into something special.  It might have been the last really great studio horror picture before George Romero's ferocious indie The Night of the Living Dead came along and changed everything forever (in some few cases for the better, in most for the worst).  The best scene - the one which froze Chris and me into our seats - depicted John Kerr digging into a castle wall and discovering the corpse of his sister, who was obviously buried alive.  I have never forgotten the corpse's close-up, shot through a red filter and a distorting lens which elongated the face into a huge silent scream (46-7)".

The impact of the Corman flick was such that, almost immediately, King was struck with a brilliant idea.  "I would turn The Pit and the Pendulum into a book!  Would novelize it, as Monarch Books had novelized such undying film classics as Jack the Ripper, Gorgo, and Konga.  But I  wouldn't just write this masterpiece; I  would also print it, using the drum press in our basement, and sell copies at school (47)".  According to the word of King, "As it was conceived, so it was done.  Working with the care and deliberation for which I would later be critically acclaimed, I turned out my "novel version of The Pit and the Pendulum in two days, composing directly onto the stencils from which I'd print.  Although no copies of that particular masterpiece survive (at least to my knowledge), I believe it was eight pages long...I ran off about forty copies of The Pit and the Pendulum, blissfully unaware that I was in violation of every plagiarism and copyright statute in the history of the world; my thoughts were focused almost entirely on how much money I might make if my story was a hit at school (47-8)".  The whole series of events is one of the most complex testimonies to the impact of Roger  Corman's strengths as a director.  All of it begs the question of what place he has in today's world.

Conclusion: A Forgotten and Necessary Artistic Legacy.

There's a sort of catch involved in admitting you like a film that was directed or produced by Corman.  Once that happens is when the knives tend to come out.  He seems like the kind of filmmaker who generates a lot of strong responses.  It's the negative ones that interest me for the moment.  I'm just sort of curious is all.  Like it's one thing to call a mediocre film bad and leave it at that.  It's the sort of reaction I can understand.  I'll even admit that there are a lot of times when Corman made products that were pretty much fresh-baked turkeys.  What stuns me is that I've read and seen viewers whose opposition to Corman and everything he stands for is so fundamental that it's almost like a physical revulsion.  Like just the sight of a still frame from one of his films is enough to send some in the aisles into a conniption fit.  I think it's not the vehemence of the reaction, so much as where it might be coming from that interests me.

Sometimes I just wish anyone who can't help feeling that way would pause long enough, or detach themselves enough from their reaction to explain why they behave they way they do around the director.  What's the logic involved?  There does seem to be a kind of artistic principle involved.  At least it's seems fair to assume there is.  Otherwise the whole negative reaction that Corman engenders is just this odd stock response that almost seems to come from nowhere.  The trouble is no artistic reaction can just come from nowhere.  That's why I thin it's sort of important to try and figure out what it all means.  I think it's about the only way any kind of dialogue on these matters can be had.  And I'm even willing to go so far and say it's a conversation about the arts that is more than worth having.

For my part, I fall into the opposite level.  Just as Corman can illicit heaps of scorn, so have there been a lot of others who are more than willing to acknowledge him as a genuine filmmaker who can make a good final product.  The viewer can expect a lot of praise directed Corman's way in the documentary under discussion.  I guess that's not too surprising.  He's the subject after all.  What can you expect anyone there to say?  Still, I'm going to go out on a limb and defend the defenders on this one.  I think guys like Nicholson and Peter Fonda are right to sing praises on the guy at the center of Corman's World.  Nor do I believe they're doing it just on account that the film's subject was really the producer who gave them all their first big breaks in the industry.  I think they're more self-aware than that.  Fonda, Nicholson, Pam Greer and a lot of the others seem to realize that they all shared a brief span of history together in which they were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to create their own quirky brand of genuine art.

That's another aspect of Corman's life that gets highlighted over the course of the film's runtime.  Aside from being a capable enough filmmaker in his own right, Corman was one of those types who might be classified as an "ideal reader".  These are the persons who, whether or not they have any artistic talent of their own, nonetheless manage to somehow have the uncanny ability to get a read on either a plot or a talent and direct it all in the direction that works best for both the story and the artist.  Show-business has known a handful of such individuals in the course of its history.  Alma Reville, the wife of a guy named Alfred Hitchcock, was one such luminary in this particular field.  Corman seems to have been another.  He was the one who took guys like Martin Scorsese, or Sylvester Stallone and put them to work on pictures like Boxcar Bertha and Death Race 2000.  In fact, one of the highlights of this documentary that keeps coming back to me is Ron Howard's recollection of how Corman helped him get his start as the filmmaker he is today.  It was on a car-crash flick called Grand Theft Auto, and you really have to let Howard tell it to you in order to get the full punchline.

You can pick these sort of films apart as cheap popcorn entertainment if you want.  However I think that also overlooks the actual charm and talent on display.  Just cause a film is low-rent provides no intrinsic reason to call it bad even before it can leave the starting gate.  I think the best course of action is to just let the film tell itself, and then judge just how bad or good it turns out to be.  Also it helps to keep in mind that if Corman either never existed, or never got into filmmaking, then it's just possible we'd have had no Taxi Driver, no Rocky or Apollo 13.  When it comes to the kind of defenses the subjects of the film are able to mount, I think it helps to give them a fair hearing.  David Carradine points out that the world in which Corman works is "just so different from the Entertainment Weekly world.  From the academy world.  The Golden Globes don't even hear about these things.  These pictures, they just go someplace else, and there are an incredible number of people who want to see a picture just like this".

That's a comment that raises an important question.  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Carradine is right, and that there really is a sizable to decent enough number of viewers in the audience who are fans of this sort of picture.  It suggests the existence of an artistic preference or taste for a fictional product that these days come off like signals from a foreign country.  It sort of begs the question of just what is it about a film like Planet of the Vampires that some of us find so appealing?  Is it precisely because these films lack taste, and that it just serves as a gratification of the lowest common denominator?  It's a charge that's been lobbed at more than just exploitation films as a whole, and I'm still convinced it doesn't really hit the target.  Saying you've got a tolerance for this sort of thing is a lot closer to the mark, yet it still isn't what I'm getting at.  I'm willing to call a lot of the old B pictures of the past good for reasons that pose an interesting take on the nature of a lot of modern art.

I think Corman himself gives a clue as to what direction I'd like to see things taken in when he notes the image his fans get of him based on what they see on the screen as opposed to how he is in real life.  Scorsese is the one who frames the contrast best.  When he first started working for Corman, the future Wolf of Wall Street director had a preconceived image of his new boss already in his mind.  "I thought he'd be more like Lee J. Cobb, let's say.  Someone smoking a cigar, pounding on the desk (and saying things like), "You kids get out there and do that work!"  Ya know?  Actually, he's very elegant, eloquent, and precise.  And cool-headed, from what I saw.  And very, very different from the type of person you think would be behind these pictures".  It's a paradoxical combination that is apparently capable of throwing someone off-balance if they don't know what they are dealing with.  The contrast gets a bit more glaring when it's revealed at one point that Corman's own artistic tastes display the same unfashionable mix of the high and low.

Just as the producer was able to recognize talent and give it a voice either in front or behind the camera so to Corman had a knack for finding out about the work of premiere filmmakers from across the globe, and managing international distribution that would allow Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers, or Fellini's Amacord an introduction to American audiences.  The basic result is that such highbrow filmmakers owe their reputation in the States to a guy who could champion their work to the rafters in one breath, and then turn right around and make The Little Shop of Horrors in the next.  It seems that the crux of Corman's career is that it is an almost careless blending of high and low styles in the same frame in such a way that a is off-putting to a lot of viewers who, for various reasons, prefer not to have such an artistic blending take place.  There are just two points in the documentary where Corman tries to mount anything like an actual self-defense.  The first is when discussing his public perception: "The difference between what you present to the world, and what is going on inside, in your unconscious mind, is significant.  I've been told that my image is just sort of an ordinary, straight guy.  Clearly my unconscious mind is some sort of boiling inferno".  The only other statement that can offer any defense is when he observes, "I've always been anti-establishment".

However I think the real crux of the matter comes down to the director's observation about the unconscious mind.  It's a comment I've heard him make and support elsewhere.  He is apparently content to rely on the suggestions that come to him from that realm of the mind.  The result is a strange unity in which opposite aspects of art tend to mingle and mix into one another without a care for what is considered the taste of the moment.  He seems to care little for questions of plausibility, and is more interested in exploring the odd, out-of-the-way vista, no matter the style involved.  This can be demonstrated in some of his Horror films.  The opening scene in Pit and the Pendulum is structured, he admits, as if the entire characters, setting and plot slowly emerge from a kind of acid coated, fever dream background.  We transition from an opening series of day-glo colors to a blank desert background from which the main character appears riding toward the film's main set.  Another film has the main character stumble on a group of young kids burying an old bicycle because it has been rendered obsolete by the advance of technology.  The result is a casual approach that mixes poverty row with art-house surrealism.  It seems to be the defining mark of his best work.

The result is a product that isn't ashamed to appear in shabby clothes, because it has a necessary confidence that the story it has to tell is unique and unusual enough to either justify or overlook the budget limitations.  This concept seems destined to forever be an odd and obtuse one in an era devoted to the slick and polished.  For some reason, Corman's approach is what resonates with me the most, and I don't think he gets enough credit for at least trying to teach viewers a different way of being entertained.  And, like I said way back at the start, it's hard to defend the stuff you like.  The task gets even more difficult when a lot of the quality entertainment is all too easily lost in the sea of celluloid whose quality was, even at the best of times, more phoned-in than practiced with any sort of dedication.  I'm not going to lie and say that all the B-pictures out there deserve to be treated as unrecognized classics.  A lot of it is forgotten for good reason.  For instance, I'm willing to admit that films like Robot Monster perhaps deserve a kind of preservation.  However I don't think it can ever be the regard one holds for a genuine work of it.  This is more the liking one has for something that allows you a few hours time to kill and goof off.  It's the type of cinematic fodder for which guys like the crew of MST3K seem almost destined for.

That also doesn't mean I'm not willing to put in the effort and wade through the muck in order to find any gem that's worth preserving.  Nor do I think I'm the only one who thinks this way.  It's a sometimes unrewarding job, yet you do it because for some reason you can't stop giving a crap about art, no matter where you find it.  I think the best method of approach is that if you stumble across an old poverty row effort that somehow gets your attention, then just go and look.  See if it satisfies or lives up to the artistic potential it seemed to promise on the cover.  If it works, it's a keepsake, if not, you can either let time carry it away, or else keep it as an example of what not to do.  Either way, it's best to take a one at a time approach to this kind of material.  It goes back to what King said about this type of picture.  The author doesn't deny that B flicks can be dreck.

"All of that I will cheerfully agree to.  But I come stubbornly, helplessly back to the fact that I like Prophecy, and just writing about it has made me long to rush out and see it a fourth (and maybe a fifth) time.  I mentioned that you begin to see and appreciate patterns in horror movies, and to love them.  These patterns are sometimes as stylized as the movements in a Japanese noh play or the passages in a John Ford western (217)".  Looked at from this perspective, Corman's work is more than just "a throwback to the fifties horror films as surely as the Sex Pistols and the Ramones are throwbacks to the...rockabilly explosion in 1956-1959 (ibid)".  He pretty much epitomizes all that was best and brightest in the imaginative universe of the old, Drive-In Feature fare.  I don't see how that's a legacy to be ashamed of.

Corman’s work can be neatly divided in two.  On the one hand, there are such films as Attack of the Giant Crab Monsters and It Conquered the World.  Despite a few naysayers, these are not bad films.  Often they deserve a more fair hearing than they are able to get with your average film-goer.  However, these were still not Corman’s first tier work.  That distinction belonged to The Wild Angels, The Pit and the Pendulum and The House of Usher.  With these films Corman was able to revitalize the horror genre and give a voice to a whole counter – cultural generation of teenagers looking for a change.  They were able to find part of that outlet in Corman’s work.  He was able to communicate with Baby Boomers using a vocabulary that they understood.  In Corman, the 60s-generation recognized someone who understood them on some level.  In the process, he created a space for the genres we are currently familiar with today, such as Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror.

If Corman is an underrated pioneer, then he’d probably be the first to admit he could never have done it alone.  The other accomplishment Corman is known for was his ability to discover talent in others, and to nurture it.  One of the strengths of Stapleton’s documentary is the light it shines on what one interviewee dubs “The Corman School”.  It’s a term that describes one of the most remarkable features of Corman’s life.  This was never done on purpose, the incredible fact is that actors like Jack Nicholson, or starving artists like James Cameron, Joe Dante and Ron Howard all came to Hollywood looking to break into the industry.  That they just happened to cross paths with Corman, and that he was responsible for giving these A-list names their big break is just one of those strange turns of luck and circumstance.

In the last analysis, what makes the films of Roger Corman stand out is that there is a clear purpose behind even the bad ones.  It’s not a kind of declaration, so much as an alternative way of looking at film in particular, and stories in general.  It’s hard to say how many are able to get on board with this kind of alternative cinema.  In a day when many films go out of their way to be as clean and professional as possible, viewing a Corman flick can sometimes be a much-needed shot in the arm.  If anyone is looking for a good intro to this perspective, Corman’s World is a good place to start.

4 comments:

  1. (1) For some reason "The Raven" was one of those pictures in constant rotation in my VHS childhood. I remember showing it to a friend in junior high who had never seen it and he was like "Uhh what the hell is this crap?" throughout the whole thing. This is the guy I watched all my early John Carpenters with and stuff like that, so we had established ourslelves as video-store / budding horror aficianados, and here I was stinking up the joint with some old hokum. I might as well have brought a Vincent Price movie. Of course, I love all that stuff now, but I remember feeling embarrassed at the time. Hard to teach ironic appreciation to 7th and 8th graders, except when they're doing it naturally.

    (2) I'd be surprised if people didn't know Roger Corman's name. What kind of people are we talking about here? Civilians/ normies? Maybe not. But civilians/ normies might not even know Alfred Hitchcock's name, which was marketed into ubiquity in our parents' lifetime so that the popularity spilled into our own. Take away that and it's possible you'll meet some budding young film student for whom Hitchcock will be a great surprise. All the better when they get to Corman! Heck I remember sitting in my film class in 1997 and listening to this kid next to me ask another student "Who is Goddard?" over and over. Took awhile to realize he meant Godard.

    (3) I didn't realize Papercutz was reprinting those ld Classics Illustrateds. Cool! They do good stuff over there at Papercutz, even if their Tales from the Crypt revival was a bust.

    (4) Am I to understand from your comments that you have not actually watched The Intruder? Good lord, man! How/ why not? Rectify this!

    (5) Planet of the Vampires is a very stylized film. I wouldn't necessarily use that as my go-to for the points being made at the end. It's not really schlocky trashy sort of niche-appeal stuff but something you'd see in art class surrounded by turtlenecks and goutees. Or heck, maybe that's the niche appeal. But it sounds like something like Switchblade Sisters or something might speak more to Carradine's point.

    (6) I remember thinking and reading elsewhere at the time, during the 90s, how it was ironic that Corman wasn't still making movies during the heyday of indie film, etc. It did seem he'd have been well situated to capitalize on the opportunities of the 90s for such things. He settled into the godfather of indie film role pretty well / elder statesman sort of deal. Sort of like John Waters (who was nowhere near as prolific but with whom Corman shared many nuances of film appreciation.)

    (7) A good tribute to a true film pioneer. You should do Russ Meyer next! :-)

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    1. (1)(2): You're questions about name recognition seem pretty much spot on. There really does seem to be a question re: how reputations like Hitch and Godard fall off the radar. If anything, it does seem to prove that the legacies of these artists really does seem to live and perspire on the strength the old-fashioned, grapevine word of mouth.

      If that it the case, then it apparently means that the basic nature of their legacies rests as much on their rediscovery in each new generation. This means that everything old will have to be new at some point, in a sense, at least. As for how far this rediscovery goes, who can say. Corman has an over 50 percent favorability rating worldwide on Google Trends, for what it's worth.

      As for how to discern the fans from the uninitiated, I'm very leery of labels like "Normie" to ever be comfortable with it. I've seen too much bad press associated with it to ever want to use it. Instead, I think the best terms I can find are the Few and the Many. Appreciating guys like Corman, or a lot of the Golden Age of Hollywood for that matter, tend to automatically place one in a coterie category that one has to work their way toward before anything like a real appreciation develops.

      (3) I still have my copy of that comic on bookshelves. I got it way back in the 90s and it's still made it along after all these years. That's got to be some kind of record. Too bad about the EC revival. Though to be fair, I don't really see how it's possible to recreate that kind of magic in this day and age.

      (4) It's definitely something I'm working my way towards, count on it!

      (5) Interesting point. I suppose a good gateway text would have to be something like either "The Wild Angels", or maybe "It Conquered the World"? I almost wanted to use still-frames from the latter picture at some point. However, the desire to appeal to the Many made me go with showcasing the artists Corman influenced, hence the presence of Travis and Captain America. Darn you public taste!

      (6) I think he's still at least keeping his hand in the game in a executive producer sense. I do know the last film he ever directed, "Frankenstein Unbound" is quite worth a look.

      (8) Appropo of nothing, here are some alternate Tower level films I would have liked to se happen in an older era of cinema.

      Hook (1939)

      Peter: Errol Flynn

      Hook: Basil Rathbone

      Smee: Claude Raines.

      Tink: Judy Garland

      Something Wicked This Way Comes (1959)

      Ron Hoawrd: Will

      Bill Mumy: Jim

      Gene Kelley: Charles Halloway.

      Vincent Price: Mr. Dark

      Screenplay: Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling.

      Dir: Rod Serling (either that or Hitch, or Bob Wise).

      ChrisC

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    2. (2) I'll go ahead and tell you now that there is no way the average 18-25er has heard of Corman, or Hitchcock, or even Spielberg. These people are not on the radars of most of the members of that generation. And you know what? That's alright. They've got their own fish to fry; no need for them to be using our old-ass oil to do it. My generation mostly had no idea who the equivalent filmmakers were; hell, most of them wouldn't have heard the name Roger Corman. It depends on how invested one is in the culture of filmmaking, and especially of genre filmmaking. Within that specialized culture, I suspect Corman's name is still being tossed around often enough to occasionally catch somebody's eye and make them wonder who he is and what he did.

      (4) I also am in a not-having-seen-it position regarding "The Intruder." I know, I know; bad Bryant!

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    3. (2) I'm more than willing to admit you're right about the lack of familiarity. That's why I think it's a mistake. The way I see it, you got to learn to look back every now and then if ya want to move forward.

      (4) At least it's something that's still in the queue for me as well.

      ChrisC

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