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A Tribute to Roger Corman
A film biography of Roger Corman, producer-director and legendary figure of the Hollywood anti-establishment. The young American filmmaker Alex Stapleton’s documentary looks at Roger Corman’s career (director of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Intruder, The Little Shop of Horrors and Mitraillette Kelly and producer of 397 films at the time of writing!) capable of directing a feature-length film in three days, to whom we also owe the launching of the careers of Jack Nicholson (who speaks about this in the film), Joe Dante, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Monte Hellman and numerous other American film personalities.
“In 1970 there was a very slim chance that someone would take the risk of entrusting this film to a director who was a beginner. That’s why I was able to get other young, highly gifted graduates to write the screenplay or direct at New World. The studio produced and distributed between twelve and fifteen films per year and they were mainly done by beginners such as Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson and many others. My enduring memory of this period and those who took part in it is that doing films at New World was something that everyone got involved in, that everyone enjoyed. We worked fast and took risks. For all of us, our abiding memory is of a creative and stimulating experience. Doing your best to help a friend make the best possible film can be the ideal learning method for a future director.”
Roger Corman : Preface to Joe Dante and Les Gremlins de Hollywood. Under the direction of Bill Krohn (Editions des Cahiers du Cinéma).
We can never underline Roger Corman’s importance enough, nor the depth of his influence on several generations of filmmakers and the decisive role that he played in numerous American directors’ and actors’ careers.
He has played an orchestrating role in American filmmaking and there is no equivalent to his profile in the history of world cinema. His career spans more than fifty years, during which he has directed more than fifty films and produced more than 43 others.
After completing his training as an engineer, Roger Corman quickly gave up the idea of working in this profession in order to devote himself to the cinema, for which he had a great admiration. He had several jobs (errand boy for Fox, literary agent, screenwriter, etc) before producing his first film in 1953 and moving on to directing in 1955.
His entire work is unique because of its low budgets and rapid shooting, which were characteristics of “B” films of the time, but also because of their inventiveness and a very individual subversive tone. He began with Westerns but shone very quickly in all film genres: science fiction, gangster films, melodrama, musicals, and comedy and fantasy films. He would excel in this genre, through a series of films adapted from Edgar Allan Poe novels. The formal influence of these films on the generation of devoted film directors, from the end of the sixties up to Tim Burton, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino was to be considerable.
The budgetary constraints contributed to the novelty, inventiveness and consistency of these films, which are universally acclaimed today.
Alongside his filmmaking career he carried out his activities as a producer, thereby contributing to the first steps taken by Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman and Peter Bogdanovich.
In 1970 he founded his own company, New World Pictures, with the result that he almost completely gave up directing. During his time at the head of this company he launched the careers of numerous directors: Martin Scorsese, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme and James Cameron, amongst others. We also owe the discovery of many actors such as Jack Nicolson, Robert De Niro, David Carradine or Sylvester Stallone to him.
Finally this fervent lover of cinema began to work on broadcasting the best European, Canadian and Asian films on American territory by distributing the films directed by Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, Resnais, Cronenberg or Kurosawa.
Many directors, including Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme or Wim Wenders, have paid tribute to him, giving him a minor role in one of their films.
The St Valentine Day Massacre
“The film, whose style is semi-documentary, suffered because it came out just after Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Penn, who preferred a romantic approach to gangsters. For his three other gangster films Corman chose an almost clinical description for these neurotic or psychotic characters. He does not form any judgment and moves behind the actions of his characters, injecting a few notes of black humour into this excellent film, as was his habit. Thanks to the rapidness with which it was shot, he saved almost 400 000 dollars off the original budget for Fox.”
Stéphane Bourgoin. Roger Corman.