Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Legacy of Corman

Roger Corman is filmmaking.

Juvenile delinquent films. Hot rod juvenile delinquent films. Naughty nurse juvenile delinquent films. Vampire alien juvenile delinquent films. Biker flicks. Road race flicks. Post-apocalyptic road race biker flicks. Sexploitation. Blaxploitation. Martial Artsploitation. Gangsterploitation. Westernsploitation. Women-behind-barsploitation. Edgar Allen Poeploitation. And, of course, all those 50’s and 60’s science fiction and horror titles that served as both metaphors and satires of Cold War paranoia.

The producer and sometime writer-director-actor is responsible for such immortal horror classics as A Bucket of Blood (1959), Night of the Blood Beast (1958) Queen of Blood (1965), Blood Bath (1966), and Killers of The Castle of Blood (1970). And who can forget sci-fi standards The Day The World Ended (1956), It Conquered The World (1957), Not of This Earth (1957), and The Saga of The Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of The Sea Serpent (1958)?

If anyone ever deserved a special Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, it is Roger Corman. Without the prolific artiste, the last forty years of Oscar would have been completely unnecessary…And he never ratted out his co-workers.

Corman’s low-budget and often no-budget filmmaking factory was the training ground for countless future Oscar contenders. Corman discovered and nurtured-not necessarily with TLC -- (okay, so he exploited them in a sweatshop of moviemaking? Look, where it got them!) -- a cadre of talent whose roster reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood.

Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Scott Glenn, Pam Grier, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Bruce Dern, Bud Cort, Talia Shire, Ben Vereen, Diane Ladd, Robert Vaughn and even William Shatner, Bert Convy, Dick Sargent, Cindy Williams, Corbin Bernson, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. (Corman was also integral in resurrecting the sagging careers of the used-up and no-longer-in-demand: Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Peter Lorre, and Ray Milland, to name but a few.)

Corman not only cultivated acting talent. His fertile ground was sown with the seeds of imminent award-winning writers, directors and producers. The fruits of their labor on Corman’s kibbitz -- with titles like Tomb of the Cat and Castle of Terror -- seem to bear little resemblance to their much ballyhooed later works. However, on closer inspection, it becomes obvious that Corman, like a wizened sinsei, was preparing his disciples for the projects to come.

Perhaps the constraints of time and money on Corman productions forced the budding talents to focus their efforts on great storytelling. Or maybe the process of churning films out as if on a factory assembly line made the language of film second nature to the newcomers. Whatever the case, Corman had an eye for picking them. Through the experience of shooting things like X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, with subtle, almost imperceptible Zen allegory, Corman taught his pupils the lifetime themes that would shape their bodies of work.

The following is a comparison between these filmmakers’ earliest projects with Corman and the features that earned them thunderous accolades and even Academy Awards.

Robert Towne

Chinatown (1974) In a Los Angeles suffering from a near apocalyptic water shortage, private eye Jake Gittes comes between a man, Hollis Mulwray, and his wife, Evelyn. Hollis winds up murdered. Two grown men fight with their fists. In a particularly nasty scene, Jake gets his nose sliced open. Academy Award--Best Writing, Original Screenplay

Last Woman on Earth (1960) In a Puerto Rico suffering from a nuclear apocalypse, lawyer Martin Joyce comes between a man, Harold Gern, and his wife, Evelyn, the last woman on earth. Martin winds up murdered. Two grown men fight with their fish. In a particularly nasty scene, Martin, who is played by Robert Towne, lounges on a beach with his shirt off. No Awards or Nominations!

Francis Coppola

The Godfather (1972) A family is haunted by its own legacy. Don Vito Corleone is the powerful head of a New York Mafia family who opposes the rival Sollozzo family’s intention to get into the heroin trade. Michael, the youngest son, is chosen to succeed the ailing don. Sonny, the hotheaded eldest, gets murdered. Tom, the adopted son, is Vito’s consigliere. Daughter Connie is completely ignored. Academy Award, Best Picture, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Dementia 13 (1963) A family is haunted. Lady Haloran is the head of an Irish family who opposes her would–be daughter-in-law Kane’s intention to get into the family coffers. Billy, the youngest son, is a murdering psychopath. Richard, the hotheaded eldest son, almost gets murdered. Louise, the adopted daughter-in-law, is Lady Haloran’s consigliere and gets murdered. Daughter Kathleen, who got murdered six years earlier, can’t be ignored, because she’s doing the haunting. No Awards or Nominations!

Martin Scorcese

Last Temptation of Christ (1988) (Director Scorcese supervised the editing!) Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is tempted by the Devil to free himself from the indignities he will soon suffer at the hands of Romans by becoming a family man. Jesus trashes the temple. Jealous rabbis pin Jesus to a cross and tear his clothes off. Jesus makes love to a whore while still wearing the crown of thorns. Academy Award Nomination, Best Director

Unholy Hollers (1972) (Scorcese, supervising editor) Karen Walker, a hot-tempered factory worker, frees herself from the indignities she suffers at the hands of her sexually-harassing boss by becoming a roller derby girl. Karen trashes the roller derby arena. Jealous teammates pin Karen to a pool table and tear her clothes off. Karen makes love to a biker who’s wearing a blousy American flag shirt. No Awards or Nominations!

Jonathan Demme

Silence of the Lambs (1991) Clarice Starling enlists the aid of cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lechter to rescue Catherine Martin who is being held prisoner by sadistic serial killer Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill keeps Catherine Martin in a hole. Lechter shanks a guard and eats him. Death’s Head Moths are found in the victim’s throat. Buffalo Bill, a man, has castration fantasies. A dangerous cannibal escapes and the audience cheers him on. Director of Photography: Tak Fujimoto Academy Award -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Actor, Best Actress

Caged Heat (1974) Jacqueline Wilson enlists the aid of convicted felons Maggie and Crazy Alice to rescue kleptomaniac Belle Tyson, who is held prisoner by sadistic rapist and prison doctor Randolph and sadistic cripple and Prison Superintendent McQueen. McQueen throws Pandora in The Hole. Maggie shanks a guard and escapes. A cockroach is found in the prison stew. Pandora is in jail for castrating a man. Dangerous convicts escape and the audience cheers them on. Director of Photography: Tak Fujimoto. No Awards or Nominations!

Ron Howard

Apollo 13 (1994) Jim Lovell, an astronaut with NASA, and his team, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, fly a rocketship from the earth to the moon, to well, get to the moon. Jim, Fred and Jack wreck their rocketship. (All of which was paid for by tax dollars.) Jim, Fred and Jack are chased by a lack of oxygen, an accumulation of carbon dioxide and the possibility of becoming marooned in space and freezing to death. A bunch of brilliant scientists join in the fray to rescue a $25 billion space program and three heroes. Sadly, Jim never gets to walk on the moon. Academy Award Nomination, Best Picture, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Grand Theft Auto (1977) Paula Powers, the daughter of a gubernatorial candidate, and her boyfriend Sam Freeman race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to get married against her father’s wishes. Paula and Sam wreck forty-eight cars (twelve of which they stole.) Paula and Sam are chased by her rich suitor, Collins Hedgeworth. A bunch of mercenary idiots join in the chase to collect the $25,000 reward for the capture of our heroes. Sadly, Sam never gets to walk on the moon. No Awards or Nominations!

Peter Bogdanovich

The Last Picture Show (1971) Teenagers take a voyage to a small town in Texas populated by prehistoric women Cybil Shepard, Ellen Burstyn, and Cloris Leachman in the 1950’s. Academy Award Nomination, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Voyage to The Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) Russian cosmonauts take a voyage to a planet populated by prehistoric women Mamie Van Doren, Paige Lee, and Margot Hartman. No Awards or Nominations!

*There are so many similarities between the two movies that it is obvious that The Last Picture Show is merely a remake of Voyage to The Planet of Prehistoric Women with a bigger budget. (SEE ALSO: EVIL DEAD 2.)

Curtis Hanson

LA Confidential (1997) Three L.A. cops make the front page of the infamous Hush-Hush magazine for invoking the wrath of some of the Great Old Ones from the Department like Captain Dudley Smith. Quote That Sums Up The Movie: “There won't be winners and losers when it's over. Just the living and the dead. It's always been that way in the Bureau.” Academy Award, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Academy Award Nominations, Best Picture, Best Director

The Dunwich Horror (1970) A young warlock steals the infamous Necronomicon and invokes some of the Great Old Ones from Beyond the Wall of Sleep. Quote That Sums Up The Movie: “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.” No Awards or Nominations!

Epilogue: Rodman Flender, who wrote Dracula Rising (1993) for Corman, is the director of Idle Hands in theatres now. I smell Oscar!!!

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