Published on December 15th, 2015 | by Padraic Coffey0
Corman’s World: How Roger Corman created the kind of films popularised by Star Wars
“I hated Star Wars. If Star Wars doesn’t make a ton of cabbage, we’d still be having these weird green flashing lines going across the screen. All these guys [George Lucas and Steven Spielberg] are coming from film school. We’re all coming from, ‘let us get a job’!”
– Jack Nicholson
In 2012, Andrew Stanton, the writer-director behind Pixar’s Wall-E, Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life, ruffled a few feathers while appearing on the BBC’s Kermode and Mayo’s Film Reviews show to promote his live-action debut, John Carter. “All I’ve ever worked on are really high-budget films with a lot of exposure”, Stanton claimed. “I wouldn’t know what to do with five million dollars.” John Carter would go on to lose Disney somewhere in the vicinity of $160 million at the box office. Perhaps Stanton should have taken a leaf out of Roger Corman’s book. Corman has produced approximately 385 films in his ongoing career, the vast majority of which never exceeded $1 million in budget. Such efficiency justifies the mealy-mouthed title of Corman’s autobiography, ‘How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime’.
In the hugely enjoyable and surprisingly touching documentary Corman’s World, directed by Alex Stapleton, Corman’s output is traced in chronological order, with real affection for the frequently trashy films he churned out at lightning speed. Although the movies, with titles like Monster from the Ocean Floor, The Fast and the Furious (not a precursor to the Vin Diesel franchise, though both share a title), A Bucket of Blood and Hollywood Boulevard are the main focus, a portrait of Corman himself does emerge. Unlike many more ‘respected’ filmmakers, the line between Corman’s professional and personal life was often indistinguishable. His ruthless frugality included failing to contact his new fiancé Julie from the Philippines, because of the cost of a long distance phone call. Julie, whom he met while hiring for an assistant, became not only his long-term wife but his producing partner on many of his films.
Corman also possessed a virulent independence, refusing to work within the Hollywood studio system, which he viewed as both restrictive and wasteful. This anti-authoritarianism stemmed from a two-year stint in the navy, about which Corman admitted, “if they set up a rule, I felt I must break that rule.” This is reflected in his groundbreaking ‘teenage’ movies of the 1950s, and biker films of the 1960s, which lead indirectly to Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider and the birth of the New Hollywood. A cursory glance at the role call assembled here to pay tribute to Corman illustrates how influential he was in kick-starting the career of so many major Hollywood players: Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson all appear to discuss the sometimes slapdash nature of Corman’s shoots.
Despite the extreme nature of Corman’s films, with their ample nudity and gore, the man who emerges is softly spoken, pragmatic and fiercely loyal. At one point, Jack Nicholson breaks down in tears recalling the consistent work Corman provided for him in the early part of his acting career. The blockbusters of the 1970s, Jaws and Star Wars in particular, marginalised Corman’s niche market by persuading Hollywood studios to pump million of dollars into stories which would have previously been seen as exploitation fare.
Corman: “When I saw Star Wars, I said ‘This is a threat to me, because it means that the major studios are beginning to understand what we’ve been doing for $100,000 or so, and they’re now doing it for multi-millions of dollars, and it’s going to be very difficult for us to compete’. I felt the major studios are heading straight into what has been my bread and butter for twenty years, and also, the staple of many of my compatriots.”
“I hated Star Wars”, says Jack Nicholson at one point. “If Star Wars doesn’t make a ton of cabbage, we’d still be having these weird green flashing lines going across the screen. All these guys [George Lucas and Steven Spielberg] are coming from film school. We’re all coming from, ‘let us get a job’!”
Gale Ann Hurd, producer of the Terminator series, as well as Armageddon and television’s The Walking Dead, also draws comparisons between the films which today command enormous budgets and the much more independent films Corman produced:
“What we see now as the tent-poles, the summer and Christmas tent-poles, are very often films that could have been done by Roger Corman at a much smaller budget, but those are the films now that are attracting the top filmmakers and the biggest budgets.”
Scenes in Peurto Vallarta, Mexico featuring the shoot of one of Corman’s most recent opuses, DinoShark, do seem somewhat pitiful. Nonetheless, the story culminates with Corman receiving an Honorary Oscar from a clearly ecstatic Quentin Tarantino, apt given that so many of Corman’s protégés had beaten him in winning one by several decades.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel is directed by Alex Stapleton and distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment.