Offscreen Notes

Roger Corman (April 5, 1926-May 9, 2024)

May 13th, 2024

It was bound to happen some time soon but I always believed Roger Corman was immortal or at least would be one of those rare human species that lives productively well past the age of 100. He came close remaining active up until his death at age of 98 on May 9, 2024. Corman will certianly have as many obits written about him over the next few days and weeks as films he produced, which is close to 500 (yes you read right). Corman also has more nicknames than most film legends largely because of how he mastered every aspect of the film industry, priding himself on losing money on only one film, his 1962 anti-racist message film The Intruder, starring William Shatner, himself a 'young' whipersnapper of 91. He lost money with that film but learned a valuable lesson: never stake a claim on a film only because of its social message. This does not mean that Corman would never again interject social messages into his films -he did- but that it would always be at the service of exploitation and/or entertainment. Such as the youth and counter-culture films The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967). As a director Corman was at his peak in the early 1960s, with a run of remarkable (if not at least stylish and effective) horror and science-fiction films. Including his successful Edgar Allen Poe influenced (if not adapted) films House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), (his masterpeice as a director, along with X-The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, 1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Corman was one of the first producers to cleverly employ older veteran actors at the end of their careers, realizing how their professionalism and eagerness to work were a perfect fit to his tight schedules constrained by budget and production strategy (reusing sets from one film in another, shooting with more than one film in mind). Actors who Corman brought back into the limelight (or at least back to earning an income) include Shelley Winters, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, and Peter Lorre. To supplement the known and experienced thespians, Corman was an astute judge of future talent (or as some would rather say, a great labor exploiter!) surrounding the older actors with up and coming stars of the 'new hollywood' (or beyond in some cases). The list is way too long to be complete but some of these young actors, screewnwriters, directors include Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Robert Towne, John Milius, Paul Mayersberg, David Carradine, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, Susan Strasberg, Bruce Dern, Joe Dante, and Martin Scorsese. Corman was savvy to see how the landscape for exhibition was changing post-Hollywood Studio system and the increasing desire for serious adult fare, partly spurred by film studies courses and programs being offered for the first time at universities across North America, whetting the appetites of young adults to search out more adventurous cinema. Corman set aside his exploitation tastes to successfully distribute arthouse films in North America, including Amarcord (1972), Cries and Whispers (1973),The Tin Drum  (1979), Breaker Morant (1980), My American Uncle (1981), Fritzcarraldo (1981), and Quartet (1982). In his later years Corman again re-invented himself or his penchant for crasser exploitation fare in the streaming age by producing cheap IPs (like the Sharknado films), knock offs and sequels (four Death Race sequels) exclusively for the SyFy channel. Safe to say that today's film landscape could never generate another figure even remotely like Roger Corman. One wonders what American cinema would look like today if Roger Corman had never been born?

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