Academic journal article Extrapolation

High and Low: Roger Corman Speaks

Academic journal article Extrapolation

High and Low: Roger Corman Speaks

Article excerpt

High and Low: Roger Corman Speaks. Constantine Nasr, ed. Roger Corman: Interviews. Conversations with Filmmakers Series. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2011. 228 pp. ISBN 9781617031663. $65 pbk.

Roger Corman, at least for people steeped in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking rather than alternative cinematic forms (low-budget movies, arthouse efforts, foreign films), is synonymous with cheap, titillating, and exploitative B pictures. His name evokes memories of those guilty pleasures we furtively enjoy on television late at night or on Sunday afternoons (hoping no one sees us doing so), movies with glorious pulp titles like 1959's The Wasp Woman (directed by Corman himself), 1980's Humanoids from the Deep (directed by Barbara Peeters and remade by Jeff Yonis in 199 6, with Corman producing both versions), and two recent gene-splicing-gone-wrong SyFy Channel creature features (2010's Sharktopus and 201 i's Piranhaconda, both unforgettable in their dedication to insipid dialogue, objectionable visual effects, and hambone acting).

This reputation, no matter how well deserved (who, after all, would argue that 1975's Piranha, even with its cheeky screenplay by John Sayles and assured direction by Joe Dante, is anything other than a typical Corman quickie production?), overlooks Corman's extraordinary influence on many major cinematic players, whether directors (Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese all got their start working for Corman), producers (Gale Anne Hurd, ditto), screenwriters (Robert Towne), and actors (Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, and, most famously, Vincent Price all starred in Corman movies). It also ignores Corman's role as a quintessential producer of American independent cinema and as the man who championed non-American directors Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, Alain Resnais, Erich Rohmer, and François Truffaut (among others) by distributing their films in the United States through New World Pictures, the production-distribution company that Corman founded in 1970 and sold in 1983.

Constantine Nasr, therefore, has done yeoman's work by assembling twenty insightful pieces into his 2011 volume Roger Corman: Interviews. Part of the University Press of Mississippi's invaluable Conversations with Filmmakers Series (previous outstanding entries include Max Annas and Annet Bush's Ousmane Sembene: Interviews, Cynthia Fuch's Spike Lee: Interviews, and Virginia Wright Wexman's Jane Campion: Interviews), Nasr's book includes five articles/speeches written by Corman himself alongside fifteen interviews (of varying lengths) that reveal Corman's thoughtful, pragmatic, and down-to-earth approach to filmmaking. The prolific director-producer, indeed, emerges from Nasr's book as a cinematic Will Rogers: Corman, it seems, never met a film genre he didn't like.

Nasr's introduction efficiently covers these matters, making the trenchant observation that Corman, more enthusiastic about making movies than garnering acclaim, has been "concerned that people didn't mix up 'lowbudget' with 'B' pictures, a thing of Hollywood's block-booking past. He taught others to appreciate the freedom that comes with free, the resourcefulness bound by lack of resource'''' (viii, emphasis Nasr's). Any observer of independent American cinema knows that filmmakers who worked for Corman (including Cameron and Sayles), as well as those who didn't (Julie Dash, Jim Jarmusch, and Spike Lee all leap to mind) have avidly learned this lesson. Although it may now be difficult to remember after blockbusters like 1997's Titanic and 2009's Avatar, Cameron first directed 198i's Piranha II: The Spawning for Corman before coming to international prominence with 1984's The Terminator, an independent production that not only makes the most of its small budget, but also (with the assistance of Gale Anne Hurd and William Wisher) proves that Cameron-at least early in his career-could write good, lean, and resonant dialogue. …

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