April 05, 2006
Roger and Me
Today is Roger Corman's 80th birthday. I've been watching Roger Corman films since 1962 which is about four fifths of my life and over half of Corman's. I was originally going to write about a specific favorite film but decided instead to discuss how Corman and his films have been a major part of my life. As those who have followed my blog for a while know, I have already written about Corman films a couple of times, most recently in discussing how the man who made Edgar Allan Poe cool for high school and junior high kids also did the first screen adaptation of Philip Roth. I will leave the critical evaluation of Roger Corman to others. What follows are my own memories of Roger Corman and some of his films.
The first Corman film I saw in a theater was Attack of the Crab Monsters. This was in June of 1962 when I was ten years old. I saw the film with some friends at a "kiddie matinee" in Hackensack, New Jersey. This was when you could see a couple of features, at least half a dozen cartoons, and several trailers for the grand sum of fifty cents. I saw Crab Monsters in a double feature with the now forgotten Biblical epic Herod the Great, and previews for The Leech Woman and Brides of Dracula. I was at the age when I was reading Famous Monsters of Filmland on occassion and was beginning to grasp how films were made. Still I was impressed by the giant crab terrorizing the cast.
My viewing of Corman films was sporadic during the years I was in Junior High and High School. I saw The Haunted Palace, X- the Man with the X-Ray Eyes and The Wild Angels theatrically. This was augmented with television viewings of other Corman films. I felt a bit uneasy about my compulsion to see films that lacked the lofty aspirations of Stanley Kramer or Fred Zinnemann. I was a child of highbrow parents seeking lowbrow entertainment.
Coming to study film at NYU was liberating because I was freed from guilt about my filmic interests. In December of my Freshman year, the film students occupied school facilities to protest some unfair policies at NYU. Part of the night was spent watching movies. Following a screening of Little Shop of Horrors many of up were chirpping "Feed Me" in our best imitations of the man-eating plant, Audrey, Jr.
Almost a year later, I had the opportunity to interview Corman in conjunction with a retrospective that was held at the Kips Bay Theater. I no longer have a copy of the interview. What little I recall is Corman relating how Vincent Price was baffled by the lines "The house lives . . . the house breathes" when filming Fall of the House of Usher. My contact at American International was generous in allowing me a pass to virtually all of the retrospective. I was not only able to see Corman's evolution as a director beginning with his westerns, but note in the Poe series how the same shot of lightning was used in every film, and how Corman's art director Daniel Haller would build upon the sets used in previous films.
While I ended up concentrating on film criticism and history, some of the people I knew in my first two years at NYU ended up working for Corman at the early part of their careers.
I continue to watch Corman films, especially vintage Corman films when available on DVD. When I went to Los Angeles to appear on "Ultimate Film Fanatic", it made perfect sense that I would stay at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn. Corman and Garland made five films together and one could get mini posters of It Conquered the World at the hotel gift shop.
Since I am trying to keep my DVD collection manageable, I currently have just Pit and the Pendulum and Tomb of Ligeia. Of the handful of Corman directed films I have yet to see, the ones highest on that list are Carnival Rock, Rock All Night, I, Mobster and Machine Gun Kelly. Corman has remade several of his films, and while Not of the Earth with Traci Lords is actually pretty good, most pale in spite of bigger budgets and more professional crews. My dream is to see a remake of X - the Man with the X-Ray Eyes directed by Darren Aronofsky. All of Aronofsky's themes from previous films are there: drug addiction, quasi-religious obsession and the search for an unknowable truth. A new version of X could take advantage of of the special effects that didn't exist forty years ago.
I'll conclude by wishing Mr. Corman a happy Eightieth birthday. And Roger, don't cheap out on that birthday cake. We know how little you spent shooting The Terror!.
Posted by peter at April 5, 2006 12:01 AM
Corman. AIP. Famous Monsters of Filmland. If I'd had highbrow parents growing up, I would have driven them straight to madness, I'm sure. (I'll be forever jealous of you getting to see those Corman films theatrically.) Thanks, Peter, for this tribute. I'll make sure it gets linked to Tim Lucas for Mr. Corman's brithday blog-a-thon tomorrow!
Posted by: Dennis Cozzalio at April 5, 2006 12:47 AM
Wonderful memories! I loved your look back at your childhood encounters with Corman films --- and what a neat site you have!
Posted by: John McElwee at April 5, 2006 10:47 AM
Very nice reflection, Peter.
I'd forgotten all about Beverly Garland's hotel...I used to be a member of the Beverly Garland Fan Club that operated out of New Jersey. I still have her autographed 8x10 around here somewhere.
An Aronofsky remake of "X" is an excellent idea!
Posted by: Flickhead at April 5, 2006 12:10 PM