Tim League on Roger Corman
As you may or may not have noted in the rush of Fantastic Fest event news, Roger Corman and Julie Corman will be at Fantastic Fest to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. This is a huge deal for the fest and an equally huge deal for me personally. The Cormans' principles of efficiency and respect for audiences have always guided me in my own work.
We all have our personal heroes. I've always admired Roger and Julie Corman beyond measure. They may just be the couple who saved movies for us all.
In the '60s and '70s Hollywood was a bloated, stunted giant. It was grossly inefficient, nepotistic and it had lost its connection with audiences. Corman sized up the situation, mustered up whatever small amount of money he could and started making his own movies. They were very cheap - but you could bet that every dollar he spent ended up on the screen.
These films, mostly made for American International Pictures, were designed for young people, most of whom saw them in drive-ins. Young audiences were drawn in by the sex, blood and beasts on the posters, and if they may have been a trifle disappointed by the homemade-looking monsters, they were thrilled by Corman's full-blooded approach to entertainment and his respect for the audience. In studio offices, moguls looked at Corman's grosses and shook their heads uncomprehendingly. Some of the old ones, the ones who had known the wild Hollywood of the silents and early talkies, probably nodded their heads in respectful deference. He was the real thing - the Thalberg of the drive-in.
As his film credits multiplied, Corman decided to build his own studio. And in partnership with his wife Julie Corman, New World Pictures was born. This was a period of tremendous social change and under the stewardship of Roger and especially Julie, that change was reflected in storylines and characterizations the majors could never touch with a ten foot pole. A film like THE STUDENT NURSES attracted audiences with the promise of sexy naked nurses, which they got, but they also got an injection of cutting edge social commentary. Both elements proved to be commercial winners at the box office.
New World's other great claim to fame was as a kind of advanced film school for talented young people who might not have been able to get their start otherwise. Prior to New World Pictures, Roger Corman had helped usher such talents as Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Robert Towne into films but with the advent of New World the Cormans kicked it into a whole new gear, giving us early efforts from Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese (his BOXCAR BERTHA was actually released by AIP but was produced by the Cormans), John Sayles, Jonathan Kaplan and many others.
It's hard to imagine what the movies would be like without the Cormans' judgment, talent and raw nerve. I know they wouldn't be as good or as fun. I also suspect a decent number of the talented people the Cormans discovered would never have gotten a break otherwise and we would be deprived of the joy their films have given us. One thing is absolutely certain, if there were no Roger and Julie Corman there would be no Alamo Drafthouse or Fantastic Fest.
Please join me at the Paramount Theater to offer thanks and sincere gratitude to the people who made all of this possible. Click here for tickets and info.