Listen up everyone! It is Roger Corman‘s 88th birthday today. And you should care, because he is an amazing guy. He made all those great early-1960s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price that Richard Matheson wrote. And he did so much more. He is the very definition of an exploitation filmmaker. He did a great deal with very little.
I especially like Corman because he shines a very bright light on what a film director really is. This is illustrated best by Corman’s commentary on the film The Pit and the Pendulum. It mostly consists of him talking about how they reused things from House of Usher. And you can see this in his films: they tend to look the same. I’m sure that he had the scripts tailored to fit with the resources his company already had. And this is why so many of his films are set in castles, even though it doesn’t make any sense.
In some circles Roger Corman is held up as a visionary director. I don’t think this is true at all. He was just a guy trying to get films made that people would enjoy. And he was very successful. But he didn’t have a “vision,” and I doubt that any other director does either. If you look at the late films he produced, you see some the same tricks, even though they are directed by a number of other people. It’s still the same formula: make the most of what you have. And it is amazing how effective it is. I doubt that most people watching the newer films even realize just how claustrophobic they are. A bit of money spent for context goes a long way to making a small set interesting.
I wish Hollywood would learn what Corman perfected. Most films anymore have huge canvases on which they paint, but I don’t think anyone really cares. The fight scenes in The Matrix Reloaded were interesting, but it was the straight dialog scenes where the drama was. And that’s true of just about any action film you can think of. Corman understands that and so his films always look better than they cost. And that is a remarkable thing in the film industry.
Here is a scene from one of my favorites, The Raven:
Happy birthday Roger Corman!