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Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Happy Birthday, Roger Corman:
A Brief Appreciation

by Kirk Bane, Ph.D.
Roger Corman, "The Pope of Pop Cinema" and independent film pioneer, turns ninety-one this month. Born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 5, 1926, he served in the Navy before graduating from Stanford University in 1947.

Cinema devotees, especially B-movie enthusiasts, revere him as a director, producer, distributor, scriptwriter, and occasional actor. Known for his relentless productivity and extreme frugality, he directed or produced such low-budget pictures as Apache Woman (1955), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (1957), Teenage Caveman (1958), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Terror (1963), The Wild Angels (1966), The Trip (1967), Targets (1968), Bloody Mama (1970), Death Race 2000 (1975), Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Summer Camp Nightmare (1987), Dance of the Damned (1989), Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Kill Zone (1993), Dracula Rising (1993), Raptor (2001), Slaughter Studios (2002), Cyclops (2008), Dinoshark (2010) and Piranhaconda (2012). Amazingly, he is still working. Just this year, Death Race 2050 and CobraGator are set for release!

Several of Corman's projects merit special mention. The Intruder (1962), starring William Shatner, effectively depicts the evils of racism, while the Edgar Allan Poe Cycle stands as Corman's best work. These movies include House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Corman scholar Jan Johnson-Smith calls his Poe productions "a celebrated sequence of films spanning cinematic horror and the American literary canon…At the centre is Vincent Price, living a Freudian nightmare of neuroses constructed through fluid camerawork and a garish, artificially intense colour palette" (cited in Tasker and Evans, Fifty Hollywood Directors, p. 319).

During his career, Corman tutored many fledgling filmmakers who went on to become some of Hollywood's most gifted and celebrated directors. His protégés include Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese. Moreover, he helped start Jack Nicholson's career, and worked with counterculture bad boys Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, and Dennis Hopper.

In 2009, Corman received an honorary Academy Award. Deservedly so. Happy Birthday, Mr. Corman.


Note of Explanation: So what links Corman to Texas? In 1968, he produced Targets, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, based on the brutal and shocking Charles Whitman/UT Tower murders of August 1, 1966. Writing in New York magazine (August 19, 1968 issue), critic Judith Crist called the film "a hard-hitting melodrama whose impact is enhanced by its remarkable topicality. Sharp…and taut, its theme-the armed monster who moves facelessly among us and suddenly bursts forth to slaughter the innocents-is explored in high cinematic style."
Suggested Bibliography: Additional insight into this iconic filmmaker may be found in Constantine Nasr's Roger Corman: Interviews (2011) and Beverly Gray's Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers (2013). In 1998, Corman published his autobiography, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.


©
Kirk Bane, Ph.D., Managing Editor, Central Texas Studies
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
April 11, 2017 Column

Related Topics:
Book Reviews by Kirk Bane, Ph.D.

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