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September 23, 2009

Directors: Roger Corman

Roger Corman, born in 1926 in Detroit, is one of the most prolific film makers in the history of the medium. During his 50 year career, Roger Corman wrote, produced and directed over 400 movies. He worked primarily as an independent outsider due to his intense work ethic and unusual subject matter.

Finding little support in the major studio systems he eventually made and released hundreds of motion pictures for his own production companies (New World Pictures and Concorde) in Southern California. Along the way, he shaped the careers of the biggest directors in Hollywood.

Roger Corman's movies were the text book definition of "exploitation" film. Exploitation came into being as a term to describe B-movies, such as Reefer Madness (1936) or Teenage Dope Slaves (1951), as films that dealt with topical or "ripped from the headlines" subjects. These films had very little in the way of emotional depth in the characters or the plot lines. This created a farcical atmosphere that was pure entertainment often operating under the guise of a "message film".

In the mid-1950's, the genre evolved to become heavily focused on the female form and violent themes. This new frankness in popular films combined with the booming drive-in theatre market made Corman the unoffical "King of the B's" during the 1960's and 1970's in America.

Prior to his career in pictures, a young 14-year-old Corman and family relocated to Beverly Hills in 1940. He graduated from nearby Stanford, a mostly military school, with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. After a brief stint in the Navy he was hired as a messenger by 20th Century Fox in 1948. Corman became a story analyst the next year for the studio.

After deep frustration in dealing with studio politics Corman would abruptly leave the traditional studio system. Corman cites one incident in particular in which he recieved no credit for his work as a script doctor. Gregory Peck's The Gunslinger (1950) became a hit for 20th Century Fox and the production executive received a huge bonus due to Corman's sheparding of the original script. Corman, however, didn't even recieve a screen credit. Corman would eventually remake the film six years later for the notorious American International Pictures by shooting it in Kanab, Utah.

After this set back, a frustrated young Corman left Hollywood to attend Oxford, in England. While pursuing a Masters degree in Literature he ended up pursuing counter-culture instead - finding it in Paris jazz clubs and Amsterdam coffee bars. After a spending year in London and Paris he dropped out of Oxford and came home to Southern California.

At the time of his return, his brother, Gene Corman, was already a successful Hollywood agent for MCA. But Roger was left without any resources that he needed to make films even though he lived in the heart of the film making capital of the world.

Using his talents as a warm, talkative but frugal deal broker the 28-year-old Roger Corman recruited resources and talent from a pool of former classmates and their families once he secured the use of an expensive prop plane from an aircraft company. He gave the directorial duties for the film to a member of his finance commitee and made a movie that became a staple of late night creature features: The Monster From The Ocean Floor (1954).

This would become the trademark independent/guerilla style that Corman would use on many of his features. Due to his knack for knowing what the public was interested in seeing he rarely lost money on his pictures. Corman would reserve part of the budget of a current picture's production budget as capital for the next picture, hire friends for important parts and re-shoot on old sets. Corman was known for wrapping Production in as little as a week for a 90 minute film!

For decades, Corman also made a habit of hiring young film makers as writers or directors - some right out of film school. These film makers would go on to shape Hollywood with their own projects. The most successfull graduates of the "Roger Corman School of Film" included Martin Scorscese on Boxcar Bertha (1972), Francis Ford Coppola on Dementia 13 (1963), Joe Dante on Piranha (1978) who would later direct Gremlins (1984), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) and the original Howling (1981), Johnathon Demme on Caged Heat (1974), Peter Bogdonovich on Targets (1968), and James Cameron on Pirahna 2: The Spawning (1981).

Since the 1990's his fantasic collection of films have largely been forgotten by mainstream media but Corman's influence is heavily felt through his series of proteges who went on to be some of the most widely felt creative forces in Hollywood history.

Selected Filmography:
d = directed / p = produced or exective produced.
Atomic EraHorror Comedy Era
Monster From The Ocean Floor (1954) - p
It Conquered The World (1956) - d
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
The Wasp Woman (1959) - d
X, The Man With X-Ray Eyes (1963) - d
Death Race 2000 (1975) - p
Eat My Dust! (1976) - p
Grand Theft Auto (1977) - p
Avalanche (1978) - p
Pirahna (1978) - p
The Bees (1978) - p
Burial of The Rats (1995) - p
Bucket of Blood (1959) - d
Little Shop of Horrors (1960) - d
Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961) - d
House (1986) - p
Munchie (1987) - p
House II (1988) - p
Frankenstein Unbound (1990) - d
Blaxploitation Era
The Arena (1973) - p
Coffy (1973) - p
Foxy Brown (1974) - p
TNT Jackson (1974) - p
Poe CycleYouth Culture Films
House of Usher (1960) - d
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) - d
Premature Burial (1962) - d
Tales of Terror (1962) - d
The Raven (1963) - d
The Haunted Palace (1963) - d
Masque of the Red Death (1964) - d
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) - d
Swamp Women (1955) - d
Carnival Rock (1957) - d
Rock All Night (1957) - d
Teenage Doll (1957) - p
Soroity Girl (1957) - d
Teenage Caveman (1958) - d
High School Big Shot (1959)
Wild Angels (1966) - p
The Trip (1967) - d
Gas-s-s-s (1970) - d
Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979) - p
Suburbia (1984)
Sexploitation FlicksSpace War Films
Women in Cages (1971) - p
The Big Doll House (1971) - p
Night Call Nurses (1972) - p
Caged Heat (1974)
Candy Stripe Nurses (1974)
Sorority House Massacre (1986) - p
Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) - p
Stripped to Kill (1987) - p
Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back (1989) - p
The Haunting of Morella (1990) - p
Overexposed (1990) - p
Immortal Sins (1991) - p
War of The Satellites (1960)
Battle Beyond The Stars (1980) - p
Galaxy of Terror (1981) - p
Android (1982) - p
Forbidden World (1982)
Space Raiders (1983) - p
Droid Gunner (1995)
Starquest II (1997)

With over 300 films and counting Corman has been prolific. On November 2009, Corman will recieve an honorary Academy Award for his lifetime of work and mentorship in the field of motion pictures.

IMDB, Roger Corman
Wikipedia, Roger Corman
Biographer and Colleague: Beverly Gray
Google Books, Roger Corman by Berverly Gary Thunder's Mouth Press New York 2000

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