Who's the one person who connects such different Hollywood artists as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Ron Howard, and Jack Nicholson? The man, the legend, Roger Corman. In his new book Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses, Chris Nashawaty presents on oral history of Corman's career told by the B-movie maestro himself and also by the many marquee names who got their start in the business working on his fast-pace, low-budget productions. But it's also something more. It includes in-depth aesthetic appreciations of ten of Corman's movies, which, taken together, make a compelling case for Corman as an artist. Nashawaty's book, available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, started as an article in 2009 for Entertainment Weekly, where he's a film critic. (Full Disclosure: Nashawaty was a colleague of mine when I worked at EW.) That article was pegged to Corman receiving a lifetime achievement Academy Award. "I'd interviewed him various times over the years, and he's always been a good interview," Nashawaty says. "He knows how to tell a story, and he's always got a quote handy. But with this book project I got to sit down with him in person and spend some real time with him and ask him about the whole course of his career." Nashawaty tells us how Corman helped create modern Hollywood.
Hollywood.com: How did you first discover Roger Corman and become a fan? Chris Nashawaty: Well, look, when you tell people that you’re a film critic they expect for you to say you grew up on classy movies and Oscar-winning movies, and the fact is I grew up watching monster movies and Piranha and all sorts of other movies that your parents don’t want you to watch. Roger Corman was a name I just kept recognizing in the credits and it wasn’t until I started working at Entertainment Weekly that I started to dig a little deeper and realized that there are 400 of these movies that he’s attached to. When you discover a great director like Stanley Kubrick and you say “I’m going to watch every Stanley Kubrick movie!” that’s only going to take you 10 movies and then you’re done, but Corman is the gift that keeps on giving.
HW: You really dive in deep to give an aesthetic appreciation of his movies, which is unique because often the artistic value of his movies is ignored. He’s thought of more as a mogul or a producer. Do you think he’s generally neglected as an artist? CN:He’s very much overlooked as a director. I think people focus too much on his drive-in movies or exploitation movies — or only focus on the people he mentored — and don’t think about him as a film stylist. And he made some really good movies. Sure, he started off making some disposable, quickie, cheap drive-in movies about atomic monsters, and those are fine. Some of them are even very good. But it wasn’t until the ‘60s that he began to find his voice and develop a style, particularly in his Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. He directed most of them beginning with House of Usher in 1960 and they’re very atmospheric, much like the films Hammer was making in England at the time. They’re Gothic horror movies, they’re moody and colorful, in large part because he assembled an incredible crew. Nicolas Roeg is the DP on The Tomb of Ligeia. So to break up the oral history of his life with all the racy stories, I picked two of his movies per decade and wrote an essay about each. They’re movies that speak to me personally, like Masque of the Red Death, Attack of the Crab Monsters, and Boxcar Bertha.
He also made this movie in 1962 called The Intruder starring William Shatner that was way ahead of its time. It was about segregation in the South. It was a very personal film for Corman and really well made too. Shatner plays a rabble-rousing racist who goes to a Southern town and whips the locals into a frenzy about integration in the schools. It’s a very progressive film about a hot topic that the Hollywood studios wouldn’t even have touched until another five years with In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and even then not very forcefully. But this is a movie that’s very explosive. Ironically, it’s his most personal film and the only one he lost money on in his career.
HW: Do you have a particular favorite of his movies? CN: It's probably a tie. There's Masque of the Red Death, which is my favorite of his Poe movies. It’s just so twisted and gorgeous, it’s like a Bergman film made into an exploitation horror movie. It’s great. And the other one is probably the first Corman movie I ever saw, which is Piranha. I remember seeing that in the theater when I was really young, I don’t know how or why my parents thought it was a good idea to take me to see a movie called Piranha. But they did, God bless them, and that movie has just always stuck with me. It was Joe Dante’s first movie, and it had a script by John Sayles. It’s a great Jaws ripoff about killer fish turning people into mincemeat.
HW: That seems to be a very sore point for him, that he lost money on The Intruder in particular. CN: Yeah, he mortgaged his house to make that movie. It was that personal to him. And the fact that it wasn’t a success really stung him, deeply. If it had been a success, it’s interesting to think what kind of films he might have made afterward. But it taught him a lesson that maybe this whole personal filmmaking thing wasn’t necessarily something that was going to work for him. Which isn’t to say that his subsequent movies aren’t personal — they are — but he never tried to say something in the same way that he did in that movie again.
HW: You make the argument that he was always ahead of the curve — certainly on race relations as in The Intruder — but also when it came to recognizing the burgeoning youth market. CN: You know the teenager is a very ‘50s concept. The whole idea of young kids being able to spend money and go to the drive-ins, that was something that didn’t exist until the ‘50s and I don’t think Hollywood really recognized them as a real lucrative market. But Corman did. Some of the safer movies that were being aimed at teens at the time, the Beach Party/Beach Blanket Bingo movies, they were fun and campy but they weren’t movies that teenagers necessarily wanted to see…they weren’t about rebellion really. But Corman recognized there was a whole demographic that was being ignored. He saw that, pounced on it, and made biker movies like The Wild Angels and just movies that were showing what was going on in society before anyone else was.
HW: Now, fifty years later, so much of Hollywood filmmaking as a whole is geared toward teenagers. People often credit Jaws and Star Wars for creating youth-oriented blockbuster culture, but do you think Corman deserves his share of recognition for helping create modern Hollywood? CN: I do, yeah, in a lot of ways. And not just that one. There are several different moments where he recognized what was going on faster than the slower-on-the-uptake studios did. One of them was noticing there was an underserved teen market for movies. Another was much later in the ‘80s, when the country was being overrun by videostores, the VHS market was not one the studios exploited right away. It was Corman, who’d been sort of squeezed out of making movies who rejuvenated his business by recognizing there was this VHS market. He made these straight-to-video movies because he knew mom-and-pop video shops were hungry for product. So he’d make straight-to-video movies and put the most lurid, garish, sexy cover he could put on them, with the movie being almost an afterthought, and they’d sell like hotcakes.
HW: Looking at all the great Corman posters from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s featured in your book, it hits home how much the art of movie posters seems to have been lost. CN: I agree. He didn’t have budgets and he didn’t have stars so all he really had to sell a movie was a great poster. In a way it was the purest form of advertising you can imagine: you make a great poster and you slap an incredible tagline on it. My favorite is for Angels Hard As They Come, from 1971, and it’s a biker movie starring Scott Glenn and Gary Busey. The tagline is “Big men with throbbing machines and the girls who take them on.” I mean, that’s a great come on. It’s total Barnum & Bailey “Sell! Sell! Sell!” He was just a master at making posters and trailers that were in a way better than the movies themselves.
HW: Sometimes the alumni of Corman University speak about him with some snark, but generally there seems to be real affection there. Why do you think that is? CN: Once these people went on to have legitimate careers they looked back on their films for Corman as their salad days. It was a great time — they were young, they weren’t getting paid a lot of money, but they got to make a movie. I think we forget how hard, and how rare, that is. You had to work your way up the ladder and studios were closed shops to a lot of people. Corman took the best and brightest out of the film schools and said, “Hey, I’m going to exploit you, I’m going to pay you nothing, I’m going to work you to the bone, but I’m going to give you the shot to make a movie.” And I think a lot of those people who went on to work for big studios realized that they didn’t know how good they had it when they were making movies for Roger Corman because he didn’t give them endless notes or micromanage what they were doing.
HW: You also argue that Corman is the single greatest connecting thread between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood. CN: I can’t think of anyone else who has had the same sort of longevity and is as much of a throughline of the past 60 years of Hollywood. Corman may not be a household name, but he is probably the least known, most influential figure in the last half century of Hollywood. And he’s still making movies today for Syfy. Nobody else has had the reach or impact that he’s had. Just look at the famous people who got their starts in his films, everyone from Jack Nicholson to Scorsese to James Cameron to Coppola, if you take all of those people out of the history of Hollywood, if Corman had not given them their break, the movie industry as we know it today would not exist.
HW: And he created an independent model of film production that anticipated the independent film revolution by decades. CN: Corman was really the only one I can think of, maybe more recently Miramax, who gave the major studios a run for their money. Because there had been poverty row independent studios since the start of Hollywood, but they could come and go. Between the first company he worked for, American International Pictures, and then his own company New World Pictures, he streamlined and refined what independent filmmaking could be. And I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.
HW: Do you think it would be possible for there to be a Roger Corman today? CN: I don’t think it’s possible for there to be a Roger Corman today because, in a way, anybody can make a movie now. And a lot of people who shouldn’t be making movies are now, because it’s so easy. You can make a movie with your iPhone. But Corman is a singular example of someone who had the genius to make movies that looked like real movies and have them make money. I don’t think you can make the quantity and the quality of movies that he made today.
HW: Do you think Corman will like your book? CN: I think so, because all of the people I interviewed offer up their love letters to him in a way, even though he comes in for some gentle ribbing about how cheap he was. I think he’s treated fairly, though, and his career is celebrated. My favorite quote in the whole book is in the introduction, and it’s from Ron Howard when he was making his first movie as a director, for Corman, called Grand Theft Auto. Corman was very tight on the budget with him, and Ron Howard needed some more extras for which Corman wouldn’t pony up any more money. So Ron Howard was despondent, but Corman walked up to him and said, “Ron, know this. If you do a good job for me on this picture, you’ll never have to work for me again.” Sure, Howard’s recollection of that pokes fun at him a bit, but the underlying message was “I’m giving you a shot and if you do a good job you’ll be able to graduate beyond me.” It was up to you to make something of yourself, to show what you’ve got.
More: Kelsey Grammer Joins ‘The Expendables 3’: Read a Scene from the ‘Frasier’-Speak Script Richard Matheson Dies: A Tribute to the ‘I Am Legend’ Author Who Kickstarted Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Roberto Orci’s Rant Proves ‘Star Trek’ Has Lost Touch With Its Fans How Orson Scott Card’s Anti-Gay Views Could Threaten the ‘Ender’s Game’ Film
From Our Partners:A Complete History Of Twerking (1993-2013) (Vh1)15 Stars Share Secrets of their Sex Lives (Celebuzz)
Wow, what a difference a week makes when it comes to writing about Star Wars: The Clone Wars, huh? When I last recapped Lucasfilm Animation’s series, the Onderon arc had just wrapped up in moving fashion and the show appeared to settling into a very solid season 5. All very polished and entertaining, but nothing earth-shattering.
Then, it happened. Disney bought Lucasfilm in a whopping $4.05 billion deal and announced plans for a new Star Wars trilogy. Suddenly, The Clone Wars, our little series that could, received a whole new level of exposure. Will it leave Cartoon Network and move to Disney XD? Will Disney plan for the show to synergize with the new movies in some way, despite taking place in an earlier time period? Will the more stubborn Star Wars “fans” who reject anything and everything related to the prequel era take a greater interest in Clone Wars? This show is suddenly a hotter property than it’s ever been before.
We’ll see what rumors pan out in the months ahead, but for now, Dave Filoni and the Lucasfilm animators keep doing what they’ve always been doing: producing a quality TV show. This weekend’s installment, “The Gathering,” kicks off a four-part arc about a group of Jedi younglings on a quest to learn more about the Force—and themselves. It screened to a positive reception at Celebration VI in Orlando for attendees who brought kids with them. Still, Clone Wars’ track record of appealing to the littlest Star Wars fans has been spotty at best. (Remember that day of beauty R2-D2 received at a droids-only spa in season three?) But based on “The Gathering,” color me impressed by what the show is attempting here. If Disney wanted to produce a spin-off series geared exclusively for the 10-and-under crowd, as has been rumored, this wouldn’t be a bad pilot.
Obviously, the ranks of the Jedi have thinned during the Clone Wars. Many knights have died on the battlefield—all the better to soften up the survivors for when Palpatine executes his Jedi-exterminating Order 66. And it appears new recruits are few and far between. I mean, how many parents would want to give up their Force-sensitive children to an organization that’s currently waging a galaxy-spanning war?
Still, Yoda remains committed to training the next generation. And for one group of tween-age apprentices, it’s time for “The Gathering.” What is that, you ask, other than the name of a geeks-only role-playing card game? It’s when a young Jedi ventures into the ice caves of Ilum and finds the crystal that will be the heart of his or her lightsaber. Or rather, like Mr. Ollivander’s wands in Harry Potter, the crystal will choose the Jedi. To the tune of Kevin Kiner’s Gregorian chant-inflected music, Ahsoka led the younglings into Ilum’s Jedi temple. And there, serenely waiting for them, was Yoda. Like Indy in the map room, Yoda redirected Ilum’s precious sunlight to melt a door of ice, exposing a way into the caverns. The younglings will have one day to discover their crystals until the door freezes shut once again. And after that, it won’t reopen for another 19 days, trapping whoever’s left inside.
Like in last season’s masterful episode “The Box,” still my all-time favorite of the series, Clone Wars showed off its effortless ability to quickly and clearly distinguish multiple characters. In this case, the six younglings: selfish, arrogant Petro, who runs off on his own in the caves, hoping to find his crystal before anyone else; prone-to-despair Rodian, Genodi; cowardly Ithorian, Byph; the confidence-challenged Tholothian, Katooni; tech-geek Nautolan, Zatt; and patience-lacking Wookiee, Gungi. Also, any episode that has a Wookiee is great by default.
Petro, Part One—The cocky, green-eyed human is basically just a selfish, arrogant little boy. Or a follower of Ayn Rand, if you prefer. He decides, almost immediately, that he’s going to leave his peers behind and look for a crystal on his own rather than be trammeled by his friends' limitations. And he finds one right away! Look at it glisten, all sparkly-shiny, ripe for the picking where it hangs just within reach off a ledge. Petro grabbed it! And brought it back to Yoda and Ahsoka, all puffed up and proud. They asked him where his friends were and he replied, “Who knows? I didn’t want to gloat since I found mine so quickly.” But when Petro presented it to the skeptical Jedi, it melted in his hand. This was a crystal, yes…but an ice crystal. Back into the cave with him!
Let’s proceed next to the Wookiee.
Gungi—The hirsute lad thought he heard a crystal calling to him from across an underground lake. But, obviously, he didn’t want to get his fur wet. So his crystal-finding partner Genodi suggested he would merely have to wait it out. When the sun begins to set, the ice in the lake would freeze until it becomes solid and sturdy enough for him to cross it. This would require patience, though. Something that Wookiees aren’t usually known for. (See: Wookiees pulling the arms out of their opponents’ sockets if they lose at dejarik.) But luckily, Gungi had his Jedi training to call upon. He opened himself up to the Force, meditated, and when the ice had frozen he claimed his lightsaber crystal.
Virtue acquired: patience.
NEXT: Genodi discovers a place called hope. Byph finds courage. Petro gets a heart. And Ahsoka gets a brain. (Okay, I had to make the Wizard of Oz analogy work!)Genodi—If only Genodi had a fraction of Gungi’s patience! For that matter, his confidence. Okay, and his optimism too. Genodi really has issues. After leaving Gungi by the lake, she set off deeper into the caves and started frantically declaring, “I’m never going to find a crystal. Never!” Of course, as soon as she said that she fell into a cave with thousands of crystals. But Genodi’s problems weren’t over. She may have thousands from which to choose…but which one? “It’s hopeless,” she cried. “Hopeless!” Finally, she realized she just needed to calm the f*** down, reach out to the Force and grab one. Pessimism rarely solves anything.
Virtue acquired: hope.
Byph—The hammerheaded Ithorian was left to seek his crystal on his own. That was particularly troubling because of Byph’s fear of monsters. Now there was no indication that Ilum has any monsters, but that didn’t stop him from worrying nonetheless. Actually, he did come across menacingly-glowing apparition deep in one of the caves: something that looked like Vaal from the classic Star Trek episode “The Apple” with Kevin McAllister’s furnace in Home Alone. But, like Luke facing himself in the cave on Dagobah, Byph mustered his courage, approached the apparition and discovered it was in fact a crystal producing that light. His crystal!
Virtue acquired: courage
Zatt—The tentacle-headed Nautolan used what appeared to be a Starfleet-issue tricorder to locate his crystal. But he couldn’t get any reading because of all that kriffing ice. So, like the child he is, he smashed the tricorder to pieces. Despite his tantrum, he realized that he’d need to rely on himself, not technology. To do that, he’d need to trust himself. He focused on his surroundings and found a crystal before long.
Virtue acquired: trust. But he really needs to work on his anger issues, also.
Katooni—A member of the same race as Jedi Council members Adi Gallia and Stass Allie, the Tholothian initially partnered with Zatt. But they parted ways after she sensed her crystal on top of a cliff. Some major climbing was ahead of her. When she finally made it and grabbed her crystal, she didn’t want to climb all the way back down. So she literally took the “quick and easy path” behind her and hoped that would lead her back down. However, she fell into a crevice and was trapped.
Petro, Part Two—Still looking for his crystal, Petro encountered Katooni trapped behind a wall of ice. Judging his own needs to be more important, Petro decided not to help free his friend. “I have to go,” he said, leaving her to her icy tomb. He could have easily added, “Stop thinking of yourself as a victim. You need to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Didn’t Madame Jocasta lend you the Jedi Library’s copy of Atlas Shrugged?”
Thankfully, Petro came to his senses. With the ice door to the caverns almost shut, he abandoned the search for his crystal to help Katooni. They pressed their hands together against the ice and used the Force to break through. Katooni headed for the door, and slid under just as it was about to close. Petro stayed behind to snag his crystal—a real one this time!—then burst through the ice door after it had already sealed shut. Turns out, the ice would’ve never trapped them in the caves. Only frozen water, it was. But their minds could easily have imprisoned them had they given in to despair.
Katooni’s virtue acquired: confidence.
Petro’s virtue acquired: selflessness.
Because the characters were so well defined, the lessons that each of them received didn’t feel smug and pedagogical. I don’t know about you, but I’m curious to see what trouble these younglings get themselves into next. Watching them grow and mature will really be fun…until they’re each inevitably slaughtered by the blade of Darth Vader’s azure lightsaber during the events of Revenge of the Sith. Yes, I just depressed you. But war is depressing. Even when it’s a clone war.
See you next week, everyone!
[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]
’Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Recap: Onderon Strikes Back
’Star Wars: Episode VII’ Theories: Eight Directions It Could Take
’Star Wars: Episode VII’: Could Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher Return?
From Our Partners:
Country Music Association Awards 2012: See the Best-Dressed Stars of the Night (PHOTOS)
’The X Factor’ Live Shows: 10 Things You Didn’t See on TV (Celebuzz)