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Recycling Roger Corman

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Recycling Roger Corman

At first I was heartbroken—okay, maybe just sort of disappointed—that I didn’t have time to participate in today’s scheduled Roger Corman Blog-a-Thon, which was called for on Monday by Tim Lucas of Video Watchblog in honor of Corman’s 80th birthday. Lucas apologized for giving less than three days’ notice—shorter, even, than my call for a Robert Altman Blog-a-Thon Weekend, which happened pretty damned fast—but he offered a convincing justification for going ahead with it: Corman was an exploitation filmmaking machine, a poverty row visionary who shot the original Little Shop of Horrors in three freakin’ days. Still, even though I’m normally a pretty fast writer, various paycheck-related committments made it impossible for me to generate original content to honor Mr. Corman. So I sighed and moped, and a sad little cloud settled in the sky above The House Next Door.

But then it hit me: why the hell am I beating myself up over not being able to produce an original piece in honor of Roger Corman? Corman’s entire career is built on recycling! He reused the same props, the same costumes, the same sets, hell, sometimes the same footage, over and over again, until the recycling became so obvious that it was embarassing even by his standards. Corman’s low-budget movie factory—which doubled as a film school for all the up-and-coming actors and moviemakers on his meager payroll—was recycling central. Roger Corman is the guy who, in 1967, ran out two remaining days on a contract with Boris Karloff by hiring him out to a young film journalist and wannabe-director named Peter Bogdanovich, on the condition that Bogdanovich not ask for additional days with Karloff, and also figure out a way to work in footage from the 1963 Karloff-Corman cheapie The Terror. (Bogdanovich’s solution was the postmodern assassination thriller Targets starring Karloff as a has-been horror star, with a climax set at a drive-in showing The Terror.) Corman is also the guy who tried to cash in on Star Wars by spending an exorbitant (for him) $5 million on 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars, a crap-a-riffic space fantasy rehash of The Magnificent Seven, then amortized his box office losses by re-using the spaceship footage (including that one ship that looked like fallopian tubes joined by a scrotum) for another 20 years in his movies, and re-selling it to filmmakers who were even poorer than Corman.

I mean, really, why mince words? Corman is the film production equivalent of a high school cafeteria from hell, a place that might serve, say, sliced turkey breast on Monday, turkey casserole on Tuesday, turkey sandwiches on Wednesday and turkey soup on Thursday, then finish out the week with spaghetti and turkey meatballs, then tell anybody who complained, “What the hell’s your problem? It’s edible, ain’t it?” That, boys and girls, is why he’s survived a half-century in the movie business, and why people who have never seen most of his movies still treat his name as a synonym for the ability to look adversity in the face and say, “Hey, brother—wanna buy some spaceship footage?” In that spirit, here’s my entry in the Roger Corman Blog-a-thon: a link to an old New York Press book review that considers Beverly Gray’s biography Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life and Peter Conrad’s Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life in the context of both filmmakers’ hardscrabble careers. For more on Corman, visit Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, which offers links to other writers’ essays, plus a dandy (and 100% non-recycled) career survey by the blog’s proprietor, Dennis Cozzalio.

Happy birthday, Mr. Corman. Don’t forget to save those candles.