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Home Culture Roger Corman, king of B movies and teacher of Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola and Jonathan Demme, dies at 98 | Culture

Roger Corman, king of B movies and teacher of Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola and Jonathan Demme, dies at 98 | Culture

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More than a filmmaker, Roger Corman, who died on May 9 at his home in Santa Monica (California) at the age of 98, was a legend. He forged the destiny of the New Hollywood of the seventies because he was the one who allowed Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich to start filming and with him began Jack Nicholson’s career. He opted for independent cinema, for easy consumption and arrival, for guerrilla filming, which was not exempt from a certain artistic drive, and in addition to those mentioned, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, Carl Franklin, Gale Anne Hurd, Monte Hellman or Jonathan Demme owe him for letting them get behind a camera for the first time. In a statement published this Saturday with the announcement of his death, his family said that he died surrounded by his loved ones, and defined him like this: “He was generous, open-hearted and kind to everyone he met. They knew him (…). When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said: ‘I was a filmmaker, just that.’

His nickname as the king of B movies, with his ability to make 500 films, overshadows his taste for horror films, based mainly on stories by Edgar Allan Poe, almost always with Vincent Price as the protagonist, which leaves valuable titles as The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), along with other bets such as The man with X-rays in his eyes (1963) o The little shop of horrors (1960). That decade, the sixties, was his golden age. Later generations did understand that this legacy deserved to be honored: it received the Honorary Oscar in 2009 and in recent years it has appeared at the award ceremonies for the Hollywood statuettes and the Cannes festival (last year one of its biggest fans, Quentin Tarantino, accompanied him to present an award at the closing ceremony of the French competition). In X another legend, John Carpenter, has written: “Roger Corman, one of the most influential film directors of my life, has died. It was a privilege to know him. He was a great friend. He shaped my childhood with science fiction films and Edgar Allen Poe epics. I will miss you, Roger.”

Corman was a shrewd guy, one of the first who understood in the world of cinema that the important thing was that films be talked about, even if it was bad, and he always used negative publicity and controversy to his advantage, like the one that accompanied The wild angels (1966), in its premiere at the Venice festival; to its Trip (1967), in which Peter Fonda starred in an immersion in LSD, to which his character, a sunken director, resorted to to overcome the abandonment of his wife (the script was by Nicholson); or any of his films that included nudity and sex, violence and social themes on their menu. Perhaps that is why he found an echo in Europe: he is the youngest filmmaker to be the subject of a retrospective at the all-powerful French Cinematheque. It happened in 1964, when Corman was 38 years old.

An image from ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

His brutal ability to produce films was also based on a certain shamelessness, for which he was sometimes criticized: yes, several generations of artists started with him, and he let them make some artistic bets, but as long as they did not stray from the brand of the film. cheap and fast-consuming house of terror. In exchange, his films were intensive filming schools for technicians and crews: bloody mom (1970), his film about a gangster matriarch, Ma Barker, and her thug sons, has not stood the test of time but the cast includes Shelley Winters, Robert De Niro, Don Stroud, Pat Hingle and Bruce Dern. Because he quickly sensed who was playing on the screen: Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Ellen Burstyn, Sylvester Stallone and De Niro are just some of the performers who started with him in cinema. And as you remember The Hollywood Reporter, Nicholson made his big screen debut at age 21 in Scream, murderer (1958) by Corman.

The producer hired a young Scorsese to direct Bertha’s Train (1972) and Demme to write The hot jail (1974); turned Hurd (later producer of Terminator, Aliens: The Return, Armageddon one to the series The Walking Dead), recently graduated from university, into his production assistant and later into his head of marketing; gave Cameron the job in 1980 to design accessories for The Magnificent 7 of Space (Cameron and Hurd would end up married); Coppola, whom he found when he called UCLA asking for the best editing student they had, directed for him. Dementia 13 (1963), and Bogdanovich carried out five years later The hero is loose, con Boris Karloff.

Vincent Price, in 'The Masque of the Red Death'.
Vincent Price, in ‘The Masque of the Red Death’.

For Ron Howard, whose career as a child actor had ended, the doors of directing opened with Howard the opportunity to direct his first feature film, Crazy getaway to Las Vegas (1977). When Howard complained about the producer’s refusal to pay for more extras in several sequences, Corman blurted out one of his legendary lines: “Ron, if you do a good job for me on this movie, you’ll never have to work for me again.” . Over time, all these young people saved cameos in his films as a way of honoring him: Corman appears in The Godfather II, The Silence of the Lambs, Apollo 13, Rachel’s Wedding, The Messenger of Fear o Scream 3.

Roger Corman was born in Detroit, and his family moved to Beverly Hills, near the film mecca, when he was 14 years old. He graduated with a degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University in 1947, and subsequently served in the Navy for three years. When he returned home, the world of engineering no longer interested him, and he accepted a job at 20th Century Fox as a messenger, eventually becoming a script analyst. However, he failed to rise much higher, resigning and going to Oxford to pursue postgraduate studies in English literature. From Paris, he began selling reports and stories to magazines, and so he began again. When he returned to the United States, he worked as a literary agent. Inspired by the absolute horror of the scripts he read, he decided to try his hand at writing. In a documentary, he said: “It seemed like an easy way to make money, so I sat down and spent many nights making a script called Highway Dragnet”, which he sold to Allied Artists for $4,000, and was made into a 1954 film starring Joan Bennett and Richard Conte.

Quentin Tarantino receives an award in 2012 from John Carpenter.
Quentin Tarantino receives an award in 2012 from John Carpenter.Frederick M. Brown (Getty Images/BAFTA)

But where he learned his trade was at American International Pictures, run by producer Samuel P. Arkoff, which made cheap genre films designed for drive-in audiences. Corman understood that there were two virtues inherent to that style: you had to tell stories visually and you had to work quickly. At AIP he produced eight films in 1956 alone, and from 1955 to 1960 he is credited with producing or directing more than 30 films, all of which had budgets of less than $100,000, and most were completed in less than two weeks. Corman, in his production company, made films in five days.

In the seventies, because Corman was restless, in addition to production, he began distributing foreign auteur films, through his company New World, and using his talent to release films. Thus, he premiered in his country Screams and whispers (1972), the Ingmar Bergman; Amarcord (1974), by Federico Fellini; Adela H’s intimate diary (1975), by François Truffaut; Dersu Uzala (1975), de Akira Kurosawa; The tin drum, Volker Schlöndorff, y Fitzcarraldo (1982), by Werner Herzog.

The 2009 Honorary Oscars. From left, film director Roger Corman, actress Lauren Bacall and cinematographer Gordon Willis.
The 2009 Honorary Oscars. From left, film director Roger Corman, actress Lauren Bacall and cinematographer Gordon Willis.FRED PROUSER (REUTERS)

When he received the honorary Oscar, in his speech he explained: “Many of my friends, compatriots and people who started with me are here tonight and they have all been successful. And I think they have achieved it because they had the courage to take risks, to bet. But they took a gamble because they knew they had the ability to create what they wanted to do. It is very easy for a big studio or anyone else to repeat their successes, spend large amounts of money on remakes, in franchise films with special effects. But I believe that the best films made today are born from original and innovative filmmakers who have the courage to take risks and bet. That’s why I tell them: ‘Keep betting, keep taking risks.’ Which falls a bit in contradiction with his previous work. Corman, over the years, complained bitterly, and rightly so, about Hollywood studios eating away at his market: since the success of Shark y Star Wars, las majors They focused on science fiction and superheroes, abandoning decades of big budgets focused on drama. Some of his movie-loving children killed his father, although Coman was proud of never having fired any of them because he “never wanted to inflict that humiliation.” Another of his lapidary sentences was: “In science fiction films, the monster must always be bigger than the protagonist.” And he didn’t do badly, as he boasted from the title of his autobiography, published in 1990: How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.

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