Friday, March 21, 2008

The Forgotten Movies Week - Christian Blackwood's ROGER CORMAN: HOLLYWOOD'S WILD ANGEL

This may sound a little odd, but Christian Blackwood's ROGER CORMAN: HOLLYWOOD'S WILD ANGEL is one of the most important and influential films I've ever seen. I'd done so at an extremely impressionable age, 14 going on 15, and even though I loved the mainstream cinema of the era, the Lucas and Spielberg blockbusters (have I written about that yet?), the idea of independent cinema, specifically exploitation cinema (back when it was still "drive-in cinema"), was pretty foreign to me. I knew who Roger Corman was, thanks to articles and interviews in Starlog, Fangoria and Twilight Zone Magazine, but the only film of his I'd seen at that point was DEATH RACE 2000, and I'd only seen that on commercial television. I knew that he had launched the careers of many directors I admired - specifically Joe Dante and Martin Scorsese - and others I'd heard of but whose works I hadn't seen at that point (Jonathan Demme, Jonathan Kaplan), but if I'd seen the likes of ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS or THE RAVEN on TV, I didn't remember them all too well. On a cold Saturday night in January of 1985, the WNET, NYC PBS affiliate aired HOLLYWOOD'S WILD ANGEL and I felt compelled to watch it (possibly because Dante was one of the interview subjects), but little did I know it was going to change my life. From that point on, I fell in love with Corman, New World Pictures, and exploitation movies. Wait a second - this fucking movie ruined my life!

So now that I've supplied the back-story, let me tell you what I learned from HOLLYWOOD'S WILD ANGEL:

A) The importance of maintaining your independence. Corman made and distributed the films he wanted to make and didn't have to adhere to a committee or a boss above him. Couldn't do this working for someone else.

B) Entertainment doesn't have to be stupid. Corman always encouraged his films and filmmakers to place not-so-subtle social statements within the usual car chases and T&A. In the doc, Jonathan Demme points out that CAGED HEAT spoke about illegal lobotomies in prisons and mental hospitals, while Paul Bartel discusses how the satirical elements of DEATH RACE 2000 were encouraged.

C) Cheap doesn't equal bad. Corman's directors always have to pay attention to the bottom line, but instead of stifling them, he encourages them to be creative. When Corman gave Joe Dante and Allan Arkush the opportunity to direct their first feature, he only gave them 10 days and $65,000 dollars; they compensated by using footage from other Corman productions and ended up with one of New World's finest features, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD.

D) "Breast nudity possible here?" Demme talks about some of the script notes he got from Corman on CAGED HEAT and concedes that, yes, some breast nudity is indeed possible at this point in the film. Corman is, beyond any doubt, a man with his eyes always on the wants and needs of the audience.

Beyond having mentored so many big name filmmakers, Corman is an essential part in film history for being the best of all the exploitation filmmakers and for having been an excellent filmmaker in his own right. From THE INTRUDER, one of the best films ever made about the civil rights era, to the Poe films (THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is Corman's masterpiece and possibly the best horror film of the 1960s) to such funky efforts as THE WILD ANGELS, THE TRIP and GASSSSSSSSSS, Corman made one solid film after another, and even such silly earlier efforts as IT CONQUERED THE WORLD have still have their charms. This extended into New World, where films that were made because of the marquee value of their titles (THE STUDENT TEACHERS; THE BIG BIRD CAGE) actually lived up to their promise and hold up quite well today. Most of the best exploitation films of the 70s (BIG BAD MAMA; DEATH RACE 2000; HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD) came from New World, and one of the things that makes HOLLYWOOD'S WILD ANGEL so great is that it was shot at the very apex of the New World era; Dante and Arkush are interviewed in the New World trailer suite just after making HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, while Corman discusses taking a risk on an upcoming project called I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN. A number of the interview subjects (Demme, Scorsese, Kaplan, Paul Bartel, David Carridine) are fresh out of the Corman factory and working in Hollywood and they all discuss their times in the trenches with tremendous admiration and respect, all of them acknowledging that Corman really did teach them what they needed to know to make a good movie. Blackwood traces Corman's history quite well, treats him with respect and doesn't pass judgment on the man and his work, which is probably the reason why I took so well to it. It's OK to like or love Roger Corman, because he's the best at what he does and what he does can be pretty damn great at times. It was an absorbing film for me at that young age and I'm glad I was taping it, because I viewed it countless times since and have committed much of it memory. And it should go without saying that so many of the Corman films that I had never seen when I first viewed HOLLYWOOD'S WILD ANGEL have gone on to become favorites. This was a hell of an introduction.

Sad to say, ROGER CORMAN: HOLLYWOOD'S WILD ANGEL isn't available on DVD and the VHS probably went out of print some time in the early 90s. I have no idea where the rights are (Blackwood passed away in 1992), although Lincoln Center showed it last year as part of a tribute to the New Directors/New Films series (where this debuted). It would make for a great supplement on a DVD release at some point or even just on its own, because it really does deserve to be seen again. It's still the best documentary about the movies I've ever seen.

So concludes The Forgotten Movies Week here at HQ 10 - Hope you enjoyed it! We'll have another cool weeklong series next month; what is it? You'll just have to wait to find out.

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