Five Favorite Films with Roger Corman
The veteran independent filmmaker and undisputed king of the B-movie drops in for a chat about his career and the new documentary Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.
You've fostered many future-great directors on your productions; filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and James Cameron. Did you have a sense at the time that they were going on to big things?
Roger Corman: I was convinced they were both brilliant and that they would have fine careers, but I had no way of knowing the heights to which they would actually rise. I knew -- either knew or believed -- they would be successful. I couldn't predict how successful.
Was there anyone who you worked with that went on to surprise you?
Well most of them I thought were good, but one who surprised me, and on his very first picture, was Ron Howard. Ron had played the lead in Eat My Dust, a comedy car chase film, and when we did the sequel -- because the first one was so successful, we did Grand Theft Auto -- he played the lead and he directed. I was a little bit apprehensive about his ability to both act and direct in the same film -- and he just showed right there that he could do it. Grand Theft Auto became sort of a B-picture classic, and it showed right there what a fine director Ron was.
He would have been quite young at the time, too.
Yes. I knew he had gone to the SC film school for a while but he didn't graduate because he was working so much as an actor; but I knew he had something of a background. So that reassured me.
Let's talk a bit about Corman's World. Why has it taken so long for someone to make this documentary about you? It feels like there should have been many by now.
[Laughs] There was a documentary made in the late 1970s [Roger Corman: Hollywood's Wild Rebel, 1978], which I thought was a well-made documentary, but I guess nobody thought of doing it again until [director] Alex [Stapleton] came up with the idea. She asked me, and I talked with her a little bit; she's very intelligent and very sensitive, and she understood a great deal of what I was doing. I was just impressed with her and I said, "Fine, let's go ahead." I'm a little bit surprised at the number of people she got to be interviewed for it; it became a bigger picture than I thought.
It must be nice to have all these big stars and filmmakers come out and say, "We got our start with Roger Corman."
[Laughs] I was a little surprised that they were all there, and a number of them showed a certain amount of emotion -- and I felt a reciprocal emotion. I thought, there we were -- we were all young at one time -- and here we are; we're still working
Jack Nicholson quips that -- by mistake -- you occasionally happened to make a good movie --
Do you have a favorite?
It varies from time to time. For today -- of the pictures I produced and directed -- maybe The Intruder, which was a picture I did with a new young actor, Bill Shatner, about racial integration, in 1960. And then one of the Poe pictures -- maybe Masque of the Red Death. I was working in England and I had greater access to facilities for the construction of the sets. We had the best look of any of the Poe films on Masque.
Nicolas Roeg's photography on that film is incredible.
Yes. He was a brilliant young cameraman. I believe he may have won the English equivalent of the Academy Award for best cinematography, which was surprising because it was a very low-budget picture.
You haven't directed since the early '70s. Did you ever consider going back to it?
Well, I had directed so many films that I just decided to take a year off in 1970, and then come back after the traditional sabbatical, but during that time I got bored and I started my own production company, New World. I got so involved in producing -- we were making 10, 12 films a year -- that I just never got back to directing.