I just caught a clever double-bill: Going Attractions, April Wright’s documentary on the history and future of the American drive-in movie theater, and Dementia 13, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 drive-in-geared feature debut (previously featured here on Open Culture). Going Attractions features a good deal of commentary from Roger Corman, the internationally respected and immensely prolific filmmaker whose career has defined the very concept of the high-quality “B-movie.” In fact, so Wright revealed at the Q&A, Corman never went to drive-ins himself, so appalling did he find their substandard audiovisual presentations of his pictures, made cheaply but not without painstaking efforts to look and sound expensive. Still working after over 50 films to his credit as director and nearly 400 as producer, the Detroit-born, Oxford-educated, Los Angeles-based Corman, as well as making such revival-house classics as Sorority Girl, The Wild Angels, and several noted adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, launched the careers of not just Coppola but other auteurs like Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha, 1972), Monte Hellman (Beast from Haunted Cave, 1959), and Peter Bogdanovich (Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, 1968).
Corman also worked with actors now as famous as they come, as in 1960’s Little Shop of Horrors at the top, which features a young Jack Nicholson. 1962’s The Intruder, just above, stars William Shatner in a story that confronts racism with a frankness uncharacteristic of that era. 1963’s The Terror, below, brings back Nicholson, teaming him with Sandra Knight and Boris Karloff. According to a 1967 profile by Roger Ebert, Corman “shot all of Karloff’s scenes in two days to save on the payroll. Then when he got into the cutting room with his film, he realized to his horror that his horror film made no sense. Karloff was gone. What to do? Corman called in two of the bit players, shot them in close-up (the sets had already been torn down or had fallen down), and had one ask the other: ‘Now tell me what all this means.’ And then the other one did. Along the way, working quickly and improvising a lot of his scenes, Corman developed a distinctive, personal style without thinking much about it.” Yet such seemingly laughable techniques have served the man well: he titled his autobiography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. What filmmaker at any level of critical regard can say the same? You can find Corman’s films in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.