“Ask today’s movie buff to name his or her idols among independent filmmakers and you’re likely to get many different answers. Ask the filmmakers themselves and you’re likely to hear the same name repeated over and over – Roger Corman.”
The back flap of Beverly Gray’s Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking (2000) delivers these words to its prospective readers, instilling the profound impact the director-producer-studio head has had on filmmaking in the 20th Century. Roger Corman has created his legacy by cranking out (often, not always) classic, cheap and lasting genre fare since the mid-1950’s. His name has become synonymous with ultra-low budget B-movies that have stood the test of time. His filmography as both a director and a producer, as well as the “Corman School”: a label that has unofficially been given to the vast group of actors and filmmakers who got their chops working for Corman, has been scrutinized in countless books and documentaries. As Gray herself points out, Roger Corman as a person, however, has not been examined nearly as much.
Gray served as one of Corman’s many assistants through his fifty-plus-year filmmaking career, so she serves as a fantastic candidate to give readers an in-depth look at Roger Corman: not the producer, not the magical touch that kick-starts careers, not the ultimate cheap schlockmeister, but Roger Corman the human being. Her unauthorized biography utilizes interviews with a plethora of other Corman alum including Joe Dante, Jim Wynorski, Gale Anne Hurd, Ron Howard, and of course Dick Miller. The pieces of humanity that she squeezes out of these interviews conducted throughout 1998 and 1999 combine with entertaining anecdotes from both the interviewee as well as from the memory of Gray herself and production information that pave a concise path through the life of Roger Corman, without contact with him personally.
Beverly Gray gives readers a quick but extremely informative view of the history of Corman, through his childhood up until the time the book was published. Although that time was seventeen years ago now, the book still holds a lot of ground for fans of Corman or independent filmmaking who want to dig deeper and get a glimpse of the man who constantly was at odds with himself about whether to create art or to continue his studio practice that essentially guaranteed profits for years and years. While many can see Corman as nothing more than a filmmaker who skimps on budgets to make more money, Beverly Gray uses her experience and connections to show that Corman was far more complex and interesting than the limiting “King of the B’s” moniker given to him in the 1970’s.
-By Kirk Yoshonis