Roger Corman: An Unauthorised Life
2004. By Beverly Gray.
Thunder’s Mouth Press.
Hmmm... there’s something about this unauthorised poster-paint sketch of Roger Corman’s life that leaves a feintly bitter aftertaste in the mouth. And I’m not wholly convinced that the entire blame for that one can be laid at the door of the writer.
To her credit, Beverly Gray lets you know right up front that she’s twice worked for Roger Corman and that on her second stint for him, after a fair number of years, she was let go so that an old friend of Corman’s could have some income and also, since he wasn’t paying the other person anything like her wages, so he could save the difference between the two salaries. So right up front you kinda have the warning that this book is maybe written from the viewpoint of a disgruntled ex-employee and, furthermore, she comes clean about not having interviewed Corman specifically for this volume... all her first hand stories of him come from the time she spent with him before her unexpected dismissal.
However, it comes quite clear over the course of the book that she has had a lot of dialogue with other Corman colleagues, employees (ex or otherwise) and admirers/detractors and I think what she’s done here is to make a point of giving all angles of the man without necessarily making any uncalled for judgements about the man herself, other than conclusions that can be directly drawn from the feedback she has received from her interviews with various people.
Certainly, if you want a book which lionises the man and plays into the “myth of Corman” then you are not going to get it here. This one portrays him as being all about the mighty dollar at the expense of his art and, though some mention is made of his artistic tendencies with some of his early films (the Poe films comes to mind) any artistic side to the man is not really touched upon. I was certainly disappointed that there was no great coverage given to any of his movies but at the same time, I was certainly getting a feeling from reading this that Corman’s motivation to save as much money as possible all the time kinda leaves him out of the loop a little as an artist in his own right.
Which is a same I think. I remember seeing his Poe films as a kid in terrible pan and scan versions shown on television and not thinking much of them... but I also remember rediscovering them on DVD in brilliant transfers in their proper aspect ratios and having a revelation that these films actually are really well made pieces of cinematic art. So it’s a shame to have it implied that since those days Corman has been kinda chasing those days but always chooses the quick and cheap option over anything that will necessarily bring him any critical acclaim or artistic credibility. At least that’s what I took away from this book.
His days of promoting and releasing World Cinema Classics for an American market are praised here but his talent for fostering great, future artistic talent is less favourably viewed. I get the impression that the Francis Ford Copplas, Martin Scorceses, James Camerons etc would have flourished and gone on to greater things whether they passed through the Corman-factory or not. The point being that these kinds of strong-willed and tenacious artists have “survived” the Roger Corman experience rather than been born from it.
All through this tome, Ms. Gray has been very careful to show all the different flattering and unflattering viewpoints of Corman’s life but at the end of the day I still got the impression that Corman is a tired, depressed producer who wishes his artistic life might have turned out a lot differently.
So, as I said, if you want a book that treats Corman as a great artist and genuine humanitarian... this is probably not the book for you. If you want a book that possibly provides some insight into the man and you’re prepared to read between the lines and use your own judgement as to how many Dutch-angles have been used when viewing the man... then you might want to give this one a try.