LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - At this time of year Hollywood brings out big-budget movies like “Mission: Impossible” with Tom Cruise and the new “Sherlock Holmes” film starring Robert Downey, Jr.
But Roger Corman, the antithesis of big Hollywood who has made low-budget, independent films for 60 years, will also have his say. He is the subject of a new documentary, “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel,” which will be in U.S. theaters on Friday
Corman, 85, has produced about 550 movies and directed 50 more, including “The Wild Angels” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” and lesser known movies like “The Terror” and “Naked Angels.”
His New World Pictures became a hotbed for up-and-coming directors and actors including Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, John Sayles and Jack Nicholson.
Corman spoke to Reuters about movies, how Steven Spielberg impacted his career and smoking pot with the Hell’s Angels.
Q: On “The Wild Angels” you spent some quality time researching with the Hells Angels. Any close calls there?
A: “We went to all their parties and were welcome because we made the point of bringing the marijuana. As one often does, you see the prettiest girl in the room and you go up and start talking to her. Most of those girls were not that good looking but there was this one good looking girl and (screenwriter) Chuck (Griffith) came up to me and said, ‘You just spent the whole evening with the old lady of the president of the Hell’s Angels and he is really mad.’ You’ve never seen anybody walk away from a girl as fast as I did.”
Q: You gave Martin Scorsese his start with “Boxcar Bertha” but when he came to you with his next picture, “Mean Streets,” you passed.
A: “I said, ‘Y‘know, Marty, we’ve done very well with these black gang films and ‘Mean Streets’ is a gang film. What do you think about the idea of doing it black?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t think this will work because it’s partially autobiographical. It’s written specifically for the Italian culture and we shouldn’t go that way.’ What people don’t know, a lot of it was shot in Los Angeles because it was cheaper than New York. People think of it as a New York picture, but I’d say close to half that picture was shot in Los Angeles.”
Q: When “Jaws” and “Star Wars” came out in the 1970s, you started seeing studios doing A-list versions of the kind of movies you’d been making for decades. Did you ever talk to Steven Spielberg or George Lucas about sabotaging your career?
A: ”Spielberg and Lucas both said it wasn’t my films specifically but the type of film my compatriots and I had been doing as low-budget films. They had seen these films when they were young and liked them. And when they became established directors, they had the opportunity to do them on bigger budgets for major studios.
“As a matter of fact, when ‘Jaws’ came out, Vincent Canby of The New York Times said, ‘What is ‘Jaws’ but a big-budget Roger Corman film?’ He’s half right. It was a big-budget Roger Corman film but it was also better. And that was the key, it was bigger and better.”
Q: In the ‘70s you became involved with releasing foreign masterpieces in the U.S. working with Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa. What do you recall about working with such masters?
A: “Akira Kurosawa liked martinis and we had dinner at our house, so he and I spent a little time discussing the amount of vermouth that should be in a proper martini. And of course we were drinking martinis. Fellini advised me to get out of distribution and go back to directing. Bergman thanked me because I put ‘Cries and Whispers’ in a couple of drive-ins. He said, ‘People have seen my picture who I never thought would see the picture.'”
Q: You helped launch the careers of many A-list filmmakers working in Hollywood. Could similar mentoring work today?
A: ”I am a strong believer in the Internet. With the lack of the theatrical market, we’re depended upon VOD, DVD‘s, cable TV, foreign (distribution) and so forth. But the market is very weak.
“I believe the future is the Internet. The trouble is it’s not there yet. I think within a few years there will be a renaissance of independent filmmakers because we will not be frozen out of theaters the way we are (now). Instead, we will have the entire world as our audience. I think independent filmmaking can come back to the strength it was.”
Q: And what do you say to detractors who claim you’ve spent 60 years turning out schlock films?
A: They’re entitled to their opinions and in some respects, they may be right. On the other hand, I think the medium is so vast, there’s room for all types of films.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney