That audible gasp you heard last week was film geek society struggling to come to grips with what they just heard. After years of being marginalized as the man who produced more bad b-movie dung than any other independent maverick, after decades balancing unbelievably bad schlock with a cadre of novices who turned into industry giants, Roger Corman was getting an honorary Oscar. Yes, you heard right - the man who made the original Little Shop of Horrors, who helmed a series of spectacular Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for his American International Pictures was picking up the film biz's biggest tribute, an award that many far more famous and talented have never received.
Granted, it's nothing more than career-retrospective recognition, and when you've got a list of names you helped shepherd into cinema like Corman does (just a few of the names include Coppola, Scorsese, Howard, Bogdanovich, Demme, and Cameron), such a nod was inevitable. And since the Academy of Arts and Sciences is looking for ways to remain relevant in the instant access and opinion platitudes of the Web World, giving Corman one of those coveted gold statues is a guaranteed way to get the normally jaded celluloid know-it-all to sit up and take notice. One imagines the decision had less to do with such crass commercial matters and actually stemmed from Corman's contribution to film.
Still, it will be pretty amazing to watch the man responsible for such tacky '50s terrors as Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent and Teenage Cave Man get his just rewards. Heck, the video overview alone will be worth tuning in for. Corman, like the exploitation pioneers who copied his go for broke approach, rewrote the rules of post Golden Age filmmaking, tackling genre titles and favored commercial categories (the Western, the War movie) with slavish shoestring abandon. He once bragged that he could make a Roman Empire epic with "two extras and a bush", but he was much more proficient than that. Indeed, Corman gave voice to hundreds of otherwise ignored actors, actresses, writers, directors, and production crew, using his skinflint style to minimize returns while maximizing results.
His honorary Oscar, however well deserved, does break new ground for the formerly stodgy society, introducing the possibility of having other outsider mavericks make their way up the stairs to the Kodak Theater. If SE&L may be so bold, perhaps we could champion a few choices for future ballots. After all, if the guy who gave us a plethora of pathetic horror hackdom in the '70s and '80s can win your ultimate approval, we think these five people deserve a similar statement of artform significance. Each one has given in ways that are undeniable in the annals of film and to leave them out while letting Corman in seems, well, criminal, starting with the man responsible for the continuing commercial appeal of the gross out comedy:
Jose Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe)
K. Gordon Murray