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:
For his amazing trilogy of ‘gals gone gonzo’ films – Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living – this aging Baltimore bad boy should be first up for his piece of AMPAS metal. Waters took his passion for underground moviemaking, married it to a sense of humor formed out of juvenile delinquency and proto-perverted fixations, and fashioned some of the funniest films ever to be ignored by the mainstream. By the time Hollywood embraced his pristine piece of PG nostalgia, Hairspray, it had been transformed into a boring Broadway hit. Yet the rest of his oeuvre – Cry-baby, Polyester, A Dirty Shame, Pecker, Serial Mom – confirm his status as the king of stingy suburban satire. If anyone deserves an Oscar, it’s the former (and still reigning) Prince of Puke.
As one of the many cinematic anarchists that got Waters creative juices flowing, Anger is an artist trapped in a maniac’s moody persona. Some days, he’s a diva. On others, his affiliation with the Thelematic philosophy and Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law – Liber AL vel Legis drives his wholly insular motives. And yet the movies he’s made – Scorpio Rising, Rabbit’s Moon, Lucifer Rising, among others – are visionary works of undeniable cinematic scope. What makes this particular selection all the more spicy is that Anger is also responsible for uncovering and publishing many of Tinseltown darkest, dirtiest secrets. His infamous Hollywood Babylon books first introduced curious fans to the horrors of the Black Dahila, the truth behind the Fatty Arbuckle case, and the murder of Sharon Tate.
For El Topo and The Holy Mountain alone, this hallowed Hispanic savant should have a permanent place in the Academy’s Hall of Fame. Both movies represent the very pinnacle of revisionist reinvention, the former finding solace in the spaghetti western, the latter as a denouncement of religion and the manipulative mainstream media. Together with other exceptional works – Fando y Lis, Santa Sangre – Jodorowski remains a man married to his singular sense of art and the expressions of same. While he does dabble in mysticism and some eccentric philosophical pursuits (psychomagic?), his works continue to impress and inspire. If Oscar is indeed looking to extend its awareness of the talent triumphing in the rest of the world, this directing genius would be a great place to start.
Jose Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe)
Come on Oscars – show you’ve got a backbone and celebrate this Brazilian horror filmmaker who challenges his countries love of religion and government oppression by outwardly mocking them in his supposed scary movies. A blasphemer as well as an iconic man of the people, Marins has turned a tired stereotype – the evil undertaker- into a macabre action hero, an immortal who confronts the hypocrisy in society by reflecting its repugnance in his own evil. His Coffin Joe films remain the most astonishing – violent, vehemently anti-Catholic, and volatile in their celebration of all things flesh. Besides, with his six inch long fingernails, it would be wonderful to see how he actually “accepts” his award. Could make for some very memorable television.
K. Gordon Murray
So what if he never really made a movie on his own. Who cares if he exported almost all of his product from behind the Iron Curtain (or from somewhere South of the Border) and redubbed it for clueless ’60s kiddies. Murray made a mountain of moolah providing such surreal matinee fodder as Little Red Riding Hood, Santa Claus, The Magic Land of Mother Goose, Curse of the Doll People, and Jack and Beanstalk. Most of these Russian/Ukranian/East German/Spanish/Mexican productions were blessed with big budgets and impressive effects, but Murray managed to find a way to sap all the magic out of these culturally specific fairy tales. With a major documentary on the man coming soon, it’s time Hollywood acknowledged his contribution to the crap kid vid it puts out today.