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The Pocket Essential Roger Corman – Mark Whitehead

Pocket Essential Roger Corman

Pocket Essentials , 96 pages , £3.99 , PB
Bitesize: Meet Roger Corman – one of the originals . . .

Roger Corman is one of the legends of low budget and exploitation cinema; a rare combination of guerrilla tactic director and shrewd businessman. Pocket Essential Roger Corman by Mark Whitehead deals with his work as a director whilst briefly touching upon his other roles. There is good reason for this – there would be no way a 96 page book could even scratch the surface of his impact on drive-in cinemas and their audiences, his mentoring of (now) major Hollywood players and his numerous business successes. Even by concentrating on his directorial work there is much ground to cover, Corman being synonymous with the quick shoot, as can be seen in his classic black comedy The Little Shop of Horrors.

Whitehead tackles his subject with the clear love of Corman’s genre-smashing cult oeuvre, from the early formulaic westerns, through the science fiction B-movies of the fifties, the more upmarket, critically acclaimed Poe cycle to his hippie films of the late sixties and beyond. Rather than provide in-depth criticism of the films, Whitehead’s approach is to use the endless amusing or interesting anecdotes associated with the films to drive the book onwards. This makes for entertaining reading but also places the films firmly in their commercial and social context. This is not to say that judgement is reserved or praise universal. Travesties such as Viking Women and Ski Troop Attack are given suitably short shrift, although the stories concerning their making are fascinating: the former’s disastrous warship fiasco and the latter containing a real avalanche when Corman yelled “Action!” into his megaphone. Intermingled with this are the tales of ridiculously tight budgeting and Corman’s attempts at severing ties with bargain basement producers at AIP.

All great stuff and an inspiration to potential film-makers/entrepreneurs alike. At no point does the importance of Corman’s collaborators go unchecked either, as Whitehead places the canon more firmly in the mould of collaborative rather than auteur film-making.

Any Cop?: Roger Corman is favourably remembered for producing succinct, short, interesting, entertaining work without pretension. Mark Whiteheads’ book could easily be said to do the same.