Roger Corman's singular film career is often preceded by its reputation.
There's its sheer volume (over 50 titles directed, over 300 produced). There's the slew of famous filmmakers—Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and many more—whose careers were effectively launched by his stewardship. Corman's nicknames include "the Pope of Pop Cinema" and the tag "schlockmeister," which he always detested. And don't forget the almost avant-garde frugality that led Corman and his acolytes to turn financial bottom lines into playgrounds.
Overshadowed in all this are the films themselves. In turn, Hollywood Theatre head programmer Dan Halsted began his online Roger Corman Master Class on Jan. 5 with a clear superlative: Corman is one of America's great filmmakers and grossly underrated.
"It's amazing to me he isn't given respect as a director," says Halsted, the instructor for the four-week Movie Madness University course. "I think what's really fascinating about him as a director is that so many of his movies are vastly different from each other, like Orson Welles' movies."
To prove that point, the four sessions carefully outline Corman's overwhelmingly large filmography and the cinematic visions he cultivated, starting with his own. The series began two weeks ago with documentarian Alex Stapleton and a discussion of The Intruder (1962), a little-seen drama following a devilishly slick white supremacist (William Shatner) agitating white Southerners against school integration. It's a searing character study that illustrates Corman's facility with a camera, a controversial idea, a young movie star and a guerrilla style at its most daring.
To say nothing of Corman's teaching ability or prolific producing, The Intruder makes its own case for why Master Class' other three guests—Peter Bogdanovich, John Sayles and Joe Dante—were attracted to the independent film giant. He could render so much with so little.
Tickets are still available for this month's live online discussions with directors Sayles (Matewan, Eight Men Out) and Dante (Gremlins, The 'Burbs), each discussing one of his own Corman-produced films, conversing with Halsted and answering audience questions.
On Jan. 19, Sayles will revisit his 1979 gangster film, The Lady in Red, which Quentin Tarantino hailed as boasting "the best script ever written for an exploitation movie." It also represents a high-water mark for Julie Corman, who, in addition to being Roger's spouse, was an integral producer throughout his 1970s exploitation glory days.
"Tarantino is right," Halsted says. "It's a great movie, really gritty, fun, violent, just rips along."
The following week, Dante talks Piranha, his 1978 creature feature that swam in Jaws' bloody wake. As a just-announced bonus, Allan Arkush (Rock 'n' Roll High School) will also join the Piranha discussion; he and Dante came up together in Corman's editing room.
"[Joe Dante] does dark comedy better than anybody," Halsted says, "and I love all the animals-on-a-rampage movies. I always want the animals to win."
Evidenced by the Master Class lineup, Halsted and the Hollywood have excelled at connecting with film icons during the pandemic. Last year, Guillermo del Toro recorded a Hollywood at Home video for them, and Halsted joined Tarantino and RZA in conversation for other projects. The past 11 months have, at the very least, made famous artists more available to chat. As for the Master Class guests, Halsted credits Corman's influence for his request emails getting enthusiastically returned "in, like, 10 minutes."
"They owe their careers to him," Halsted says, "Those [first films] are the movies they're really passionate about."
Even if the sheer status of the guests borders on the "surreal," Halsted views the interviews mostly as an opportunity to share unheralded work with Portland, especially since Movie Madness University falls within the Hollywood's education wing. Whatever he can do to elevate the films themselves (which Halsted mentions are all available at Movie Madness) alongside Corman's larger legend.
"I'm always interested in showing movies that people don't know," Halsted says. "What's the point if people have seen it 100 times? I would consider this a success if more people appreciate Roger Corman's work and take him seriously."
see it: Tickets to the remaining sessions in the Roger Corman Master Class on Tuesday, Jan. 19 and 26, are available at hollywoodtheatre.org. 7 pm. $12 per class.