Last week, legendary director/producer Roger Corman passed away at the grand age of 98 years old.

To say it was a life well lived would be an understatement. His vision for what film and its distribution could be changed the course of the medium’s trajectory, and he did it all through being a purveyor of shlock, camp, and low-budget absurdity. It’s not a stretch to say that the world would look differently without his mind.

Corman’s career and reputation began to ramp up and really solidify once the 1960s rolled around, his off-the-wall humour and lack of fear in looking tastelessness in the eye ripe for a slow cult audience build-up. The decade was perfect for someone like Corman. Audiences were ready for something different from the plastic world of old Hollywood, which had become stale bread by the start of the decade.

The Herald: Still from Roger Corman's directorial feature The Little Shop of Horrors from 1960, which is now considered a classic of camp horrorStill from Roger Corman's directorial feature The Little Shop of Horrors from 1960, which is now considered a classic of camp horror (Image: American International Pictures)
The suits chalked up falling interest to the rise in the household television, but Corman was no suit. He knew better. Society was changing, and people were looking for something with a strand of creative authenticity, something real and direct. Something outside the false walls that mainstream cinema had constructed for itself. His directorial efforts like The Little Shop of Horrors and The Intruder made his name as someone who could create and understand the form he was operating in, that he wasn’t just another salesman looking to market to an audience without care.

But it was as a producer that Corman really made his mark. It could be argued that he was not only the architect of cult film and the world of B-movies, but also the New Hollywood movement that swept mainstream cinema as the social changes of 1960s America came into focus.

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The names of who Corman has acted as mentor far outweigh his own name recognition, acting as some behind the scenes looming shadow that can make things move and shake. Among them: Peter Bogdanovich (his first directorial feature, the freeway killer thriller Targets, was under Corman’s tutelage), Martin Scorsese (although he had already directed his debut, it was the Corman-produced Boxcar Bertha that set the stage for the career we’re much more familiar with today), and Jonathan Demme (before his huge mainstream success with The Silence of the Lambs, he manned the Corman production Canned Heat, an exploitation flick that helped to popularise the ‘women in prison’ midnight showing trend).

The Herald: Boxcar Bertha, a 1972 Roger Corman production directed by Martin Scorsese, set the stage for Scorsese's breakout film Mean Streets the following yearBoxcar Bertha, a 1972 Roger Corman production directed by Martin Scorsese, set the stage for Scorsese's breakout film Mean Streets the following year (Image: American International Pictures)
Corman’s passing is monumental because he was the last of a dying breed. Creatives like Corman don’t exist anymore, they simply can’t. The film industry has closed in on itself and is no longer a place of wonder that can be moulded in the image of its creatives (if it ever was). The opportunities for a singular mind to break in, shed industry orthodoxy, and leave their mark and influence, has ceased to exist. The infrastructure and access to resources that Corman built for himself would be a fool’s errand to replicate now – the house always wins.

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Filmmaker John Boorman wrote in to The Guardian following Corman’s passing, summing up just how far away from tradition Corman’s process was at the time: “He often reversed the process of making a film. If someone came to him with an idea, he would give it a title, get a poster made, then test it on audiences. If they responded well, he would get someone to write a script based on the poster.”

This allowed him to generate immediate, appealing ideas that audiences were looking to get on board with. The film industry Corman knew wasn’t looking to understand its audience, so it was to the advantage of Corman that he was always on the front foot of how people feel and react to his ideas. This process was a far cry from the norm of gauging reaction when already deep in the post-production process, where it’s too late to do anything if a film idea lacks a central appeal.

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Corman was not an island unto himself when it came to approach, however. As much of a career architect as he was, his own career was built on his work with producer William Castle, whose attention-grabbing gimmicks for his low-budget monster movies in the 1950s opened Corman’s eyes to a different way of doing things. Think novelty barf bags handed out to audiences as they entered the screening. But Corman had no limits in approach, applying this independent mindset to a myriad of contexts, spreading his influence further than the small world of that decade’s monster movies.

It’s difficult to imagine what American film and film in general would be without the seeds Corman planted and helped to grow. Although it’s easy to imagine that it would be much greyer, less in tune with the sensibilities of what people truly enjoy on-screen, and would be far less interesting without the fruits of what Corman helped to build. It’s not a comfort that there will never be anyone like Corman again, but it certainly helps show just how vital he was in this world.