An Encounter with Roger Corman at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Movie-buffs and fans of Gothic horror films were in for a rare treat at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni yesterday evening at the very special opening event of An outlaw in Hollywood: The world of Roger Corman, a film retrospective dedicated to the legendary director and producer. Prior to the screening of his 1961 classic adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story The Pit and the Pendulum, starring a wonderfully histrionic Vincent Price, the undisputed King of the B-movie Roger Corman appeared in person before a packed audience, who warmly applauded his entrance before any introductions were necessary, joining Mario Sesti on stage for a relaxed and fascinating conversation.

A phenomenally prolific independent filmmaker – Corman has either directed or produced over 400 titles – it would be hard to sum up such a long and successful career, yet through a series of pertinent questions from Sesti and generous answers from Corman, yesterday's encounter managed to do precisely that. Starting with his beginnings as a runner at 20th Century Fox, through anecdotes about taking LSD with Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and the then-screenwriter Jack Nicholson, as preparation for the 1967 drugs movie The Trip (“as a conscientious director I thought I should take LSD and find out what it was like so that I could interpret the experience in the film”), right up to his latest project, a collaboration with Las Vegas film students on a heist movie with a twist called Stealing Las Vegas, this was a rewarding introduction to his work.

When asked by Sesti if it was true that The Little Shop of Horrors was made in only three days, he added that he had, in fact, pulled it off in two days and one night! Making use of a free studio, director and crew approached the film as “a joke as well as a challenge” confessing that nobody took themselves seriously on that film and that the spirit on set had positively affected the finished film. Confirming another much quoted comment from Corman, that he had never made a film that was the film he had intended to make, he went on to clarify in typically modest fashion, that a film always changes during shooting because of the input and thoughts of everybody working on the film – Corman always encouraged a camaraderie on set which helped to create new ideas, concluding that “it's director's job to pull all the thoughts together”.

The roll call of directors who were given their first big breaks thanks to Roger Corman consists of names that are now part of the Hollywood aristocracy - Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jonathan Demme were just some of the names mentioned yesterday evening. Linking film studios to a long tradition starting with the Renaissance artistic studio system whereby students of great masters might eventually go on to become great artists in their own right, Corman was also at pains to stress that these great directors would have always found success even without his involvement, because of their extraordinary talent, conceding only that “it just may have taken them a little longer”.

Generous to a fault he then signed autographs and posed for photographs for the numerous admirers who surrounded him at the close of the talk, before leaving us to enjoy one of his most iconic movies. A wonderful evening – thank you Mr Corman!

An outlaw in Hollywood - The world of Roger Corman continues at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni until 29 April 2012.