My lovely wife and I are quickly becoming fervid, fevered fans of Beyond Fest, which is sponsored by the American Cinematheque and held every fall at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA and the Los Feliz in... well, Los Feliz. Last year, as you may remember, we attended the Beyond Fest “Shatner-thon,” consisting of three movies and A Q & A with Captain Kirk himself. You can read about that adventure here.
This year, Beyond Fest upped the ante, presenting a four-screening overview of Roger Corman’s work, and an impossible-to-beat panel discussion featuring filmmakers he mentored and the man himself. It was quite a day.
Suffice it to say that I almost missed this, but am SO glad that I went. When it comes to movies, always go. Never bail. EVEN IF YOUR LEFT ARM IS HANGING BY A SINGLE TENDON, GO TO THE GODDAMN SCREENING. Movies are life-giving; YOU CAN BLEED LATER.
That is my advice to you, the reader.
Accompanied by my lovely wife and the scrumptious lunch she packed, (We were going to be in the theater for more than eight hours, for God’s sake.) we hopped on the 101, then the 405, then arrived at the Aero, Santa Monica’s answer to Chicago's Music Box Theater. I've begged her to stop doing Halloween crafts long enough to help me paint you a picture of our afternoon with King Corman.
Rock ‘N’ Roll High School (1979)
JAN: All the afternoon's film prints looked great; plus, the Aero's audiences are always positive and invested. This made for a high-energy, super-fun first screening of the day. P.J. Soles was born to play Riff Randell, and she's incredibly appealing and genuine here as a girl passionately devoted to what she loves. If you like the Ramones, high school movies, P.J. Soles, or fun, but you have NOT seen Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, why are you even reading this? You should be watching Rock ‘N’ Roll High School with people who also like those exact things.
JOHN: I had not seen this film for a dog’s age, and I was reminded last Saturday of its original, crazy energy. In what would prove to be true for all the screenings at the Fest, seeing these crowd-pleasers with an actual CROWD was essential. Say what you wish about Corman, he knew what people liked. I was impressed by how many of Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’s jokes still landed 44 years later. As a former high-school teacher, some of my favorites were Principal Togar’s constant threats about “your permanent record,” that would “follow you for the rest of your life.” I remember that great lie from my former career.
What a load of horse shit.
Grand Theft Auto (1977)
People who buy a ticket to Grand Theft Auto in order to see car crashes and car stunts gets their money’s worth.
JAN: First watch for me, and I had a great time with it! It had the kind of frantic energy I often associate with Corman films and a lot of things going smash—at one point, a fruit cart is blown up while someone off-screen yells "FRICKIN' FRUIT CART!"
Despite the familiar tropes, the script makes us care about its two young protagonists and there are plenty of truly impressive stunts and surprises along the way. Nothing looks cheap and nobody phones it in. This would be a super-fun drive-in watch.
Piranha (1978)Joe Dante and it shows. This is another part of Corman's genius: an eye for young talent and the guts to let them do their thing.
JOHN: I have seen this film SO MANY times. My most memorable screening (besides this one) was years ago at Wonderfest, with featured actor Kevin McCarthy in attendance. When the McCarthy character is (Spoiler alert for this 45-year-old film titled Piranha!) eaten by piranhas, some wag in the audience shouted, “I didn’t know piranhas ate ham!” The audience was aghast, but McCarthy took the jibe with good humor. He was the best!
Like many of Corman’s most popular films, this was made to capitalize on a successful previous release; in this case, the world-wide sensation that was Jaws, released only three years earlier. Joe Dante’s paean to hungry water monsters is not coy about its own status as a cash-in; it’s also a fun, well-made film in its own right. As Dante said later during the panel discussion, “Roger taught me that if you’re going to make a Women in Cages movie, make the best Women in Cages movie you can." This is clearly the best "killer fish" movie that Dante could make in 1978.
This comment reminded me of a conversation that Patrick and I often had in the early days of F This Movie. Friends and family members would upbraid him for criticizing movies like Transformers, saying, “It’s about talking killer robots, what do you expect?” Patrick always answered, “I expect a GREAT movie about talking killer robots.”
The Raven (1963)
It was nice to hear the audience’s cries of recognition the first time Jack Nicholson appears on screen. Everybody always forgets that he’s in this one!
JAN: Full disclosure: I fell asleep. This movie is THIN and Peter Lorre weirds me out. The Raven would be better if Price simply read Poe's poem aloud for the first ten minutes, then spent the rest of the movie chatting about old Hollywood while whipping up a batch of Boris Karloff's potted shrimp.
(You can tell by the way he whisks his anti-bird potion early in the film that Price was a indeed a gourmet chef!)
Hail to the King: The Panel Discussion
JAN: The panel included Allan Arkush, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Amy Holden Jones, and producer Jon Davison, as well as the man himself, Roger Corman. FFS, it was moderated by Mick Garris. I practically got a contact high from the creative talent, love, and professional respect flowing from the stage. Was it an amazing privilege to work with Corman? Maybe this quote from Amy Holden Jones will answer that question for you: "I passed on [editing] ET to make Slumber Party Massacre... and it was the best decision I ever made."
To echo JB's advice about not bailing on a movie, here's my favorite Corman quote of the afternoon: "No matter what happens—keep shooting. Keep shooting."
JOHN: The panel discussion was a love letter to Roger Corman, a studio head who actually knew how to make and market movies. (The subtitle of his autobiography reads, “How I Made 100 Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.”) What the panelists kept emphasizing, beyond their love and appreciation for Corman, was how much they learned from a guy who knew filmmaking inside and out. Each panelists mentioned that studio heads now 1) DO NOT know how to make movies, 2) DO NOT know how to communicate what they want and, most ominously, 3) DO NOT know how to tell good from bad. Joe Dante got emotional explaining how important it is, when starting your career, to be nurtured by someone WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING.
Hail to the King, indeed.