Friday, December 10, 2021

Catherine Corman: Avant-Garde Chip Off the Old Block

I wasn’t part of the Roger Corman universe when his daughter Catherine was born. By the time the first Corman child made her appearance, I had moved on to other things. But my spies at New World Pictures described for me the excitement caused by her arrival on May 2, 1975. An announcement in Boxoffice ten days later listed the newborn’s name as Aimee. This error probably reflects the long, arduous process that went into choosing a name for each Corman offspring. For weeks after the birth, the office staff was polled about possible choices for the new arrival. I’m told that when the name Catherine Corman was finally unveiled, someone joked that it would look good on a marquee. At this Roger turned grave, then said, “Let’s think of it as a working title.”

 Later, at Roger’s Concorde-New Horizons I had no personal contact with Catherine over the years, even though she had a featured role in his return to directing, Frankenstein Unbound. (She did a creditable job as an unfortunate servant girl, though it must have seemed strange to Roger to film his fourteen-year-old daughter being hanged.) But as the end of her high school years approached, I found myself caught up in Catherine’s college plans. More than once Roger asked me, “as a friend,” to critique her class essays and college application forms, by way of giving her every possible advantage when it came to being accepted by a prestige school. I doubt she knew of my involvement, and—quite honestly—she didn’t need my help. Catherine was a bright and serious young lady, graduating from a high-powered prep school, and her celebrated family hardly hurt her chances for success. When she was accepted at both Harvard and Stanford (Roger’s own alma mater), her proud papa gathered office alumni of both of these schools, who were tasked with convincing her of their relative merits. (Which college did Roger himself prefer? This changed from day to day, but he alternately felt strongly about each of the two options.)

 Catherine ultimately chose Harvard, and began to focus on highly intellectual fine-arts projects blending literature and photography. Not for her the kinds of work that had made her father famous: sexy and gruesome action thrillers and Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Her published works include the collage-like Joseph Cornell’s Dream, a photographic tour of Philip Marlowe’s L.A. at high noon (Daylight Noir), and a verse-and-image collection called Romanticism that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. At a young age she was entrusted with the key role of production manager on a Corman film shot in India, but her own filmmaking forays have been far less commercial than those of her father Roger and her mother, producer Julie Corman. In the last week, I’ve spotted several news stories about her latest cinematic endeavor: a 4-minute short film shot on Super 8, reflecting the writings of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. The moody short, called Lost Horizon, was somewhat of a pandemic home-movie project, featuring both her famous father and her sister, Mary Tessa. It’s been long-listed for an Oscar, and she promises additional films to come.

  Life within the Corman family has been famously turbulent of late, with Catherine’s two brothers acrimoniously suing their parents in 2009. But Catherine’s always been known as the family peacemaker, working hard to smooth over tensions. I love the fact that she’s always quick to credit her 95-year-old dad, whose own latest project is a re-tread of Slumber Party Massacre, for teaching her to love art. Yes, her name may find itself on a marquee sometime soon.

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