Friday, June 7, 2013

Roger Corman Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple

I love New York. It’s a marvelous mix of high and low culture, seasoned with multi-ethnic spice. On my most recent trip, I visited the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of the New York Public Library housed on Malcolm X Boulevard in the heart of Harlem. Afterwards, I crossed the street for a soul food buffet lunch, New York style: you could heap your plate with spareribs, collard greens, and candied yams, but also quinoa and a tasty-looking tofu-mango salad. The counter man was Korean, and a sign offered bagels for sale. Days later, on route through Queens to the airport, I spotted a cafe called Salt and Fat, which features a sort of Down-Home Southern- Fried Asian cuisine, as well as the glatt kosher King David Sushi Bar.

Filmmakers love New York too. Spike Lee has made a career out of capturing the many moods of Brooklyn. Woody Allen’s best films are love letters to Manhattan. And Martin Scorsese has explored the high life, the low life, and the wild life of New York City throughout his long career. (But you’ll have to read my Roger Corman bio to find out why Scorsese’s breakout film, Mean Streets -- though depicting lowlife types in New York’s Little Italy -- was actually filmed in L.A.)

When I was last in the Big Apple, Lower Manhattan was hosting the Tribecca Film Festival, as it has every year since 2002, when the area was still reeling from the aftereffects of 9/11. Still, New York’s cultural lifeblood remains the theatre. I was lucky enough to have dinner at the Players Club, founded by the great Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth (yes, the brother of John Wilkes) back in 1888. Edwin Booth kept his own private apartment at the club, and died in 1893 in a bed that remains on display. Fortunately, he’s no longer in it. The club’s hallways are covered with the portraits of famous members, from Mark Twain and George M. Cohan to Kevin Spacey and Ethan Hawke and almost any star you can think of. 

Right now, of course, there’s an extra-special focus on theatre, because the annual Tony Awards, honoring Broadway’s finest, will be presented June 9.  As always it will be televised, and promises to be a jolly good show. With, I can assure you, a lot of Hollywood celebrities on display. Prominent among them this year should be Hollywood’s own Tom Hanks, who’s in the running for Best Actor for his role in Nora Ephron’s final play, Lucky Guy. TV’s delightful Neil Patrick Harris has become the perennial Tony emcee, and one of the leading candidates for Best New Musical is based on 2005’s cinematic drag show, Kinky Boots. (Last year’s winner in this category was yet another film-into-stage-musical conversion, based on the Irish indie, Once.)  

There was a time, not long ago, when even Roger Corman was living in New York. In 2000, Roger’s wife Julie was named chair of the prestigious graduate film and television department at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. (Alumni include Spike Lee, Ang Lee, and Corman protégé Martin Scorsese.) Of course, the job necessitated a move to Manhattan. The Cormans bought a Fifth Avenue apartment, and Roger set about becoming bicoastal, even though he detests cold weather. While in NYC he discovered at least one promising young student filmmaker, but the hopes that he’d stick around and hobnob with the New York indie film community (like Troma’s irrepressible Lloyd Kaufman) were soon dashed.  In 2002, Julie quit her NYU post, and it was back to Southern California for good.

In tribute to the late Esther Williams, check out this post from my archives. (More to come.)


  1. Wow - I never knew that the Cormans had vacated California for almost two years! How did the Corman empire carry on with the boss 3000 miles away?

    I think it's really wild that all of these rather small indie movies are becoming raging successes as Broadway shows. If you were going to plunk down your money for a ticket - which would you prefer - a lavish new staging of a Broadway classic; a musical adaptation of some small independent film; or something entirely new and never before performed?

  2. Well, Roger went back and forth for about 18 months -- he was never solely in NYC. Regarding plunking down money, I did that to see "Once," because I was very curious as to how that translated to the stage. Frankly, I enjoyed it, but probably not enough to have shelled out so much. I'm struggling to answer your question, Mr. C. I'd wait to read some reviews before I committed to anything, and the cast would make a difference too. I always root for the new and different, but so much has been disappointing of late. There are some gutsy new shows I haven't really loved ("Next to Normal," for one; "Spring Awakening" for another). But I'm not a big fan of the slick and splashy. Just returned from seeing The Scotsboro Boys locally: brave and remarkable, and a great valedictory for Fred Ebb!