Friday, June 2, 2017

The Wonder Women of Roger Corman

This weekend Hollywood’s salvation hangs on a new movie featuring a hero who’s 100% female. After limping through a Memorial Weekend in which few people seemed primed for moviegoing, the studios have pinned their hopes on a DC comic book franchise. Nothing new there, except for the fact this particular franchise boasts a star-spangled female in the leading role. Yes, we’re talking about Wonder Woman, an update of the kitschy Lynda Carter TV series from the 1970s. The splashy new film, starring Gal Gadot, not only features a woman but it’s also directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. It’s no accident, I suspect, that Jenkins was also responsible (back in 2003) for another major movie whose central role was a strong, tough female. Monster, the biopic about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, won an Oscar for a hugely deglammed Charlize Theron. I suspect Wonder Woman is not an Oscar part, but I’m happy to see Jenkins given the reins to a major action film. And, of course, it’s lovely to root for something we encounter all too rarely in the movie world: a woman who’s powerful, good, and at the very center of things.

But of course Roger Corman has been doing this for years. The very canny Mr. Corman has always had a yen for strong women, which is one of the reasons he’s given so many of them their start in the movie industry. (Gale Anne Hurd, I’m thinking particularly of you! But countless other eager would-be writers, editors, directors, and producers of the female persuasion have also emerged from Corman companies. And, hey, I got my start there too.) Roger’s reliance on women behind the scenes has never been merely altruistic. He loves to say he prefers to hire women, for the simple reason that they’re smarter, work cheaper, and are more loyal. Other logic is at work as well. When Roger chose to make women-in-jeopardy movies like the three Slumber Party Massacre films, he stragically gave plum creative assignments to female writers like Rita Mae Brown and female directors like Amy Holden Jones.That way he should shrug off any objections to the lurid subject matter: after all, on these rape-fantasy films it was women who were running the show.

Roger may like to have strong women on his crews and in his office, but he really appreciates seeing strong, bodacious women on screen, playing central roles. That’s why, back in the Seventies, Pam Grier was such an incredible find. No shrinking violent she – Pam was generally depicted fighting for her life in a Roman arena or busting out of a Philippine prison. Roger’s female characters both from his New World and his Concorde-New Horizons years tend to be martial artists (TNT Jackson, Angel Fist), spirited criminals (Big Bad Mama), and tough lady cops (Silk). When sword-and-sandal fantasy was hot, he made several iterations of Barbarian Queen, casting the Amazon-like Lana Clarkson as a scantily clad but heroic leader of the fight against the bloodthirsty Roman empire. (It was Clarkson, alas, who died tragically after an ill-fated visit to the home of record producer Phil Spector in 2003.)

 Then in the Nineties came Black Scorpion, cop by day and superhero by night. She uses brains, brawn, and a really cool car to defeat villains with funny names like Gangster Prankster and Aftershock. The two Corman films and subsequent television episodes work to capture the pop-art flavor of the old Batman TV series. In 1995, Corman told a reporter, tongue firmly in cheek, “Where we economized was on the Scorpion’s costume—it doesn’t cover up a lot of her.”  

No comments:

Post a Comment