Review: Hollywood’s Wild Angel

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

I’ve never had the opportunity to see Allan Arkush and Joe Dante’s Hollywood Boulevard;on the other hand, I suspect that I saw a fair portion of it in Roger Corman: Hollywood’s Wild Angel,Christian Blackwood’s genial film dossier on Roger Corman, whose New World Pictures released the movie. From what we see, and from what Arkush and Dante gleefully confess to Blackwood’s camera and microphone, Hollywood Boulevardis an outrageous, pell-mell celebration/put-on of low-budget, high-energy exploitation filmmaking. A couple of wild’n’crazy kids with a movie camera rip off every cinematic opportunity in sight to produce a zany compendium of Z-movie sex’n’violence; the surrounding environment and not a few of its inhabitants get trashed in the process, but no big deal. Arkush and Dante, a pair of sweet-faced loons who would not look out of place at a freshman smoker, did the same thing in a slightly less destructive key—for instance, taking pictures of a few honeys firing submachine guns in Griffith Park, and splicing these in with borrowed Philippine footage of soldiers biting the dust—and then they showed the results to Roger Corman who said, Very funny, here’s the money for the lab costs, I’ll buy it. One always hoped things like that happened in Roger Corman’s neighborhood, and among the many pleasures of Blackwood’s 58-minute documentary is that that hope gets confirmed again and again.

Besides Arkush-Dante, who continue to do second-unit and pickup work on other Corman productions, and occasionally manage to knock off a Rock ‘n’ Roll High Schoolof their own, several distinguished Corman alumni eagerly testify to the invaluable boost his patronage gave to their careers: disreputable actor David Carradine, actor-directors Peter Fonda and Ron Howard, directors Paul Bartel, Jonathan Demme, Jonathan Kaplan and Martin Scorsese. Neither they nor the pleasant, articulate Corman have any illusions about the producer-distributor’s altruism: for comparatively little outlay, Corman stands to profit from an immediately salable result and the development of valuable talent; and the filmmakers harbor no resentment over being exploited, since they’re getting a marvelous opportunity to strut their stuff—to learn their stuff, for that matter.

Corman’s preeminent interest in avoiding viewer boredom does not make for the most exalted aesthetics, but it encourages good, basic movie sense. One protégé after another quotes the head man’s practical advice about speed, angles, movement; in a particularly ingratiating moment, Demme is talking into the camera, recalls Corman’s adjuration to keep things moving, and (spontaneously?) proposes, “Shall we move, by the way?”, strolling off down a studio street and continuing his remarks all the while. This sort of unpretentious wit and self-awareness keeps arcing from one level to another within Blackwood’s own film and, along with such colorful business as the second-unit demolition of a tract home, numerous cuts from Hollywood Boulevard,and wonderfully laidback commentary by the interviewees, makes Hollywood’s Wild Angela good deal more than a talking-head movie.

Richard Koszarski’s thoughtful overview does a lot, in very short order, to clarify just when and why Corman abandoned direction of his own films to concentrate on shaping and distributing the films of others—although, as Paul Bartel says, Corman seems to believe in the producer-as-auteur and remains essentially in charge no matter who is directing. We accept the likelihood of this even as we listen to Jonathan Kaplan’s hilarious account of how he came to direct an installment of New World’s “nurses cycle,” and was turned loose with nothing beyond instructions to get in “one shot of frontal nudity from the waist up, and one shot of total nudity from the back” somewhere along the line. Hollywood’s Wild Angelis endlessly quotable, but my favorite moment has to be Peter Fonda’s daft aside on Bruce Dern’s participation in The Trip,where he was supposedly an LSD guru. Yet: “Dernsy doesn’t do drugs. Dernsy doesn’t do drugs or tobacco or firearms…” “Dernsy doesn’t do firearms”—only in L.A.!

© 1980 Richard T. Jameson

ROGER CORMAN: HOLLYWOOD’S WILD ANGEL
Direction and production: Christian Blackwood. Commentary: Richard Koszarski.
Interviewees: Roger Corman, Allan Arkush, Paul Bartel, David Carradine, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda, Ron Howard, Jonathan Kaplan, Martin Scorsese.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.


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