The George Eastman Award for distinguished contribution to the art of film was established in 1955, and was the first award by an American film archive to honor artistic work of enduring value. In bestowing this honor, we recognize individuals who have enriched the field of motion pictures. Legendary recipients have ranged from George Cukor and Fred Astaire to Martin Scorsese and Meryl Steep.
This year’s award, being presented to Roger Corman on November 2, marks our belated embrace of independent cinema. Far surpassing his reputation as the undisputed king of B-movies, Corman has had an enormous impact on both independent and mainstream cinema over the past six decades. He is the paragon of the independents.
Best known for The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)—said to have been filmed in just two days—and his Edgar Allan Poe cycle starring Vincent Price, Corman has had a long career as a director of groundbreaking and entertaining films. He fearlessly approached every subject he covered, from monster movies and gangster films to psychedelic drugs and burgeoning countercultures. In 1962, he made the only feature film about the civil rights movement to be made during the civil rights movement: The Intruder, starring William Shatner, which was shot on location in the Deep South.
Corman’s dedication to independent film production quickly set him apart from other producers and directors in the 1950s and 1960s. Having produced more than 550 films, Corman is known for working with incredibly small budgets and in short periods of time. The films he produced and directed in the 1950s for American International Pictures were highly successful, low-budget features— the kinds of films he has continued to make and support throughout his career.
With a famously sharp eye for talent, Corman is credited with having discovered some of the most remarkable actors and directors of the last five decades. He fostered the careers of Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Robert De Niro, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, and James Cameron, among many others. Corman was a sympathetic and accessible mentor, often giving those with little or no experience opportunities to direct or star in his films.
Corman’s sense for great cinema has reached far beyond his own productions. In the 1970s, he brought to American audiences foreign-language films that were ignored by major distributors.
New World Pictures, the company that Corman founded with his brother in 1970, distributed not only a slew of Corman’s own films, but also masterpieces by auteurs such as Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and François Truffaut, as well as important works by less well-known foreign directors.
As director, producer, mentor, and distributor, Roger Corman has helped to define motion pictures. Join us in celebrating a true American independent as we honor Roger Corman for his exceptional career and tremendous contributions to cinema.
Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Field Director
September/October 2013 Bulletin