In 1939 the Academy gave an honorary Oscar to Edgar Bergen for creating a funny puppet. Some people may have thought that was silly. They also may have found it silly that a strange little "cartoon" called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs earned itself an honorary Oscar. The legendary Bob Hope was given a fistful of honorary Oscars over the course of his amazing career ... and I don't remember anyone calling Bob Hope a brilliant actor or influential filmmaker.
In other words, these "honorary" awards that are handed out by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) can be given for any old reason they feel like -- and I for one am thrilled that they've decided to give one to Roger Corman this year. My illustrious colleague Eric Snider clearly doesn't feel the same way, and I'm here to tell Eric he's dead wrong. Wonderfully funny and a snappy dresser, sure, but on this position ... dead wrong.
One day George Lucas will receive a similar award from the Academy. At that time you'll have film fans who say "Absolutely. For just the technical advances that he and his colleagues have created, and for his massive influence on modern-day film exhibition, he's certainly deserving of an Oscar spotlight." You'll also have film fans who say "The director of Star Wars, THX-1138, American Graffiti and The Phantom Menace? Really? The guy who produced Radioland Murders and Howard the Duck? I don't believe it! Typical Hollywood politics!"
The knock against Roger Corman's honorary Oscar seems to be that he's a B-movie producer. Rarely a writer, hardly a great director, but the producer of hundreds of cheaply-made, simplistic movies that pander to an audience's lust for monsters, violence, bouncy babes, and basic exploitation. And to that I say this: "Yeah, so?" With a lot more money in his pocket, Roger Corman could have been the pre-Spielberg Spielberg (if only in his producer's shoes), but instead he was content to fill your local movie house with what he had: monsters, violence, bouncy babes, and basic exploitation.
And what the hell is wrong with that? The umbrage that Mr. Snider exhibits may come from a lifetime of stuffy Oscar awards that are doled out to arthouse films and esoteric filmmakers ... but what's wrong with celebrating one of moviedom's most reliable exports ... the schlock? Must every Oscar be for well-scrubbed period pieces about a hot woman dying of consumption? Is there no room in the Oscar hallways for inexpensive and fun B-movies? Are schlocky films not films?
Sure I could sit here and support Roger Corman by saying he's a film producer who gave early jobs to Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, John Sayles, James Cameron, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Nicolas Roeg, and dozens of other directors. But that's the easy way. I could also assert that, despite what people seem to think, not ALL of Corman's features were bad films. (I'll allow you to decide which ones his best.) But I think the numbers speak for themselves: A "B-movie producer" does not survive hundreds of films and five decades in the movie business unless A) he's doing something right, and B) people actually like working with him.
And that's the message that Roger Corman's honorary Oscar sends to me: That you don't have to grasp for awards with your "disease of the week" Oscar bait movie; that you can build an empire out of motorcycle flicks, monster movies, and (awesome) Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and that (best of all) you can earn a very swanky Oscar for creating cheap, basic, topical B-movies that (here's the kicker) people still love watching four decades later. To say nothing of all the great films that came from directors who learned their craft in Corman's "work as you learn" film school. Or the thousands of young movie geeks who grew up on Corman matinees on their UHF stations ... without even knowing it?
Yes, Roger Corman absolutely deserves his honorary Oscar. Hell, I say give the man two.