Surrealism & My Films

by Roger Corman (translated by Jim Knox)

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Translated by Jim Knox from the French. Originally published in Etudes Cinematographiques # 41/42 (1965) "Surrealisme et Cinema"; Yves Kovacs, editor. Copyright, Jim Knox 2001

The most interesting aspect of surrealism resides, to my mind, in the attempt to describe the machinations of the subconscious, and its influence upon conscious perception. Within the dimensions of this process is a permanent phenomenon, that of the subconscious, and to my mind, expressing visually more than verbally, the possibilities of the cinema are the perfect means for expressing this surrealist ideal. In America, more than elsewhere, the word surrealism has retained its original association with painting. But a painter can only depict a moment in time; I'm more influenced by those writers who describe and interpret, in a very precise fashion, what proceeds from the subconscious mind.

Two writers possess a pivotal influence. Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka aren't commonly considered to be surrealist writers. But the fact that the world, perceived and reflected through their subconscious, has become a different world for their readers, provides me an example of the supremacy of a surrealism which will illustrate dynamics (in the sense that it shows the subconscious in action), over a "certified" surrealism (which is content to show us that the subconscious exists).

As to how this concerns my own films, I don't think they properly qualify as purely surrealist. They're approaching surrealism. I'm always trying, in my work, to illustrate the conscious life of the individual and explain how that life is influenced by the subconscious. Accordingly, I explore the frontier between the real world and the fantastic, and show that, while these worlds are very different, they nevertheless influence one another. To give an example of this subconscious activity: I've often used the dream, in order to establish clearly that we've left behind the real world and entered into the fantastic world of the spirit. And yet, the real world is equally influenced by our subconscious. The clothes we wear, or the house we live in, the life we lead; everything is influenced by our subconscious as well as our conscious mind, so by photographing the concrete objects of the our real world and our relationship to them, we photograph a part of our subconscious, to the extent that it determines our universe. If, for example, we show a man in a red sports car, that he chose among many others, and it drives, very fast, along a winding mountain road punctuated by tunnels, we express a part of his unconscious desires. But, right now, we show the car and the mountains as they are. If we photograph them through a red filter, we emerge from reality to enter into a fantastic universe. This distinction is very important to me.

True surrealism is more akin to fantasy, or the world of dream, where we observe the subconscious directly in action; while a variation of surrealism deals with the real world, where the effects of the subconscious are described indirectly. That pure surrealism is a very powerful domain, but the limits I'm obliged to observe in my work - also powerful! - compel me to explore the broader terrain of an indirect surrealism. One and the other seem to me equally useful, and the choice is determined by necessity and opportunity.

Another question has always interested me. That's the problem of knowing to what extent the artist's work is at the control of their spirit. One makes a conscious attempt to express with the symbols of our subconscious, but what we know is so tiny, its inevitable that a major part of the work is unconscious, and that someone will find powerful significances where the author doesn't. These significances will be valid, just the same.

Roger Corman is the Director of almost one hundred feature films; among them, "A Bucket Of Blood", "The Pit And The Pendulum", and "De Sade". Through his production and distribution interests he championed the early careers of Nicholas Roeg, Martin Scorsese, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, and very many others. His autobiography is "How I Made A Hundred Films And Never Lost A Dime".