What Isn't There
During my brief tenure at Concord Films, B Movie King Roger Corman’s tiny but profitable film company, I had one opportunity to get close to the great one himself. His personal assistant needed two hours for a doctor’s appointment, and I was recruited to man the desk. Now was my Big Chance. Corman and I would fall to chatting, and being an insightful, streetwise Hollywood mogul he would spot my intelligence and moxie—and the rest would be history. It turns out my job was to sit at a desk ten feet from his closed door and answer the phone. The assistant whose job I was filling explained to me that unless the person on the other end of the line was one of Mr. Corman’s children, I was to apologetically inform the caller that Mr. Corman was “in a meeting.”
For two hours I answered call after call, apologized for Mr. Corman’s indisposedness, and recorded the callers’ names and numbers in a kind of ledger I suspected would never be read. I felt as if I had been recruited into the role of soulless gatekeeper in a Kafkaesque drama. The assistant returned from the doctor and reclaimed her chair. The door remained closed.
Just this morning I was flipping through my son’s copy of Top 100 Horror Movies, whose forward, lo and behold, had been written Corman, who waxed nostalgic for the days when filmmakers were forced to frighten their audiences with what wasn’t there. “It’s [the audience’s] imagination that does the heavy-lifting,” he wrote, “not some digital effects house in Hollywood.”
I have to agree with my old boss. Our imaginations will always be more frightening than what filmmakers or writers show us. Why? Because in filling in what isn’t there we will summon whatever frightens us most. We always frighten ourselves in this way—filling in the details of an unwritten future with nightmares we dream today. When the nightmares don’t come true, we usually forget we ever dreamed them.
I can’t think of Corman and not see that closed door. Like so many executives, editors, and agents, he can easily become one of those monsters hiding in the shadows of his early films, a cold closed door of a soul, uninterested in the aspirations of new talent—not a busy man, hoping for a call from his children.
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