Music in the movies got more interesting when I was a approaching my teens. Of course I didn’t realize that until I saw Jeff Beck smash his guitar to bits in Blow-Up, which I wouldn’t have seen at all but Mrs. Silverman wanted her son Robert and me out of her house. So Mr. Silverman, the projectionist, brought us to work with him and sat us down in the darkened movie house where we watched in amazement a double feature of Blow-Up and Tom Jones. I have never been the same.
The music thing became what I liked most about seeing movies as a snotty adolescent. Blow-Up, was quickly followed by Simon and Garfunkel’s more rock than folk sounds in The Graduate, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s electric jugband music meets Tin Pan Alley in You’re A Big Boy Now, the diverse banquet of Easy Rider, Apple band Badfinger in The Magic Christian, and before my passion for rock documentaries took over completely, the ultimate expression of movie music as soundtrack for my teenage ennui, the nine Cat Stevens songs that permanently lift Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude into greatness.Why these songs have only been released together on vinyl and why that didn’t happen until 2007 are riddles buried under impenetrable layers of showbiz archaeology. Actually, there could be a very simple explanation; I just don’t have a clue.
How does Roadie sound on paper? Well, not much different now then when Creem magazine's Dave DiMartino wrote in a 1980 Meat Loaf/Debbie Harry cover story that the plot of the then still in-production flick was "incomprehensible to the untrained eye".
The basics: Meat Loaf plays Travis W. Redfish, a good ol' Texas boy who drives a beer truck and lives with his father (Art Carney) in a television-filled house in the middle of a salvage yard. One day he helps fix a broken down RV on the side of the road which turns out to be transporting equipment for a Hank Williams, Jr gig in Austin. The truck also needs a driver, and jailbait groupie Lola Bouilliabase (Kaki Hunter) entices Travis to save the day.
Finally arriving for the show, the crew is given ten minutes to get Bocephus on stage by badass concert promoter Mohammed Johnson (Soul Train's Don Cornelius!!). Travis proves to be a born super-roadie and Don Cornelius,... I mean Mohammed Johnson calls him "the Ali of roadies, the fastest I've ever seen," and hires him on the spot for his big "Rock and Roll Circus" tour. Next stop: LA; "Louisiana?" Travis asks. "Not that LA," Lola tells him, "THE LA": Sunset Strip, swimming pools, rock stars.
Much cross-country mayhem and slapstick ensue. In addition to Messers Loaf, Carney, Williams, and Cornelius, Roadie also features Roy Orbison, Alice Cooper, Asleep at the Wheel, and Blondie (who we get to watch dressed in full cowboy garb performing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" at an Austin racetrack).
Later this month, Claudia Jennings would have turned 60 years old. Poor girl never even made it to 30.
After being named the Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1970, Jennings became one of the next decade's biggest drive-in movie queens, starring in a string of hits that included Unholy Rollers, Truck Stop Women, Gator Bait, Moonshine County Express, and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase. She was romantically linked to Bobby Hart, was up for one of the three leads in Charlie's Angels (she should've got it), and was the agent looking for a guy who "fit the suit" in the Johnny Bravo episode of The Brady Bunch. As the decade wore on, her parts got smaller and less frequent, and she fell deeper and deeper into the Hollywood drug scene. On October 3, 1979, she was killed in a head-on collision in Malibu, California. Her last film credit was in David Cronenberg's Fast Company, released earlier that year.
Jennings in Unholy Rollers (1972)
Last month, the Academy finally saw fit to give Roger Corman an honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Well, it's about time. But Joe Bob Briggs gave Rog a Lifetime Achievement Award at the First (and only?) Annual World Drive-In Movie Festival and Custom Car Rally way back in 1982, and in my book, that's a lot more impressive.
Still, this is obviously a major milestone: recognition from an industry who looked down their noses at him for his entire career, yet had to marvel at his ability to always turn a profit. Corman and his partners at American International Pictures didn't invent ballyhoo or exploitation, but they perfected in a way few others have.
In recognition of this belated honor, I'm going to run down what I consider to be the ten best movies Roger Corman ever directed. When Corman is honored these days, it's usually as a producer who spotted a lot of great young talent, but between 1955 and 1971, he was furiously working behind the camera, churning out low-budget hit after hit--53 in all over those mere seventeen years!!
Of course not all of them were great, but even some of the mediocre ones had unforgettable titles. Check out 1957's The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent.
On second thought, don't check it out. Check these out instead: