Roger Corman sat down with Conan O’Brien last week for a spirited interview (promoting his latest Sy-Fy spectacular, Sharktopus Vs. Pteracuda) turning in a charismatic performance that provoked a reaction not unlike Dennis Hopper’s besotted appraisal of Dean Stockwell’s spaced-out lounge lizard in Blue Velvet:
“Suave? Goddamn, you are one suave fucker”.
Suave? Yep, that’s Roger.
O’Brien’s wide-ranging conversation with Corman proved that this storied filmmaker is nothing if not a treasure trove of great Hollywood tales, mainly because Roger himself has instigated so many of them. Not the least being the time he decided to drop acid to better direct The Trip, his 1967 psychedelic-psychodrama starring Peter Fonda and, appropriately enough, Dennis Hopper.
As Roger hauled out the anecdote about his blissful LSD experience for Conan, I had a flashback of my own… to that weekend many moons ago when Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog, called me with the idea of writing a movie about the making of The Trip.
The script was initially titled Sunshine Blvd., a sunny-side-up antidote to Billy Wilder’s great Hollywood gothic, Sunset Blvd. The story would revolve around Roger’s own complex character; a good-humored but steely-eyed businessman with the heart of an inquisitive artist.
To contrast Roger’s calm, cool and, yes, “square” demeanor, the wild and woolly cast and crew of The Trip, including Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, would supply the space cowboy comedy.
There was one director and one director only to whom we wanted to show the script. So once Tim and I had the first draft (fairly) polished, we alerted Joe Dante to expect a package. The next morning I furtively placed the bulky envelope on Joe’s patio table (next to the small latex dinosaur who stands watch over the entryway) and scurried away before he could yell at me to get off his lawn.
A few days later Joe responded with a resounding “Yes!” and the game was on.
Serious work began on revisions and at one point Joe and Elizabeth Stanley (Joe’s production partner) requested a title change. Tim came up with The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, a useful mashup of X – The Man with X-Ray Eyes and a Beatle song, underscoring the quixotic nature of Roger’s career during the sixties.
Writer/director Michael Almereyda (Nadja) and screenwriter James Robison (New Orleans Mon Amour) were brought in for a polish and the script began to blossom, becoming more than just a comedy about a “square” director and his hipster friends but a high-spirited satire about art, commerce and the beginning of the end of The Sixties.
As the exciting Hollywood adventure game known as “Looking For Money” continued, we considered other lines of promotion for MWKE including a comic book. Here, for the first time, we’re presenting a glimpse of a few of these black and white panels, suitable for coloring. So get out your Crayolas and, in the spirit of the Sixties, please don’t stay within the lines.
Click for a larger view
The project has been, as they say, in development as well as redevelopment, reconstruction, reconstitution and regeneration. It still lives and it will get made, I believe, mainly because of Corman himself. Watch him in these clips with Conan and bow… the man possesses some unknown, unexplained life-force gene, he’s the Energizer Bunny of moviemakers.
We want this movie to exist for many reasons, but when it’s all said and done I have just one request; to the folks who’ll do the film’s credits, please insert this coda after the end titles (with faint echoes of John Barry’s Bond theme in the background):
The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes is over but Roger Corman will return in The Man from New World.