In Memoriam: Samuel Z. Arkoff
A man who knew what movies are all about
passed away this weekend. Samuel Z. Arkoff died of natural causes at
the age of 83 in Burbank Sunday. One of the founders of American International
Pictures in 1954, Arkoff knew that the teen population would gladly
feed their cushy post-war allowances to the box office for the right
AIP started with horror pictures like
The Beast with a Million Eyes and It Conquered the World and quickly
moved into rebel pictures like Motorcycle Gang and Reform School Girl.
Arkoff knew that kids wanted an excuse
to get out of their parent's houses and into those rolling bedrooms
at the drive-ins. Nothing made those bench seats cozier than teens in
peril from even the silliest of creatures.
In the 60's the screams of enjoyable terror
gave way to fan and laughs in the newly spawned Beach Party genre. From
Muscle Beach Party to Beach Blanket Bingo, the tone was light and the
skin was plentiful. Once the waves flattened out for Frankie and Annette,
AIP moved on to some culture.
With adaptations like Wuthering Heights,
Dorian Gray, and Murders in the Rue Morgue, AIP ensured that come English
finals Cliff's Notes would be abandoned and tests would be failed. While
horror remained the bread and butter, blaxploitation begin writing some
checks with Blacula, Slaughter, Coffy and Cooley High.
Not only did Arkoff foster some of the
great genre pictures of the B-movies, he also gave starts to some A-list
talent. Under the AIP banner, Roger Corman came into his own with The
Pit and the Pendulum and his masterpiece, X, The Man with the X-Ray
Eyes. Francis Ford Coppola took his first helming gig for Arkoff with
Dementia 13. Martin Scorsese even got an Arkoff boost with Boxcar Bertha.
Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro and Bruce Dern all owe their starts to
Arkoff's checkbook and vision.
Arkoff told his own story in the 1992
Though Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants and the history of AIP
was covered in It Conquered Hollywood! The Story of American International
Pictures, a great TV documentary that will hopefully be put out for
the home market.
Canonize Arkoff as the patron saint of
the indie filmmaker. He lived by the motto, "Thou shalt not put too
much money into one picture, and with the money you do spend, put it
on the screen. Don't waste it on the egos of actors or nonsense that
might appeal to highbrow critics." Wisdom like that can't be found anywhere
but in a man who loved movies. Not films, but movies.
After a decade or more of over-budgeted
bloated messes that support overpaid, low talent stars, a man like Arkoff
should be seen as the direction the entertainment end of the industry
should turn: little solidly constructed genre works with talented, hard
working, hungry actors.
In a week of almost nothing but mourning,
we as film lovers should seek to celebrate this man who knew that movies
could give us the escape that we all sometimes need. Check out one of
the titles mentioned above or go to imdb.com and punch in Samuel Z.
Arkoff and go hunt down at least one of the 139 titles that he produced.
this and more in the Fanboy forums.