AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES, PART 3
January 28 – March 21
The United States in the 1950s was a nation in the midst of seismic transformations. A time of postwar prosperity, an ever-increasing car culture, and the eclipse of movies by the new medium of television, the era also brought the crystallization of a creature that had only recently emerged as a full-blown social and demographic phenomenon: the Teenager. Comprising an enormous segment of the nation’s population, teenagers represented, from the perspective of the merchants of entertainment, an audience ripe for exploitation.
Into this breach stepped American International Pictures, the independent film production house that looms large in the memories of anyone who grew up watching movies in the U.S. in the 1950s-70s (or who find themselves drawn to that era today). Founded in 1954 (initially as American Releasing Corporation) by theater owner James H. Nicholson and attorney Sam Arkoff, AIP seized on the teenage market – and its newfound natural habitat, the drive-in theater – with a vengeance. It was said that AIP was devoted more to quantity over quality, speed over careful craft, and promotional ingenuity over production values (in many cases, Nicholson conceived of titles and designed posters first, and only later assigned the projects to a writer). But the company was responsible for dozens of films of astonishing energy and creativity, and became a breeding ground for some of the most extraordinary cinematic talents of its time: Roger Corman produced and/or directed more than 40 films for the company, and filmmakers from Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola to Monte Hellman and Peter Bogdanovich cut their teeth working on AIP productions.
Since July, Anthology has been presenting a multi-part series featuring films produced and/or distributed by AIP, demonstrating the astonishing variety of films handled by the company and tracing the development of the various genres AIP pioneered, refined, or capitalized on. Past installments focused on its horror, sci-fi, juvenile delinquent, and biker films. Now, for the third and final part of the series, we follow AIP into the 1970s, when the company (run by Sam Arkoff alone, following Nicholson’s death in 1972) turned its attention to the burgeoning blaxploitation genre, producing classics like BLACULA, COFFY, and FOXY BROWN, as well as unleashing a new breed of horror films that took advantage of the era’s increasingly lax attitudes towards onscreen depictions of sex and violence. Rounding the series off are a motley selection of one-offs, curiosities, and uncategorizable oddities from AIP’s multifarious catalog. In 1979, Arkoff would sell AIP to Filmways, Inc., bringing the company’s glorious run to an end. However, much of its spirit – and some of its personnel – would remain intact for several years to come thanks to the company Roger Corman created when he departed AIP: New World Pictures…
Special thanks to Chris Chouinard (Park Circus) and Harry Guerro.