BR: Corman’s World – Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)
Label: Anchor Bay/ Region: A / Released: March 27, 2012
Genre: Documentary / Film History
Synopsis: Brisk overview of producer-director & indie filmmaking pioneer Roger Corman, ‘King of the B’s.’
Special Features: Extended & Deleted Interviews / Special Messages to Roger Corman from Interviewees / Trailer
There’s a deliberate effort by all of the interviewed high-profile participants to make it clear to explitation & B-movie newcomers that Roger Corman not only taught them valuable, if not pragmatic filmmaking skills, but gave some of them big career breaks, thus he deserves to be lionized as much as an Irving Thalberg or a Darryl F. Zanuck.
It’s not a preposterous stance. Corman gradually evolved from producer & exploitation director to short-term auteur before switching to producer / mentor for two generations of filmmakers which include Allan Arkush (Death Race), Peter Bogdanovich (Targets), James Cameron (Battle Beyond the Stars), Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13), Joe Dante (Piranha), Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat), Menachem Golan (The Young Racers), Ron Howard (Eat My Dust), Jonathan Kaplan (Night Call Nurses), John Sayles (Piranha), Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha), Penelope Spheris (Suburbia), and Robert Towne (Last Woman on Earth), plus actors Robert De Niro (Bloody Mama), Bruce Dern (The Wild Angels), Peter Fonda (The Trip), Pam Grier (The Big Doll House), Dennis Hopper (The Trip), Jack Nicholson (Little Shop of Horrors), and William Shatner (The Intruder).
Most of the aforementioned do appear in new and archival interviews, and first-time director Alex Stapleton (producer of Just for Kicks) does a decent job in mining Corman’s incredible alumni for anecdotes to create a vivid portrait of the elder Hollywood statesman, but the doc has its share of problems following an otherwise giddy start. After the initial delight in hearing the big names chime in, Stapleton gets a little lost in trying to cover Corman’s full career, but in fairness, the problem is perhaps due to Corman’s massive C.V. as a filmmaker.
He’s produced more than 200 films (the doc incorrectly makes it appear as though he’s directed 200 films, which is very misleading), worked for several indie studios, and worked through genres that were either in vogue or were made popular by himself (specifically the Poe series for American International Productions). He’s still going strong making B-movies for specialty channels and the direct-to-video market (Sharktopus [M], Dinoshark [M]), but there’s a sense Stapleton shot a mass of interview material, and as he started to piece the doc together the structure was dictated by anecdotes rather than more straightforward bio segments, so there’s a loose time structure to Corman’s career, and certain films acting as semi-successful anchor points.
For novices and fans of exploitation films, Stapleton’s doc is a perfect intro to the eightysomething’s ridiculously fun oeuvre, but those already familiar with Corman’s career (and more specifically, readers of Ed Naha’s superb 1982 career and film bio) will find several details either left out or given short-shrift. It’s easy to blame Stapleton for being less specific about the career junctures where Corman was courted by the studios and eventually made a big studio picture: after Von Richthofen and Brown (1970) Corman retired from directing due to intense meddling by studio United Artists. There was the one-time return with the terrible Frankenstein Unbound (1990), but within the documentary format, Corman’s life really mandates a multi-part mini-series.
Stapleton’s film may prick new interest in the humble film icon who was ‘rediscovered’ by snooty French critics during the seventies, but it’s a shame the film doesn’t exist in a longer form, with meatier clips of his work, and longer interviews from subjects that sometimes appear just once in the final edit (or in the cae of actress Tracy Lords, never appears at all)..
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray includes a chunk of bonus interviews, but none come with any captions, so only fans will tie together the relationships some faces have with Corman as director or producer. The on-camera messages to Corman are amusing, and some are a bit affecting, given several subjects have since passed away, such as George Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse), Mary Woronov and David Carradine (both in Death Race).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review