I’ve got to think it next-to-impossible to find a true fan of cinema that hasn’t seen at least one Roger Corman film. Between 1954 and 2011, Corman produced nearly four hundred movies (and counting), encompassing nearly every conceivable genre. From bawdy comedies and gothic chillers to sci-fi movies and kid’s flicks, chances are, if there was a market for it, Corman found a way to cater to it. More impressive than his output is the way Corman circumvented the red tape laden studio system and literally redefined the way movies were made. This maverick filmmaker’s approach to his craft, as well as his indelible imprint on cinema as a whole, serve as the subject of the massively entertaining new documentary, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.
Director Alex Stapleton’s film documents Corman’s career from his early years as a story analyst for Fox all the way through to 2011’s DinoShark, and pretty much everything in-between. Through interviews with Corman friends, associates, and a virtual who’s-who of A-list celebrities who owe the man their respective careers, Stapleton paints a picture of a man who is equal parts motion picture maverick and imaginative introvert – a brilliant businessman with a passion for trashy cinema. To hear people like Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorcese, and Robert DeNiro reminisce not only about their experiences with the man, but the impact he had on their careers (especially Nicholson, who, at one point, breaks down into tears as he recalls how Corman gave him work when no one else would even consider him), is not only touching, but downright awe inspiring. I mean, here’s one of the world’s most renowned actors telling us that, were it not for Corman, he may have given up acting altogether. Try to imagine, if you will, Chinatown or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest without Jack Nicholson? How about a world without an Easy Rider? It’s pretty hard, isn’t it?
It’s not like I didn’t know Roger Corman films were something of a rite of passage for many an up-and-coming actor, but seeing it laid out here for me, with a virtual parade of superstars ranging from Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, and Dennis Hopper to folks like Sandra Bullock, well, it’s just damned impressive. When you add to that the list of directors who all made their debuts under Corman’s watch, including the likes of James Cameron (Piranha 2), Joe Dante (Hollywood Boulevard), Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13), Scorcese (Boxcar Bertha), Hill, Howard, Sayles, Towne…the list goes on and continues to grow with every Corman production. As with the Nicholson question, the “what ifs?” will make your head spin.
Stapleton gathers many of these familiar names for wonderfully candid interviews in some rather strange places (Jonathan Demme sits in the back of a car. Ron Howard’s out for an afternoon stroll. Bruce Dern’s at the barber), lending his film a quirky, guerilla-style vibe that perfectly complements his subject matter. The interviews are interspersed with dozens of clips from Corman classics, vintage behind-the-scenes snippets and interviews, and a collection of conversational tidbits with the man himself, who, now in his eighties, shows no sign of slowing down.
Corman’s World comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay, and sports a 1.78:1 transfer that, as one would expect of films of this type, jumps around a bit in terms of image quality. The newer interview segments and scenes are sharp, while the vintage bits look…well…pretty vintage. It all flows together fairly seamlessly, though, as Stapleton wisely chose to give his film a somewhat retro look to begin with. The 5.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack is a solid affair, with crisp and organic sounding dialogue in the newer segments, but, just as with the video, the vintage footage suffers a bit, with inconsistent volume and a touch of distortion. None of this effected my enjoyment of the film, but I have to point it out.
Extras include a collection of extended interview bits, a series of “messages to Roger” from those who partook in the documentary, and the film’s trailer (in HD).
If, like me, you cut your cinematic teeth on the likes of Death Race 2000, Rock and Roll High School, and Humanoids from the Deep, this documentary is a fan’s dream, but, even if you haven’t a clue as to whom Roger Corman is, the multitude of clips and oftentimes humorous reminisces of Corman and his cohorts make for a viewing experience that is nothing short of fascinating.
Burgeoning b-movie auteurs should pair this one up with the excellent documentary, Machete Maidens Unleashed, and skip film school entirely.