Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)

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Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood RebelFeaturing Roger Corman, Julie Corman, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, William Shatner, David Carradine, Dick Miller, Eli Roth, Paul W.S Anderson, Joe Dante, Pam Grier

Directed by Alex Stapleton

“The difference between the image you present to the world and what is going on inside in your subconscious mind is significant. I’ve been told that my image is somewhat of a clean-cut kind of guy; clearly my subconscious mind is something of a boiling inferno.”– Roger Corman

Dismissed as a schlockmeister and purveyor of B-movie trash by some film snobs, Roger Corman is the subject of Alex Stapleton’s affectionate and engaging documentary entitled Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, which examines the legendary producer’s astonishing six-decade long career while also underlining his importance in the formation of modern Hollywood – both for independent cinema and the studio blockbuster system alike.

On the surface it’s easy to see how the industry wrote off Corman as an exploitative hack of Z-grade movies who has no artistic integrity of his own to speak of over the years, but then that wouldn’t justify the deep-seated admiration the iconic producer and director has acquired by some of the most renowned talents in Hollywood throughout his impressive career.

In Stapleton’s brilliantly entertaining and insightful documentary, the filmmaker reaffirms Corman’s legacy in the industry by somehow managing to summon such sought after interviewees as Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, William Shatner, John Sayles, Gale Anne Hurd, Dick Miller, Eli Roth, Paul W.S Anderson, Joe Dante, Pam Grier and the late David Carradine – most of whose careers took off as a result of Corman’s films. Simply put, without Corman their careers may never have happened. There’s a contagious admiration throughout everyone’s interviews regarding Corman’s involvement in their early beginnings in Hollywood, and it was nice to see even some Hollywood heavyweights pay their due to the master.

As a long-time fan of Corman’s Poe films, it was great to see Corman’s World explore that as a storyteller Corman was really beginning to master his craft around the time he was helming films like House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tomb of Ligeia, which also turns out to be Scorsese’s favorite Corman flick of all time. There wasn’t much time overall spent on dissecting these films but rather demonstrating how they impacted cinema as a whole, and while I would have loved to hear more about these movies in particular, Stapleton smartly keeps everything moving forward in her doc, never lingering too long on any one aspect of Corman’s legacy in cinema.

That being said, the lesser known and surprising facts revealed during Corman’s World ended up being the most telling and entertaining about the iconic independent filmmaking pioneer. From tidbits about his involvement with distributing foreign films by directors like Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa to how movies like The Wild Angels and The Trip were inspirations for the classic 1969 flick Easy Rider, Corman’s World digs deep into why Corman still remains influential today without taking the easy route and just offering up a lot of empty praise for the filmmaker- Stapleton clearly did her homework on every aspect of Corman’s career and influence, and it definitely shows here.

While Corman’s World celebrates all the positives to the filmmaker’s career, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the tough lessons Corman learned in the industry throughout his decades-spanning career either. Stapleton spends a sizable amount of time in the doc dissecting Corman’s highly controversial 1962 film The Intruder that boldly explored segregation in the South during a time of civil unrest in the country (The Intruder is also noteworthy for being Shatner’s first film role ever) and ended up being the only movie that never made a dime for Corman.

Then when Jaws arrived in theaters in 1975, it forever changed creature features within the genre world with fans now wanting more serious fare than films like Attack of the Crab Monsters or Creature from the Haunted Sea, making Corman’s way of producing horror movies a thing of the past. A few years later when Star Wars debuted in 1977 and changed the entire entertainment industry, all while boasting Corman-esque concepts and lavish budgets, the filmmaker found himself left completely in the dust. We see Corman calling George Lucas’ $30+ million budget “obscene” in response during an interview segment from that time as well as the palpable pain on the filmmaker’s face as he defends his way of filmmaking.

Corman’s World ends on a high note with the “schlockmeister” collecting his honorary Academy Award surrounded by many of the movie industry’s finest during the Governors Awards ceremony in November 2009, further demonstrating that Corman’s influence on Hollywood is far bigger than just the sum of the over 400 movies he directed or produced during his 60+-year career. It’s a great moment to watch Corman, the man who never got the respect he deserved for valiantly (and successfully) bucking against the Hollywood system, finally getting his due and humbly sharing his moment with those whose careers he launched.

As a lifelong genre fan, it’s nothing short of absolute bliss to finally see a doc like Corman’s World do justice to the legacy of this indie movie maverick (Bucket of Blood being one of my earliest horror movie watching memories). And surprisingly, Nicholson (who’s first film was Corman’s The Cry Baby Killer in 1958) ends up being the biggest admirer out of “The Corman School of Film” with entertaining anecdotes ranging from tongue-in-cheek put-downs (“By mistake, Roger would actually make a good picture every once in a while…but I was never in it”) to deep admiration that leaves the legendary actor choked up and teary-eyed when expressing his gratitude for Corman’s influence on his career.

It’s no surprise that Corman’s World will delight genre fans everywhere who are familiar with the iconic filmmaker’s work, but what’s even more remarkable is that this documentary is surprisingly accessible to mainstream audiences as well- there’s a lot for everyone to enjoy even if you’re only a casual filmgoer at best. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring documentary this year than Stapleton’s Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 16th.

4 1/2 out of 5

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