NOVEMBER 14, 2011
I don’t do too many documentaries here, but when it’s about the guy who produced at least a dozen movies I’ve reviewed over the past couple years, I figure it qualifies. Boasting one of the most impressive collections of interview subjects I’ve ever seen for a Hollywood-based documentary, the only problem with Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel is that it’s too short – I could easily listen to these guys tell stories about their various Corman productions for hours on end, but until the (hopefully jam-packed) DVD, 90 minutes will have to suffice.
The number of Hollywood A-listers who got their start working for Corman has been well documented over the years, but seeing them all together in new interviews is nothing short of jaw-dropping: Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, William Shatner, Pam Grier, John Sayles, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Gale Anne Hurd, and Joe Dante are all on board here, telling stories about how Corman gave them their first shot, plus giving general praise and defense of his output as a whole and how he is perceived by some Hollywood snobs (“Schlockmeister” and things of that nature). Not everyone is accounted for – Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron are noticeably absent – but director Alex Stapleton makes up for it with appearances by folks like Quentin Tarantino and (of course) Eli Roth, who have never worked with him but are among his biggest fans and supporters.
But the real “get” is Jack Nicholson, who doesn’t often do these kind of things. Given the huge “cast” of the movie (including several who were apparently cut entirely), some folks are only seen briefly, but Stapleton got a lot of mileage out of her time with Jack, who is wonderfully candid about the quality of the films but 100% sincere when he discusses Corman himself, who he claims was the only one who had any faith in him for the first decade or so of his acting career. As the most beloved actor to appear in the film (besides De Niro anyway, but he only pops up once), these moments can solidify Corman’s importance to someone who didn’t even know who he was far more easily than the number of directors, whose names might not mean as much to a younger audience.
Having Nicholson and Dick Miller (yay!) also adds immensely to my favorite segment of the film, when The Terror is discussed at length. As Nicholson hilariously points out, not a single person in the world is capable of explaining what the movie is about, which makes me feel a lot better about my puzzled reaction to it. And his laughter is infectious as he recounts the bit where Miller is taxed with trying to make sense out of the storyline via a glob of exposition in the movie’s climax, as well as another actor whose character’s muteness randomly disappears halfway through (which I never noticed!). The famous story of Little Shop of Horrors’ two day shoot is also discussed, including a good anecdote about the dental equipment that I never heard before.
And it’s visually interesting! A lot of documentaries are more worthwhile for what is being said than for what it looks like, but this is a remarkably colorful film. Some of the participants are filmed in unusual locales (Demme is in the back of a moving car; Howard appears to have been on his way to walk to a cemetery), and they’re all in natural locations – no generic green-screen setups here. I also loved the end credits sequence, which presented a montage of key art from the older movies with fonts that more or less matched the style of that film’s credits. Very cool – it’s almost a bummer when they switch to a traditional scroll. Similarly, it’s rare that a documentary of this sort gets me choked up, but I defy any movie buff to watch the climactic sequence without getting a bit teary eyed (or even the scene before it where Julie Corman – who deserves her own documentary at this point - helps him tie his bowtie).
As with most documentaries, it’s framed by something mundane and modern, in this case the production of Dinoshark. Obviously it’s not the best movie to use in a tribute to the guy (though better than Sharktopus, at least!), so they wisely don’t try to glorify the film’s merit; if anything they merely show that Corman is the only one involved who seems to know what he’s doing at times. There’s a bit where he has to explain to one of the actors (who he is sharing the scene with in a cameo) at what point she should say her lines, something that the director should be doing. He can also be seen pointing out a few continuity issues and bemoaning another actress who keeps getting her makeup fixed and wasting time. Of course, they didn’t have EPK crews on The Terror or anything, so it’s a shame we can’t see this stuff juxtaposed with him working on his older films, but it’s still wonderful to watch him in action.
That said, I wasn’t entirely joking when I said the film is too short – after taking us through the 50s-70s in fairly good detail (considering that’s about 150 films’ worth of his career, all the more impressive), it skips over 30 years entirely, going from Piranha (1978) to his 2009 Lifetime Achievement Oscar. No mention of his return to directing with Frankenstein Unbound, his Showtime series “Roger Corman Presents”, successfully getting Carnosaur into theaters before Jurassic Park, etc. Just “then a lot of his movies went straight to DVD” and other somewhat dismissive brief comments, without a single specific film from that era mentioned. Not that any time was wasted in the previous 80 minutes, but it just seems like an entire section of the film was chopped out, since they were being so thorough with the years before it. I’m not going to argue with the film’s point that the years that produced Wild Angels, The Intruder, and the Poe films were much more impressive than the ones that gave us Dinocroc and Carnosaur 3, but skipping them entirely (and his still impressive ability to find young talent – including Cameron) is a bit weird. Certainly some mention could be made of Slumber Party Massacre being the first slasher film to be written and directed by women?
But ultimately, it’s the quality and love that pores from the film throughout that makes me bemoan the occasional oversight. I was riveted even with the sections on movies I had little interest in (The Trip, for example), so seeing similar chapters on something like Chopping Mall would just be pure bliss. It’s rare to see a film where the biggest complaint is “I wanted more!”, and for that Stapleton and her crew should be commended. As the film is being distributed by Anchor Bay I assume that the eventual DVD will be chock full of bonus interviews (especially considering the number of credited participants who don’t actually appear in the film, such as Darren Bousman and Lloyd Kaufman), and perhaps some of that stuff will address my minor concerns. And not to be grim, but considering at least two of the people in the film have since died (David Carradine and George Hickenlooper), I’m glad that this movie was made when all of these old Hollywood guys are still alive and lucid. Who knows, maybe in a few years they can do a “sequel” that covers the movies that came out during my lifetime.
The film is receiving limited theatrical release on December 16th; I assume (hope!) a DVD release won’t be too long after that. Either viewing method is fine; anyone who appreciates the horror genre or independent filmmaking in general should just check it out as soon as they can.
What say you?