Even if they may not realize it, any movie fan growing up in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or even 1980s owes a debt to Roger Corman.
He is, after all, not only the guy who made a series of spooky Edgar Allen Poe stories into stylishly intelligent films starring Vincent Price, he also captured youthful rebellion by helming such films as The Wild Angels, The Trip and Gas-or-It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It, and played mentor to much of “New Hollywood” in the ‘60s and early ‘70s (Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Hopper, Fonda, Monte Hellman, Nicholson). When he unleashed his own New World Pictures, Corman produced such “B” movie faves as Death Race 2000, Rock-and-Roll High School, Humanoids from the Deep, and Piranha and even imported such acclaimed foreign efforts as Fellini’s Amarcord, Francois Truffaut’s Small Change, Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo.
Much has been written about the audacious auteur, the cinematic rebel without a pause, a former engineer from Detroit, Michigan who looks and dresses like a high school philosophy teacher and who speaks like an insurance salesman. There have been scads of articles and several books already, including his own autobiography, aptly called How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood…And Never Lost a Dime.
But now there’s a first-rate documentary chronicling his movie adventures called Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a fond and funny look at the 86-year-old man who would reign as “B” movie king for decades.
Along with a surplus of clips from everything from early Corman-helmed enterprises like It Conquered the World and Apache Woman to behind-the-scenes footage of Corman on location in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico producing 2010’s DinoShark, the film features interviews with a wide range of actors, writers, directors and producers, most of whom worked with him, but some of whom are simply admirers or fans.
All aspects of Corman’s 60-year career are covered here, but there is special emphasis on the 1962 feature he directed called The Intruder (aka Shame, I Hate Your Guts!), which starred William Shatner as a slick segregationist who stirs up hatred against African-Americans in a small Southern town. Executive produced by Gene Corman, Roger’s brother, the film remains the only cinematic excursion Roger lost money on and, as evidenced in the interviews here, may have influenced his concentration on exploitation pictures following its box-office failure.
Another fascinating segment in Corman’s World belongs to Jack Nicholson, who reminisces about the early days working with Corman on such films as Little Shop of Horrors, The Terror, and The Trip, and Roger’s well-documented cheapness. The rarely interviewed Nicholson seems genuinely thrilled to be talking about Corman, thanks him profusely for helping him start his career, and eventually breaks down in tears. It’s just nothing you’re going to see every day—or, likely, ever again.
“We didn’t set out to make a pseudo-reality documentary about someone,” says co-producer Stone Douglass. “But the contrast between the types of films he’s done and his personality is kind of shocking.”
Douglass, who has also worked on Barry Munday and other features, didn’t even know he was such a Corman admirer until he began working on the project, which took four years to complete. “I didn’t know I was a long-time fan, but I knew who he was. Then I realized what movies he’s had his hands in, and I realized how much I loved them.”
Douglass claims that he and director Alex Stapleton could have done an unauthorized documentary, but because their subject backed them and was supportive, they were able land so many great interviews with–and reminisces–of Scorsese, Ron Howard, Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme and, of course, Nicholson.
Another key to getting to the right people was Polly Platt, one of Corman’s World’s co-producers, who passed away from ALS in 2011 during production. The former production designer (Paper Moon), producer (War of the Roses), screenwriter (Pretty Baby) and ex-wife of filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich is also featured in the film, discussing working with Roger.
“She got along great with Alex (director Stapleton) during pre-production, “explains Douglass. “People didn’t know who I was or Alex was. And we certainly didn’t want Roger to call people. Polly helped turn the outgoing calls into incoming calls.”
Corman’s world, in DVD and Blu-ray form, features two juicy extras. One is a collection of extended interviews with some of the folks speaking fondly of Corman, and the other affords the interview subjects the opportunity to say something special to Roger.
Some take the opportunity to be funny, and others remind him of his legendary thriftiness. All of them, however, speak warmly about the man who gave us The Saga of the Viking Women and their Voyage to Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, Caged Heat and Jackson County Jail.