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March 29, 2012

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

(2011, Dir. by Alex Stapleton.)

Is it weird if a movie that almost drives me to tears is a documentary about a filmmaker?  It's probably weird.  But when the movie's about the legendary "schlockmeister" Roger Corman, it's a fact of life to the genre film freak.

I've craved Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel ever since I first heard of the production, and the final product - released on DVD/Blu-Ray this week - does not disappoint one bit.  It appears to be just a collection of clips and interviews at first glance,  but anyone who knows anything about the infamous filmmaker will quickly find themselves falling in love with the film.

For those who don't know much about Roger Corman, the list of Hollywood stars/filmmakers that are interviewed for the film might send a mixed message.  Actors like Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro or directors like Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich generally have their names associated with critically acclaimed and award-winning cinema fare, but it's their connection to the world of the ultimate low-budget filmmaker that brings them here.

To put Corman in perspective, consider this. As I type this, a look at Roger Corman's filmography says that the man has produced 401 movies.  If you peruse the IMDB, you'll find that only FIVE of those films have been given an average ranking better than 7/10 by IMDB users.  Though IMDB ratings are pretty far from being valid data, you'd be right to assume that critical acclaim and Roger Corman are two things that do not generally go together.  And yet, all of those well-regarded people listed above are "students" of what is often referred to as Corman University.  At some point in their careers, they all worked under the watchful eye of Roger Corman.

Serving as both a recap of the man's career and a tribute to his legacy, Corman's World gives plenty of airtime to people like Nicholson and filmmakers like Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Joe Dante (Gremlins, The 'Burbs), Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs).  The fact that these people are willing to take the time to pay tribute to the man behind what are generally regarded to be their worst films is a telling statement on just how beloved Corman is, despite his distance from what is generally respected in Hollywood. (Though one point that is repeated is probably respected in Hollywood by most - Almost all of Corman's 400 movies made their money back.)

While talking about their experiences with Corman - working on films like The Terror or Hollywood Boulevard or Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women -we get a lot of insight on just how Corman helped these future superstars get into the film business.  As is the case with mainstream viewers, some of the interviewees don't seem to "get" the appeal of Corman's films - Nicholson states at one point that Corman occasionally messed up and made a good movie, while others lovingly call him names like "The King of the Bs" despite Corman saying he hates those nicknames - yet everyone on board paints the filmmaker as a smart man, a shrewd mind, and a person who deserves the respect of those who follow him.

I think most genre geeks like myself have always understood that Corman matters, but what director Alex Stapleton has done here is spelled out why in big bright letters.  The information might not all be new - though it was definitely the first time I considered the effect the birth of the blockbuster in the '70s affected folks like Corman, and I was reminded how badly I really need to see The Intruder - but it's presented in a manner that's easy to relate to.  Corman, of course, is directly involved in front of the camera, but this is a lot more than one more dot on his resume.  It'll probably end up as one of my favorite movies released this year, simply because it does such a good job of honoring a man who deserves so much credit for what independent genre cinema is today.  I was honestly thrilled to see such a passionate picture of the man's work, and I can only hope that more people will get a chance to truly appreciate what Roger Corman means to cinema through this fine film.

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