“Roger Corman made it okay for all of us to make exploitation movies. You showed us there’s nothing wrong with you — you shouldn’t be embarrassed for loving a movie like Piranha. That it doesn’t mean that you’re stupid for loving a movie that seems like a stupid exploitation movie.” – Eli Roth
Starting the new documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel with spotty, scratched-up film, director Alex Singleton sets the tone for the film right from the get-go. Roger Corman was “fast and cheap,” as fellow director Martin Scorsese refers to him early on, and the film manages to do a good job of capturing that essence of filmmaking, while at the same time showing that the ethos by which Corman operated didn’t have to mean schlocky.
What you discover, watching Corman’s World, is that Roger Corman is a very normal guy. He has an engineering degree from Stanford, and speaks calmly and cooly. This presents an astonishing contrast with the films he’s made. You expect an Ed Wood nutjob, and you get an English professor. He’s a humble man, quite aware of his limitations, but willing to do whatever’s necessary to improve his craft.
“By mistake, he made a good picture every once in a while.” - Jack Nicholson
It’s astounding to watch Corman’s World, and discovering Roger Corman making exceptional films despite limited resources. The tale of The Intruder, and how that film about integration changed what Corman did, is really the turning point of the director’s career. After making a critical success and commercial failure in The Intruder, Corman began making commercial pictures again – but this time, with a subtext.
Next came The Wild Angels, a smash success that was the biggest independent film at the time. After that, Corman was at the forefront of 60s filmmaking. By the end of the decade, he’d founded New World Pictures, in order to make films the way he wanted, without somebody taking over or recutting his films.
“[Roger] said to me, in kind of a fatherly way, ‘If you do a good job for me, on my terms, for this movie, and you never have to work for me again.’ And, well … I didn’t.” – Ron Howard
Many, many people who worked with the director early on have gone to become huge stars. Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard – they all got work (and were glad to have it, as Nicholson puts it). Everyone who worked with Corman learned valuable lessons that they were able to take away and apply to their own work.
The end result of Corman’s World is that it’s a love letter to the director. Past that, however, it’s difficult to sum up a director who’s made so many movies in just an hour and a half. The picture feels rushed, and you’re very aware that there’s been so much omitted. A brief montage of film posters makes the viewer realize that the makers of Corman’s World might’ve wanted to narrow the scope of their film.
Corman’s World does show the director as being a “Hollywood rebel,” but by trying to present a comprehensive view of the director’s work, the film overreaches. Especially unnecessary is footage of Corman working on Dinoshark.
You get the idea that Singleton is attempting to show how the director’s current work is no different than that what he did 40 years ago, but it just seems like a cheap plug for a SyFy movie.
Sticking a little more closely to the people whose success was built upon “the Corman school” might’ve allowed for a tighter, more cohesive bit of storytelling.