Combustible Celluloid
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With: Roger Corman, Paul W.S. Anderson, Allan Arkush, Eric Balfour, Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Burns, David Carradine, Gene Corman, Julie Corman, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern, Frances Doel, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Jonathan Haze, George Hickenlooper, Ron Howard, Gale Anne Hurd, Irvin Kershner, Todd McCarthy, Dick Miller, Jack Nicholson, Polly Platt, Eli Roth, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, William Shatner, Tom Sherak, Penelope Spheeris, Quentin Tarantino, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, Mary Woronov, Jim Wynorski
Written by: Alex Stapleton
Directed by: Alex Stapleton
MPAA Rating: R for some violent images, nudity and language
Running Time: 89
Date: 01/21/2011

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

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hail to the King of the B's

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Almost any documentary on Roger Corman would be fascinating, and Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, directed by Alex Stapleton, is certainly that. It has three things going for it: the most important is that the soft-spoken, authoritative Corman is still alive at age 85, and he's an excellent, captivating storyteller. The second is that most of the people Corman worked with love him and volunteered to be interviewed here, including such slippery characters as Jack Nicholson (who actually chokes up while talking about his old pal). The third is an awesome collection of clips from a wide range of "B" movies, encompassing horror, blaxploitation, sci-fi, Westerns, comedies, dramas, black-and-white, and color, with big stars and no-names.

If that's not enough it includes footage of Corman at work, producing one of his more recent movies, Dinoshark. And it ends with footage of Corman's honorary Oscar win in 2009. It's journalistically satisfying, more than competent, and very lucky. For any movie fan, it's compulsively watchable. But it could have been still more.

After an unsuccessful military stint, Corman began producing movies in 1954 and to date he has produced over 400 movies, videos, and TV shows. In 1955, he also began directing -- probably as a way to save money -- and racked up a list of over 50 movies. Many of these are among the worst movies ever made, but some are amazing, and the list is still fascinating. It starts with Westerns, racecar movies, rock 'n' roll movies, and monster movies, but it gets more interesting. There's Charles Bronson's first starring role, then The Intruder, the Poe films, the black comedies, The Trip, and others.

It's true that Corman's ultimate achievements will be historical rather than artistic. He established a business model that has yet to be emulated or equaled. He hired an astonishing series of young artists and launched enough talent into the stratosphere to populate the entire industry: Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson (who also worked as a writer), Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, Robert Towne, and many others.

But this underestimates the movies, and a more critical approach to Corman's 50+ films -- not to mention the masterpieces he produced for others -- could have been useful. The documentary celebrates The Intruder as Corman's most socially conscious movie, but doesn't go into why it's an artistic or a personal success. And it talks a little about the advances he made on the Poe movies, but it could have gone deeper into their creative use of widescreen and color to depict dread and loss.

These complaints are small, however. Corman's World is meant for mainstream viewers and newcomers, and any passionate movie fan will love it. Anchor Bay released the Blu-Ray, and it comes with extended interview footage (for some reason Eli Roth wormed his way into this production), and "special messages" to Corman, as well as a trailer. It might have been fun to include one of Corman's actual movies as a bonus feature -- especially one of the ones that are hard to find -- but you can't have everything.

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