Roger Corman's Wild Ride
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel opens with, later returns to, the maverick octogenarian overseeing Dinoshark in touristy Puerto Vallarta. With longtime wife-producer Julie, he as always has a finger in every picture pie, supervising, directing and/or producing all often hilarious aspects of his famously miniscule-budget films -- over six hundred and counting even if the 1990 autobiography modestly numbers How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.
More than an update of Christian Blackwood’s 1978 Roger Corman --Hollywood’s Wild Angel, Alex Stapleton’s ninety-one-minute début bio-documentary is a treat for buffs -- who might complain that the zillion clips are too few and short -- yet attempts to place its subject as a person and as a mentor/tutor/inspirer.
Thus, the first half is a wild -- a favorite Corman title word -- ride of snippets of bosoms and behinds, gunfire and explosions, monsters and body parts, which then settles into more standard heads talking about the methods and the man, the trajectory of the industry, film schools, commercial considerations vs. Art. Directors, actors, producers and writers are paraded, though the cynical might find irony in these once-Young Turks, today revered and successful, praising the outsider Corman and the rebel in us, and presumably themselves, all.
To be sure, in only his second recorded documentary interview, fat cat (in both senses) Jack Nicholson extols and thanks Corman and comically damns him. But he is most careful to insist that the tears behind his shades are not crocodile, and he is front and center to applaud the Governors Awards Lifetime Achievement Oscar for which the sometimes dissed Corman thanks his wife and counsels others to “Keep gambling, keep taking chances.”
One knows a score of the film titles and clips but recognizes genres and types, almost a historical survey of so-called B’s of the ‘fifties to the ‘nineties, when Corman slackened (relatively) to devote time to producing and executive functions for his New World Pictures and then Filmgroup, Millennium and New Horizons. A cult hero in Europe, he set up Concorde to US-distribute surprising works like Cries and Whispers and Amarcord, otherwise hothoused to our art-house circuit.
Some of CW is semi-narrated by the man himself, while elsewhere he is on his open terrace and speaks to the camera. Soft-spoken and articulate, he dresses and looks more a heartland Mr. Rogers/Peepers than the force behind films gobbled up because, he knows, they ran counter to stodgy mid-century mores and appealed to the rising drive-in generation, rebellious in reputation if not in fact.
The sole deliberately “message” film among the lot, put out with younger brother Gene, was a flop but remains among the brothers’ favorites (and still stands up well). Filmed on location at some danger, The Intruder had William Shatner as a drifting racist rousing Southern rabble to arms against court-ordered school integration.
In the beginning the movies were done with inconceivably little cash, from expediency that also reflects the man’s unshowy nature. Shot in days, cutting financial corners, improvising, trespassing on occasion, whatever the quality they define staccato guerrilla filmmaking. And they were successful, and had to be since each next project awaited money brought in by the previous one. Craft learned on the go and in the doing, the team churned out all types, sometimes without even a plot. It also turned out the future giants who worked with, and learned from, Corman.
Bug-eyed monsters and creatures run amok, babes and bikers and bandits, mobsters and machine-gun mamas, rebels and rogues, packed in young audiences, not infrequently with the front edge of trends to come. With some more financing and production values, there were the six classic Vincent Price-Poe macabres of the ‘60s, written by novelist Peter Matheson and done in England.
The impressive A-list who cheerlead includes unexpected voices. Ron Howard oddly sits among rural tombstones, John Sayles on an urban stoop, and Joe Dante and Allan Arkush are a seated stand-up comedy routine. Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich consider Corman’s cinema sensibilities and his goals (and perhaps disappointments). They compare their generation that earned its spurs in the movie trenches with the post-Jaws, post-Star Wars multi-million-dollar -- that money “could rebuild a portion of a ghetto”-- cadre of film schoolers that has changed the industry and dominates it.
(Released by Anchor Bay Films and rated “R” for some violent images, nudity and language.)