A delightful tribute, “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel” chronicles the six-decade (so far) career of the U.S. film industry’s most diverse, dogged and resourceful low-budget producer-director-entrepeneur, painting the soft-spoken Roger Corman as an indie cinema trailbrazer as well as an extraordinary conduit for new talent. The starry roster of talents interviewed here who owe their start to him — including Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese — adds marquee appeal to A&E IndieFilms’ pre-Sundance TV pickup. Niche theatrical exposure is possible before broadcast.
Framing device finds octogenarian Corman maximizing modest means on location in Puerto Vallarta for last year’s Syfy Original “Dinoshark.” Not a lot has changed, evidently, since he began producing independently in 1954. Having learned that he did not enjoy knuckling under to authority during an Army stint, the Stanford engineering grad exited the majors when his key contributions as a reader to 1950 Gregory Peck hit “The Gunfighter” went entirely unacknowledged at 20th Century Fox.
Wisely targeting the emergent teenage drive-in audience, Corman began with such titles as “Monster From the Ocean Floor” and “The Fast and the Furious,” soon directing many exploiters himself. Joining with businessmen Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson in what would become American Intl. Pictures took the pressure of finding finance and distribution off his hands, allowing even more frenetic productivity.
While it’s frankly admitted that many of the 1950s Corman pictures — seen in ample amusing clips — were far from great, or even good, they could be relied upon to deliver the basic exploitation goods. By decade’s end, he was finding ways to sneak social satire and commentary into cheap genre pics, while a series of higher-budgeted Edgar Allan Poe adaptations won him respect as a stylist. One great disappointment — purportedly the only film on which he and brother Gene Corman lost money — was 1962’s “The Intruder,” a dead-serious portrait of Southern racism (starring young Bill Shatner) that no one wanted to fund, or see. Its commercial failure encouraged Corman to place his progressive politics in the margins rather than at the center of projects.
That continued when in 1970 Corman founded his own company, New World, which livened up the “Me” Decade with titles including “Night Call Nurses” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” while also, incongruously enough, handling Stateside release of new works by Fellini, Bergman and Truffaut — films closer to the producer’s private taste. Though he soon quit directing, and shifting industry trends made his position and product less important, Corman has remained busy ever since– though this docu barely notes his last three decades’ lower-profile activities.
Always generous to up-and-comers — with trust and freedom, if not pay — Corman is unparalleled as a finder and employer of future stars. Among those who testify to that talent (and tell very funny related stories) here are Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard. Given the closing-credits list of interviewees who didn’t make the docu’s final cut, “Corman’s World” should have some sensational DVD extras.
Nicholson, who worked as an actor, scenarist and occasional fill-in director for Corman throughout his career’s first decade, is particularly enjoyable spinning tales of his old friend. While there’s some eye-rolling in remembering particular filmmaking economies, no one has a bad word to say about Corman himself, an “elegant, eloquent” man despite his having produced so many crassly entertaining movies.
Assembly is brisk and first-rate in every department, clips in generally fine shape.