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April 17, 2012

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

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Alex Stapleton - 2011
Anchor Bay Enetertainment Region 1 DVD

I wasn't expecting to learn anything new about Roger Corman. I've been following his career on and off for almost fifty years. I wrote about Corman almost six years ago for a blogathon instigated by Tim Lucas. I had purposely not seen any previous documentaries on Roger Corman because I figured that as I had seen most of the films he's directed, read most of the anecdotes, and in some cases personally knew some of the people who began their own filmmaking careers with Corman, that there was little incentive to revisit familiar ground. My main reason for seeing Corman's World is that aside from being the most recent documentary on Roger Corman, it has become the most publicized of the bunch. But it does raise a couple of questions.

One of Roger Corman's claimed pet projects was a film about Civil War general Robert E. Lee. One of the stories I recall was that Corman couldn't get financing because the unnamed studio thought the proposed budget was too low. I have to wonder why Corman never took his own money to make the film. Was he that gun shy after mortgaging his house to produce The Intruder, one of his few financial failures? It's something not mentioned in Corman's World, and a question I think worth asking.

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There is also a nice little anecdote from Polly Platt, who also was one of the executive producers of this film. It's only been in retrospect that the best things in a Peter Bogdanovich film were often due to Platt's collaboration with her then-husband. At the time of their divorce though, while Bogdanovich was still feted as a top young filmmaker, it took a while for Platt to be recognized for her talents. Apparently Roger Corman had extended an invitation to Platt to direct a film. I don't know what Corman might have had in mind, but I would like to think that he would allow Platt to make a film closer to the artistry of Jeanne Moreau's directorial debut, Lumiere, which Corman brought to U.S. screens, than films made by such Corman alumni as Stephanie Rothman, Barbara Peeters and Amy Jones, which managed to have some kind of feminist message tuck in between shots of women displaying their hooters. Maybe Platt felt more comfortable being in more supportive film production positions, but I wish she had taken up that invitation to direct at least one movie herself.

There is also Penelope Spheeris mentioning that a younger generation of film aficionados don't know about Roger Corman. I would assume some truth to that in some message boards from people who couldn't understand why Corman received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. And while the Oscar was probably a kind of tribute to someone who gave early opportunities to a significant number of people who became Academy Award nominees and winners themselves, whatever one thinks of the films Corman himself directed, many are still fun to watch.

There's also an unintended wistfulness to this documentary in that several people interviewed have recently passed. Including Ms. Platt, there is also George Hickenlooper, David Carradine and Irvin Kershner. To the best of my knowledge, Kershner was the first of the university trained filmmakers to get his start with Corman with Stakeout on Dope Street. The big news was hearing that once upon a time, the then unknown Kershner was also working in theater, and that he directed a production of He Who gets Slapped starring an equally unknown Jack Nicholson. Jack sits back to tell stories about his time with Corman as actor and writer. Corman is shown at home and on the set of Dinocroc, possibly the most energetic octogenarian on the planet. For those who still have no idea who Roger Corman is, take the hour and a half to see the DVD. For the rest of us, there may be bits to glean, but even better are to see the films themselves.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 17, 2012 08:45 AM


Nicholson was the best part of this documentary, IMHO. So relaxed in his skin. And I was actually startled when he got emotional and started to cry.

Posted by: Michael Guillen at April 17, 2012 10:18 AM