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Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Blu-ray Review)

26 Mar, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Street 3/27/12
Anchor Bay
Box Office $0.003 million
$26.98 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for some violent images, nudity and language.

Even if he were nothing more than the marketer who managed to book Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers into drive-ins when he theatrically distributed it through New World Pictures, Roger Corman would be a character worth endless discussion. But then here also are Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, the late production designer Polly Platt, Peter Fonda and even The Man himself — Jack Nicholson — talking of how much the producer/director/distributor and still handsome guy did for their careers. Most of them were there in 2009 when Corman got his lifetime honorary Oscar — the one viewers only got to see presented after-the-fact on Oscarcast tape because the show needed airtime for, among other things, a John Hughes tribute. Uh huh.

I have good memories of Christian Blackwood’s Roger Corman: Hollywood’s Wild Angel, but a lot of time has passed, and perspective has obviously solidified since that earlier documentary played festivals and specialized theaters in the late 1970s. Alex Stapleton’s fresher look is a needed update because the industry began changing around the time Blackwood’s portrait began circulating. In a way, game-changers Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) were more highly budgeted major-studio versions of the exploitation pics Corman had refined in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which included a fabulous run at American-International with the Vincent Price Edgar Allan Poe thrillers and also 1966’s money-printing biker epic The Wild Angels, which I recall busted out of my hometown’s drive-in/neighborhood theater ghetto and did huge business in a downtown 2800-seater. Corman also had one very well reviewed but notorious box office flop with 1962’s civil rights muckraker The Intruder — which after a commercially futile title switch got advertised on my local radio stations as I Hate Your Guts. The picture probably locked Corman into formula filmmaking for the rest of his life, though it did win him the continuing admiration of his star (William Shatner, interviewed here about the experience).

When the Spielberg-Lucas generation rose to prominence, it made even escapist audiences more discriminating — as did the glut of cheapie titles during the early VHS era that eventually forced Corman (who often worked with wife Julie and brother Gene) to become more of a direct-to-video guy. But before this — and even before he and director Allan Arkush screen-immortalized the Ramones in 1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School — he displayed the courage of his convictions in terms of personal taste by becoming the U.S. distributor not just of Cries and Whispers but Fellini’s Amarcord. If I’m not mistaken, I think I read once where Corman’s favorite actress was Monica Vitti — but in any event, it is the arthouse pictures he handled whose posters adorn his office walls. Can you imagine (at New World) having your 1972 lineup including both Whispers and The Big Bird Cage?

The clip reel here covers the bases going back to the ’50s, and the interviews are so plentiful that at least three subjects have died since Stapleton recorded them (Platt, director George Hickenlooper and David Carradine). Stapleton’s great coup was landing Nicholson, who isn’t exactly ubiquitous on talk shows. The world’s oldest bad boy is informally dressed and appears to have spun his Corman yarns in one sitting — but there’s a lot of him here, and in one unexpectedly touching moment at the end, he begins to weep over the early employment the director gave him. If you’ve ever seen Nicholson’s screen debut as the lead in Corman’s 1958’s trash classic Cry Baby Killer (excerpted here), you’ll see why he needed all the fine-tuning the director could give him.

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