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Corman’s World

Corman’s World

By Ben Nicholson • October 15th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Anchor Bay Entertainment UK

Release date: March 26th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 86 minutes

Director: Alex Stapleton
Writer: Alex Stapleton

Cast: Roger Corman, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Penelope Spheeris, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante

Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel

In the summer of 2009 I attended the Edinburgh International Film Festival for three days. Due to my short stay I, and a friend with whom I attended, decided to arrange our schedule based on seeing as many films as we could. As such, along with all of the new releases, we also attended two screenings of Roger Corman films, The Masque of the Red Death and The Trip, as the festival was holding a retrospective on the prolific American filmmaker.

We were lucky enough, in one of the screenings to be sat a row behind Mr Corman himself and he got up to do a Q&A after the film. Whilst I quite enjoyed both films, the only other Corman directed movie I have seen is the original Little Shop of Horrors. But that’s 3 of the 56 films he has directed in the last 57 and says nothing of the 401 films that he has produced in that time.

“If you walked up to any 20-25 year old film ‘buff’ and asked if they knew who Roger was, I think, unfortunately, that probably they don’t” says Penelope Spheeris, the director of Wayne’s World. Whilst this is not entirely true of myself, as I am aware of his films even though I’ve not seen many, watching Alex Stapleton’s documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel did open my eyes somewhat.

I am now considerably more aware not only of his prolificacy but that he is someone incredibly important in shaping New Hollywood and mentored some of the filmmakers that I know and love known loving as “The Corman Film School”.

“I think it’s very important to let the generation of today know who he is,” claims one director who is interviewed having been given his big break by Roger Corman in 1972. His name? Martin Scorsese. Along with him we are treated to talking heads with Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, Irvin Kershner, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Robert DeNiro, Pam Grier, David Carradine and many more. Interspersed with clips from many of his most and least successful films, what the conversations with these filmmakers and with the people who have worked with Roger over the years are a glowing portrait of a man who loves to make movies.

Ron Howard, Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood RebelRon Howard, Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel

We see Corman’s career from when he first started out in the early 1950’s with films like Monster from the Ocean Floor and The Fast and the Furious; at this point he was starting work early in the morning and transporting and unloading all of the crew’s equipment himself so that the crew could start a couple of hours later and he’d save on their wages. We see his almost single-handed support of Jack Nicholson and his revolutionary way of making films that spoke directly to the youth audiences who were the lifeblood of the cinemas at the time. Producing multiple films every year there are undoubtedly some with less quality or production value than others but Roger Corman is known for delivering on time, on budget and having only ever made one film that didn’t make money.

That one film is one which I am most eager to see, 1962’s The Stranger. Directed by COrman and produced by his brother after re-mortgaging the house, this was Corman’s one and only attempt to make an overtly political film about social issues. With William Shatner in the lead, it is a tale of racial segregation in the south of America and saw a very hostile reaction from locals during filming as well as bombing at the box office, however it is the film of which Corman hiself is most proud.

David Carradine, Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood RebelDavid Carradine, Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel

He gave a break to Francis Ford Coppola; he made The Wild Angels and The Trip with Peter Fonda which would then both come together in the latter’s mass hit Easy Rider; he was the father of exploitation movies as soon as the ratings system came into effect, and his run of films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe are regarded by many as the best adaptations of the poets stories.

After leaving the production company with which he’d had his early success, he founded his own company, New World, and as well as distributing his own films, he also became a stark supporter of world cinema not only supporting the production (Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers is the most striking example mentioned in the film) but distributing them in the US.

It is noted that his taste in films is not the same as the films that he makes and he is unanimously described as being like an English Professor or a lecturer in Film Studies rather than the “King of the Bs”. There is a touching moment as well: Jack Nicholson bursts into tears when recalling the debt that he owes to Corman and Polly Platt, Peter Bogdanovich’s ex-wife, says that when her husband left, the phone stopped ringing and the one person who called was Roger. He called her up and told her, if she ever wanted to direct a movie, he’d make it for her.

As soon as the film finished, I felt utterly compelled to see more of Corman’s work and to make sure that I make more of an effort to champion his work and influence. I can’t imagine that this is not exactly what Alex Stapleton hoped for when he made this film, so very well done sir!

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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