It's hard to believe no one has done a film tribute to Roger Corman before Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, Alex Stapleton's loving time-capsule of the career of one of the true independent filmmaking sensibilities of all time.
Still active at a spritely 85, Corman is shown shooting a deathless bit of horror for the Syfy network, Dinoshark (not to be confused with his equally enthralling Sharktopus). But as a who's who of Oscar-winning actors and directors testify, Corman ran one of the great film schools available to the aspiring director: a low-budget independent company that gave untried talent the chance to direct for the first time.
Ron Howard, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Jonathan Demme and Peter Bogdanovich are among the familiar faces singing the praises of Corman and his work at both American International Pictures (where he worked for a decade) and his own New World Pictures in the 1970s (which he also used to release films by Fellini, Kurosawa and others in the U.S.).
The picture they paint of Corman is of an energetic guy who seized the reins of production and found ways to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible, while tapping into a restless teen-age audience's desires. He figured out a system to make the movies for a price and get a piece of the pie as well; not for nothing that his autobiography is called How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.
Corman was of the school that believed in throwing rookies into the deep water to teach them to swim. Cheaper often simply meant cheaper-looking - but it also sparked creative resourcefulness by directors just learning their craft.
Still, this is a bittersweet tribute, one that acknowledges that Corman never got the respect he deserved from the Hollywood establishment, for his own work or for the way his work generated a new generation of filmmakers. He bristles in an old TV clip when Tom Snyder asks whether it bothers him to be called a shlockmeister; of course it does.
So there's a measure of redemption in scenes showing him receiving an honorary Oscar at a 2009 ceremony, where he is honored by Howard, Scorsese, Demme and others.
Stapleton's interview subjects seem at ease and talkative, eager to relate their favorite Corman anecdote - and there are a lot of them. It's mostly good-natured; still, Nicholson, who several times avows that he owes his career to Corman (who hired him to act when no one else would), at one point actually breaks down in tears at how much Corman means to him.
Corman's World is brisk and funny, a documentary that feels like it should be a mock-doc but has the advantage of truth.
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