Now in his sixth decade of producing low-budget genre flicks like Monster From the Ocean Floor, The Wild Angels and Rock 'n' Roll High School, Roger Corman also gave early breaks to aspiring filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. They join a substantial roster of the Corman faithful in singing the praises of Corman and his unique brand of soft-spoken pragmatism in this documentary tribute.
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Martin Scorsese likes to tell a story about working with producer Roger Corman on Boxcar Bertha, an energetic, violent B budget exploitation flick that the director made in 1972. It was a blatant steal in tone and style from the then still popular Bonnie and Clyde. "Roger had all these little ideas about how films should be made," Scorsese once explained to biographer Ian Christie. "Read the script Marty," advised Corman, "and re-write as much as you want, but remember you must have a little nudity at least every fifteen pages, maybe a little off the shoulder." Scorsese says that Corman, who remains dollar for dollar one of the most commercially successful filmmakers in the history of the movies, was just as savvy when it came to post-production. Then (and for all we know now) Corman had his directors mix the sound in just three days. (For the uninitiated, it takes weeks to mix down a conventional, modestly budgeted movie.) "The first reel has to be good cos the people have got to know what’s going on," Corman told Scorsese, "forget the rest, except for the last reel, because you know, people have to know how the plot turns out."
Scorsese, in a way, got his start with Corman. So did Jack Nicholson, directors John Sayles, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, actors Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, David Carradine, Robert de Niro, and Pam Grier. All them appear on screen in this sweet-natured feature documentary about Corman and his work and most of them have funny and enlightening stories to tell about a guy who was once dubbed a long time ago as 'The King of the B’s’ – as in the B movie, a moniker that the producer still bristles at. According to the testimonials here, Corman was quick and cheap (in the nicest possible way). He’s produced three hundred movies since the '50s and directed 50 himself and he’s still going. Director Alex Stapleton includes on-set footage of Corman supervising a recent production, a monster movie he did for the Syfy cable network called Dinoshark, made in Mexico. For fans there’s a warm feeling about this stuff; the effects are still make do and the monster very rubbery.
Directed by Alex Stapleton, Corman’s World is pretty much a conventional movie about movies; the style is talking heads augmented with choice clips from Corman’s enormous back catalogue, some of which are obscure to non-aficionados like The Wasp Woman (1959) and some like The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which was made in a couple of days, have camp value, even for those who haven’t actually seen it. But then there are the class Corman pics like The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), starring Vincent Price.
Corman appears in new interviews, shot for the film as well as lot of archival stuff. He has a reputation for being a likable gentleman and the movie does absolutely nothing to contradict that. What we get here is the very softly spoken, somewhat self-deprecating, movie mogul who looks a lot like a school principal. But behind the surface style is a formidable intelligence and a rather enigmatic character. More than one of the cast of interviewees takes note of the fact that Corman is a guy who’s hard to know. When he speaks he sounds like a man who has the confidence that comes from having few illusions; about himself or anyone or anything else, but especially the movie business.
Stapleton’s focus is the way Corman’s career has evolved. Once upon a time Corman was dismissed as a schlockmeister. Then, in the '70s, serious critics identified the way the so-called prestige counterculture films like Easy Rider, Nicholson’s Drive, He Said (1971) and even Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) were a direct out-growth of not only the low budget production techniques the producer cultivated and the talent Corman had mentored, but also a sensibility that attempted to engage directly with contemporary social concerns and deal with them honestly.
Corman himself was a progressive. The best episode in Stapleton’s movie deals with the making of The Intruder (1962), a drop dead serious movie about civil rights and set in the south. Starring a young William Shatner as a rabble-rouser bent on stirring racial hatred when integration was openly and widely opposed, the film, which Corman made with his brother Gene, was one of the producer’s few flops (perhaps the only one). It soured Corman on overtly political material; from here he says in the film, he would have to 'smuggle" his social commentary in, along with the buckets of blood and the ample nakedness.