Cormans World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel review

Roger Corman received a lot of recognition for his work behind the camera, but his legacy is much more far-reaching than anyone truly knows. That is the sentiment that I took away from viewing the documentary “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel”, directed by Alex Stapleton. Some people are under-appreciated for what they contributed to the movie business, and are doomed to be pigeon-holed by what their name alone invokes. “Schlock”, “Campy”…..these are the terms that anybody thinks of when Corman’s name is brought up, over the course of his 7-plus decades of making films. But what he means to Hollywood is so much more, and this film does well to present the side of this man’s career that very few know about.

In the 1950s, Roger Corman almost single-handedly invented the drive-in movie. He started out his career making low-budget monster and sci-fi flicks, which elicited as many laughs as gasps. He could be considered the godfather of future cult films that would successfully incorporate his style, both underground (Evil Dead, all Troma films) and mainstream (Jaws, Star Wars). Buxom blondes on a beach, alien invasions, big explosions, inexplicable creatures descending on unsuspecting teenagers….his films had it all. And ALL were ground-breaking. Corman himself bragged that every single one of his films (which numbered north of 250) were financial successes, so there’s no reason to mess with this formula. He famously said that “people come to my pictures looking for camp, and I’m gonna give it to them.” Of course, he found time to make serious movies too….though to much less enthusiasm and critical fanfare. In 1962, he made a film called “The Intruder”, which dealt with racial desegregation in the South. It was considered his best film; ironically, it was also the only one he ever lost money on. Even during his least well-received period as a director, Corman found the time to give a young William Shatner (who plays the lead) his big Hollywood break. Corman was truly a revolutionary, which earned him the admiration and undying loyalty of the Hollywood elite. That’s the true spirit of this documentary: to profile a man so beloved and respected, yet was never able to take that next step up to filmmaking royalty.

“Corman’s World” pulls out the heavy artillery in terms of star power, all willing to voice their appreciation of the man. Extended interviews with Ron Howard (who made his directorial debut with Corman’s 1975 “Grand Theft Auto”), Jack Nicholson (an early Corman regular) and David Carridine hammer the point home that this man launched careers, while he stayed where he was. Peter Fonda, Robert DeNiro, Francis Ford Coppolla, Dennis Hopper…….Roger Corman featured all of them in his early films, and each express their eternal gratitude here. Martin Scorsese credits his success as a director to learning under Corman’s tutelage in the ‘70s, as does Eli Roth in the ‘90s. So the question that persists throughout the film……why isn’t this man the most powerful player in the business? Although it’s tough to pinpoint an exact answer to this question, “Corman’s World” does a good job at theorizing.

In 1968, Corman regulars Nicholson, Hopper and Fonda teamed up with the director to pitch a movie idea, born out of a previous biker movie made by the director, 1966’s “The Wild Angels.” While they were busy selling the concept, Columbia swooped in and bought the rights to this movie, which would become the most successful independent movie of all time, “Easy Rider”. At this point, unfortunately, Corman was on the outside looking in as his studio couldn’t match the big paychecks doled out by the big movie factories. This moment in history is almost universally considered to be the birth of “New Hollywood”; Roger Corman was a big reason for its origin but ironically was not a part of it. This paradox proves to be the true definition of the visionary film director.

“Corman’s World” begins and ends on the set of his current low-budget, big-camp horror movie, Scyfy’s “Dinoshark”, showing that things have truly come full circle. The most touching moment occurs when footage is shown of Roger Corman receiving a lifetime achievement award by the Academy, surrounded by a standing ovation of the Hollywood elite. Therein lies the contradiction of the man, content to be under the radar but revered by every A-lister on the planet. For this reason, I compare it to 2008’s solid documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. I’d recommend “Corman’s World” purely for entertainment purposes, but especially if you aren’t aware of the man’s far-reaching genius and need a crash course.

Sean McLaughlin on Twitter
Sean McLaughlin
Staff Writer at Horror News Network
Sean McLaughlin has been writing for Horror News Network since 2012. Catch up with him on Twitter at @Makasupa and read his in-depth bio on our About Us page.
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