2010s

Published on December 16th, 2011 | by Padraic Coffey

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Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)

In 2012, Andrew Stanton, the writer-director behind Pixar’s Wall-E, Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life, ruffled a few feathers while appearing on the BBC’s Kermode and Mayo’s Film Reviews show to promote his live-action debut, John Carter. “All I’ve ever worked on are really high-budget films with a lot of exposure”, Stanton claimed. “I wouldn’t know what to do with five million dollars.” John Carter would go on to lose Disney somewhere in the vicinity of $160 million at the box office. Perhaps Stanton should have taken a leaf out of Roger Corman’s book. Corman has produced approximately 385 films in his ongoing career, the vast majority of which never exceeded $1 million in budget. Such efficiency justifies the mealy-mouthed title of Corman’s autobiography, “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime”.

This hugely enjoyable and surprisingly touching documentary, directed by Alex Stapleton, traces Corman’s output in chronological order, with real affection for the frequently trashy films he churned out at lightning speed. Although the movies, with titles like Monster from the Ocean Floor, The Fast and the Furious (not a precursor to the Vin Diesel franchise, though both share a title), A Bucket of Blood and Hollywood Boulevard are the main focus, a portrait of Corman himself does emerge. Unlike many more ‘respected’ filmmakers, the line between Corman’s professional and personal life was often indistinguishable. His ruthless frugality included failing to contact his new fiancé Julie from the Philippines, because of the cost of a long distance phone call. Julie, whom he met while hiring for an assistant, became not only his long-term wife but his producing partner on many of his films.

Corman also possessed a virulent independence, refusing to work within the Hollywood studio system, which he viewed as both restrictive and wasteful. This anti-authoritarianism stemmed from a two-year stint in the navy, about which Corman admitted, “if they set up a rule, I felt I must break that rule.” This is reflected in his groundbreaking ‘teenage’ movies of the 1950s, and biker films of the 1960s, which lead indirectly to Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider and the birth of the New Hollywood. A cursory glance at the role call assembled here to pay tribute to Corman illustrates how influential he was in kick-starting the career of so many major Hollywood players: Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson all appear to discuss the sometimes slapdash nature of Corman’s shoots.

Despite the extreme nature of Corman’s films, with their ample nudity and gore, the man who emerges is softly spoken, pragmatic and fiercely loyal. At one point, Jack Nicholson breaks down in tears recalling the consistent work Corman provided for him in the early part of his acting career. The blockbusters of the 1970s, Jaws and Star Wars in particular, marginalised Corman’s niche market by persuading Hollywood studios to pump million of dollars into stories which would have previously been seen as exploitation fare. Scenes in Peurto Vallarta, Mexico featuring the shoot of Corman’s latest opus, DinoShark, do seem somewhat pitiful. Nonetheless, the story culminates with Corman receiving an Honorary Oscar from a clearly ecstatic Quentin Tarantino, apt given that so many of Corman’s protégés had beaten him in winning one by several decades.

Highly recommended.

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About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.



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