Roger Corman is a fascinating fellow. Born on April 5, 1926, Corman became a screenwriter in 1956 for The House and the Sea (released as Highway Dragnet), before using his own money to become a producer with Monster Maker in 1954. Today, imdb.com lists his producer credits at over 400 films and big A-List directors (Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard) and actors (Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro) lay down the proverbial palm leaves in praise in his efforts in Alex Stapletonís documentary Cormanís World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.
The documentary is simple in presentation. We get a little glimpse into Cormanís early life and career and then we dive heavily into Cormanís cheap, down and dirty producing and directing of the B-Films that will eventually nab him a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 2009.
Director Alex Stapleton keeps the documentary moving with clips from much of Cormanís earlier work scattered with interviews with everyone from Jonathan Demme and Bruce Dern to Peter Bogdanovich and David Carradine. Corman himself provides plenty of insight as well describing his rebellious stint in the V-12 Navy College Training Program and his ability to save costs by shooting two movies using the same set to name just two of the many self-described experiences.
We found ourselves most interested in his early working relationship with actor Jack Nicholson (who worked together in far more films than we would have guessed) and a segment on Cormanís most acclaimed work with The Intruder (1962) which featured the debut of a young William Shatner about a racist in a small southern town.
There are more directors present in the documentary than can be found in the Kodak Theatre in late February and Joe Dante, Paul W.S. Anderson, Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino join Scorsese, Howard and others in lauding over Cormanís impact or personality like drooling Pavlovian dogs.
We have long been a fan of Cormanís work. His filmography is littered throughout our DVD collection with titles such as The Little Shop of Horrors, Sharktopus and Death Race 2000. Yet, this well-intentioned documentary fails to either inspire or give 60-minutes style insight into the man who has been quoted saying ĎI've never made the film I wanted to make. No matter what happens, it never turns out exactly as I hoped.í Instead, the 95-minute running time simply plays out like a television tribute without the bite it so required to keep Corman fans interested in the content.
Where are the stories of frustration by directors over Cormanís cheapness (A running gag in Hollywood was that Corman could negotiate the production of a film on a pay phone, shoot the film in the booth, and finance it with the money in the change slot)? Where are details of his clashes with young directors or the risks that his filmís took by cutting costs with large scale action sequences?
That is not to suggest that Cormanís World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel is not a pleasant experience. But Ďpleasantí is not a word many would use to describe the man nicknamed ďKing of the BísĒ, and a grittier, edgier documentary on the prolific producer would have been more appreciated.