Before turning to the doc that's premiered at Sundance, let's note that Dave Kehr's DVD column in the New York Times this week is devoted to Roger Corman the director. Yes, he's produced (in one capacity or another) nearly 400 films, but he's also directed more than 50, and the best of them "express a genuine sensibility: a somber, apocalyptic vision belied by some of the more lurid titles in his filmography."
Dave Kehr: "Among the graduates of what has come to be known as the Roger Corman School of Filmmaking are the directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, the actors Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, the producers Jon Davison and Gale Anne Hurd, the writers Robert Towne and John Sayles and countless others. 'Do a good job on this picture,' Mr Corman liked to say, 'and your reward will be that you'll never have to work for me again.' … The independent label Shout! Factory has been issuing some of the better-known Corman productions over the last year (including Piranha, Joe Dante's subversive 1978 response to Jaws). Now Shout! has turned to Corman the director with a nifty two-disc set, Roger Corman's Cult Classics Triple Feature, that includes excellent transfers of three early and rare Corman features and trailers for some 25 more. Filmmaking doesn't get much more elemental than this, yet the work is always entertaining and at times startlingly effective."
"Why has it taken this long for someone to make a major documentary about Roger Corman?" asks the AV Club's Nathan Rabin before bestowing an A- on Alex Stapleton's Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. "He's the perfect documentary subject, a living legend with the genial, WASP exterior of a bank President and the rakish soul of a carny… As his vast army of protégés attest, Corman's buttoned-down exterior hides a raging id that found its purest expression in drive-in quickies with rubbery sea beasties, half-naked girls in peril and nurses whose bedside manner was questionable at best. Everyone seems to have a classic Corman anecdote; my favorite comes from the great Dick Miller, who recalls how Corman roped him into service early in his career to play a cowboy in a B-movie, then told him he'd also be playing an Indian not just in the same movie but in the same scene (as a result, Miller the cowboy extra ended up killing Miller the Indian extra, or possibly vice versa). Chutzpah, thy name is Roger Corman."
For keelsetter, writing for TCM, this is "a hugely engaging documentary. Highlights for me included sections on The Intruder (1962), starring William Shatner as a hate-monger who gets a small Southern town riled up over integration, as well as Corman's perspective on big-budget movies. The former gave Corman some of the best reviews he'd ever had, but did not perform well at the box office — so from this point out he decided his social messages would be in the subtexts only. On the subject of big budgets, Corman feels they are simply unethical and he'd rather see those tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars put toward helping out the ghettos of our country. Corman's liberal heart isn't the only thing that bleeds here, just about everything else onscreen does too — but it's mostly all in good fun."
"And then, of course, there's Jack," writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. "Easily the doc's best interview, Nicholson is entertaining and surprisingly earnest (emotional, even) as he marvels at the man who kept him employed even after the kind of performance he gave in The Terror. Nicholson also caps the story of how Easy Rider, which could have been Corman's crowning achievement, slipped through his fingers… A few tidbits may be news to casual fans (New World's unlikely relationship with auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, for instance), and in ample footage of the man himself (including vintage talk-show appearances), Stapleton presents, though never really explains, the intriguing contrast between Corman's dignified persona and the bottom-feeding fare he produces."
"More than anything, Corman was adept at not just anticipating trends in pop culture but instigating them," writes Drew McWeeney at HitFix. "He was right so many times that you could make the case for him as one of the primary influences on pop media in the 20th century. Without Corman's Wild Angels or The Trip, there is no Easy Rider, and then there's no explosion of youth culture into mainstream Hollywood. It's not easy to make a film like this that is a celebration of a filmography as much as it's an examination of the larger social impact of someone's work, but Stapleton manages it. As a result, Corman's World is both a pleasure and an energetic primer on the man's work.
That, of course, is not the trailer for Corman's World, which screened in the Park City at Midnight program, but rather for the Shout! Factory series. Corman himself turns 85 on April 5; and did you know that he and his office are tweeting?