Today: March 4, 2024

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

Despite having produced nearly four hundred films in a career spanning six decades, Roger Corman remains one of the most divisive figures in the history of American film

Despite having produced nearly four
hundred films in a career spanning six decades,
Roger Corman remains one of the most divisive figures in the
history of American film
: How can the man responsible for films such as Dinoshark, Attack of the Crab Monsters
and The Pit and The Pendulum be the
same man who launched the careers of Martin
Scorsese
, Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich? Alex Stapleton’s energetic and affectionate documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood
Rebel
attempts to answer this question by suggesting that sensationalism
and audience pandering have always lain at the very heart of what makes cinema
such a uniquely powerful medium. The only reason we think of Roger Corman as a
divisive figure is because Hollywood itself is a profoundly paradoxical
institution.

Given that Corman made his name by
creating a series of templates for genre movies and then ruthlessly sticking to
them, it is perhaps appropriate that a film about his life should take no
formal risks whatsoever. As might be expected from this sort of documentary,
Stapleton opens his film with a big challenging assertion (namely that Roger
Corman is an underappreciated figure in American film) before dragging us back
to the beginning of Corman’s career and presenting us with evidence to back up
that opening claim. However, while the structure of Corman’s World may be
formulaic, there is no denying that this is a delightful piece of documentary
filmmaking as Stapleton manages to be both informative and affectionate without
ever allowing the pace to slacken or the affection to soften into
sentimentality. Clearly, Stapleton sees Corman as a serious filmmaker and so
pays him the compliment of taking his career seriously.

The portrait that emerges is of a
decent, polite and cultured man who fled a dull career in engineering to try
his hand at making movies. Though Corman’s early attempts at monster movies now
seem comically inept it is important to remember that they all turned a profit
because Corman understood what it was that his audience wanted. This desire to
pander to the tastes and values of younger filmgoers is central to Corman’s
career as it explains his unerring ability to place himself on the right side
of popular tastes. For example, when people wanted science fiction, Corman gave
them science fiction. When people wanted horror, Corman gave them horror. When
people wanted films about fighting The Man, Corman gave them films about
fighting The Man.

One of the most poignant moments in
Corman’s World sees Martin Scorsese and Peter Fonda reminiscing about Corman’s
willingness to fund films such as The
Trip
and The Wild Angels. Filled
with psychotropic imagery and language lifted from Vietnam War demonstrations,
these films not only gave younger people a voice, they also laid the
foundations for such ground-breaking films as Easy Rider. As people who rose to prominence on the back of the
1960s, both Fonda and Scorsese seem perplexed as to why Corman never followed
them out of the drive-in and into the academy but this is because both men seem
to have mistaken Corman for an idealistic filmmaker. Despite trying his arm at
politically engaged filmmaking, Corman was never an idealist… he was a democrat
and a capitalist who gave his audience idealism because that is what they
wanted to pay for. The unease we feel about Corman’s willingness to pander to
his audience is the same unease we feel about Hollywood as a whole: are they
making art or are they making money? The answer suggested by Stapleton is that
they are doing both because both activities involve telling people what it is
that they want and need to hear. According to Stapleton, Corman is an
emblematic figure for post-War American film because, much like Hollywood as a
whole, he relentlessly pursued the bottom dollar but somehow managed to produce
art while doing so.

Littered with amazingly candid and
insightful interviews with some of the biggest names in American film, Corman’s
World is a fitting tribute to one of the people who, for good or ill, laid the
foundations for Hollywood as we know it.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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