SFF 2011: Corman's World - Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
CORMAN'S WORLD is exactly the type of film you would expect it to be. A chronological run through of Corman's greatest hits with plenty of amusing anecdotes from famous faces and the requisite amount of funny clips from his assorted movies. Much like Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed, the biggest compliment I can give CORMAN'S WORLD is that is makes you want to immediately seek out and watch films that you normally wouldn't give a second thought to. Of course the catch here is that most of them don't actually deserve a second thought. And herein lies the interesting anomaly that sits at the heart of this admittedly fun but ultimately unenlightening film.
Roger Corman has undoubtedly been an influential figure in American cinema over the last 50 years. His main claim to fame (other than almost never losing money on a film) is to have kickstarted the careers of countless well-known Hollywood names in the 60s and 70s and this film is at its strongest when it concentrates on that fact. The parade of influential figures that roll through the film even surprised me occasionally and Jack Nicholson's frequent commentary is particularly entertaining.
Problems arose for me when the film tried to address the issue of artistic credibility in Corman's output. While I am comfortable admitting that he did make some decent Poe based films in the 60s, really for the most part his films were simple money-making enterprises. The majority of his B-output and drive-in pieces were designed as cash-grabs, put together on the cheap and quick, destined to play for a few weeks before disappearing with the next one closely following. These were the days of cheap genre product and low-standards with youth audiences using theatres and drive-ins as more of a communal social space than the silent, almost anti-social experience we have today.
It is notable that the documentary decides to cover very little of Corman's post-late-70s output. Director Alex Stapleton cleverly uses the releases of Jaws and Star Wars to mark the beginning of the end for Corman who says himself that the release of Star Wars would be a threat to him. The film makes it very clear that this was a turning point for Hollywood where it became more interested in marketing a product with all the associated merchandise than actually making real films and this left true independent 'rebels' like Corman out in the cold. The problem is that Corman wasn't exactly an independent rebel but rather a small business man who lost authority over a business model that became appropriated by the big guys. That is the real story here.
It should also be noted that films such as Jaws were so much better than anything Corman ever put out. So while he laments the fact that big Hollywood began 'copying' him, I can definitively say that he never made a killer shark movie as exciting or interesting as Jaws.
Despite what CORMAN'S WORLD would like to have you believe, the long and short of it is that Roger Corman is and always has been a businessman not an artist (a brief digression in the film covering Corman's only attempt at an artistic statement and also his biggest financial misstep, The Intruder, is ultimately skimmed over even though Corman's obvious bitterness that it never made money completely defined his attitude from that point onwards). His films are products, designed to make a profit from whatever cultural cache is popular at the time. In that aspect he is actually no different to the current big Hollywood machine, in fact he could be considered a progenitor of the current system. Of course that make a totally different film than CORMAN'S WORLD.
I readily admit that Roger Corman was culturally influential and for that I see this portrait as reasonably important but I challenge anyone to go near his recent output and see anything other than worthless titles designed to cash in on the craze of 'so bad it's good' cinema (Dinoshark, Piranhnaconda, Sharktopus, Supergator, Dinocroc). I see people renting these titles, suckered in by the amusing covers. They are shrewdly conceived items, produced on tight budgets, in bulk with small profits coming from audiences that don't know any better. Roger Corman is a businessman, making a product that sells well. Good on him but don't give me the pretence he is doing anything other than that.