Blu-ray Review: CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL
Recent years have seen a number of flashy film documentaries. Several documentarians have realized that these films don't need to be dry, and as a result we have the engaging and visually dynamic work of someone like Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed), and the MPAA expose, This Film is Not Yet Rated from Kirby Dick. Corman's World is a far more traditional documentary in the visual sense. Director Alex Stapleton throws in a few flourishes here and there, but in this case, the material mostly sells itself, though the telling is a bit on the dry side. Call me spoiled by flashing lights and whiz-bang graphics, but this seemed like an ideal candidate for something a bit more outside the box.
Fortunately for Ms.Stapleton, Roger Corman's influence runs deep in Hollywood, and the roster of interviewees is pretty staggering. The film features segments with Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Martin Scorsese, David Carradine, Bill Shatner, Peter Fonda, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jonathan Demme for starters, but there are two interviewees whose contributions overshadow the rest, in my opinion, and those are Ron "Opie" Howard, and Jack Nicholson.
The entire country grew up with Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960's and then again shared his young adulthood in the '70s with Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. No one eve imagined that this kid would end up being one of the most revered directors of his generation. Roger Corman gave Ron Howard his shot, he handed him a camera and a crew and said, "make me a car crash comedy". Howard did it. The result was Grand Theft Auto, a classic action comedy that stands up to scrutiny even today. Howard has nothing but praise to heap onto Corman, and his anecdotes are well-worth relaying. He has a genuine affection for Roger, and it shows in one of the most endearing interviews in the film.
The killer talking head, though; the man that really makes this a show stopper is Jack Nicholson. Roger Corman gave Nicholson his first starring role in a crappy little film called The Cry Baby Killer, and Nicholson hasn't forgotten. He worked almost exclusively for Corman throughout the '60s, and holds the man in the highest regard. His interview, however, isn't some fawning love fest, he talks straight. He knows he made shitty movies, but he also knows that Corman was and is a genius. He gives Corman shit when it's appropriate, but he never hesitates to give the man credit when it is due, and it is due a lot. Films like Easy Rider would never have happened without Corman, and for that alone Nicholson would own Corman his career.
There are a couple of moments in this documentary, both involving Nicholson, that will make you tear up even if you have no affinity for Corman or his films. The idea that Corman's name falling from prominence in modern Hollywood is something of which every participant in this documentary is well aware, but no one expresses it quite like Nicholson. At two separate moments in the film he nearly breaks down when he considers what his life would be like without Roger Corman's intervention. He eventually does crack and starts crying when he is trying to express his gratitude. Jack Nicholson. CRYING. It's heart-breaking, but it cements the kind of effect that Corman still has on Hollywood.
As for the subject himself, if you've ever seen an interview with Roger Corman, you know what to expect. The man is so laid back he's practically dead. He never seems to get excited, his face carries a perpetual grin when he gets down to talking about his career, even the one film that failed (Intruder). He's full of great anecdotes, but he's so laconic and soft-spoken that it's hard to call him engaging as a personality. Though, perhaps that's even more reason to be impressed with what he's managed to accomplish.
Corman's World is a good, if brief, overview of Corman's career and a nice collection of congratulatory talking heads, but not a terribly probing documentary. I suppose a love letter every once in a while ain't so bad, I enjoyed it. It did end up feeling a lot like something I'd see on PBS as part of a series than a standalone feature, but that may just be my short attention span speaking. Recommended.
Yet another review of a documentary on Blu-ray, and I'll continue to repeat my usual caveat. These films are liberally peppered with archival footage, much of which is in rough shape, so attempting any sort of review of the A/V is pretty much limited to interview subjects. In this case, they are all perfectly adequate interviews, though I can't seen any real reason to grab the Blu-ray over the DVD, unless you're an obsessive like I am.
This disc contains three bonus features, of which two are pretty entertaining. The first is a set of extended interviews, which takes some of the major interviewees and lets them continue talking. Among the subjects given bonus time are Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, and Nicholson. Since the anecdotes are uniformly pretty great, I liked this little feature. The second is a brief round of personal messages to Roger in which all of the interview subjects, and a few who didn't make it to the feature, give their thanks to Roger for what he means to them. Then there's a trailer, and it's a trailer.
Corman's World is a must for film fans. His influence on Hollywood cannot be overstated, the man is a legend an deserves all the attention and congratulations he gets. While the documentary isn't Earth-shattering, it's certainly a great overview, and those Nicholson bits will SLAY you.
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