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Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel Blu-ray Review

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel movie poster Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

Theatrical Release: December 16, 2011 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Alex Stapleton / Tagline: Some men dream of conquering the world. Roger Corman created his own.

Featured Interviewed Subjects: Paul W.S. Anderson, Allan Arkush, Eric Balfour, Paul Bartel, Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Burns, David Carradine, Gene Corman, Julie Corman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern, Frances Doel, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Jonathan Haze, George Hickenlooper, Ron Howard, Gale Anne Hurd, Jonathan Kaplan, Irvin Kershner, Dick Miller, Jack Nicholson, Polly Platt, Eli Roth, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, William Shatner, Tom Sherak, Penelope Spheeris, Quentin Tarantino, Gary Tunicliffe, Mary Woronov, Jim Wynorski

Buy Corman's World from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD

For someone who specializes in schlock, Roger Corman is remarkably revered.
There are a few obvious reasons for that.

One is longevity. Corman began producing movies in the mid-1950s and he's never let up since. Now 85, he has outlived every other filmmaker of his generation and continues to put out a few new TV and direct-to-video films every year.

Another explanation for Corman's significance is his reputation as a career launchpad. In his over half-century in the business, Corman has given opportunities to many a future star and director, among them, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Sylvester Stallone, and Peter Fonda. The collaborations may be forgettable, embarrassing, and obscure, but they have secured a soft spot inside some of Hollywood's most important hearts and in return earned Corman acting cameos in such classics as The Godfather Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, and Apollo 13.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, there is the complete lack of pretension. Corman's directing and producing priorities have always been crystal clear: make the movie fast and cheap to ensure profitability. It's a philosophy that has worked for him on the vast majority of his 400 credits, even as it stands in stark contrast to the industry's increasing belief in big-budget tentpole blockbusters. Corman's never been interested in making art; he'd rather just make movies, placing more importance on a catchy title and the number of thrills than composition and coherency.

Corman has more than earned his title as B-movie king and he wears the crown proudly. His name may not be familiar to younger moviegoers, nor may his success make sense to them. Plenty of others make stupid creature features and direct-to-video trash. But Corman's done it longer, more often, and more passionately. Without him, who knows how many cinematic talents we might have been deprived.

All this makes Corman as fitting a subject for a feature documentary as anyone in the business. Alex Stapleton has given us just that in Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. A crew member on a handful of independent productions (none of them Corman's) from early last decade, Stapleton makes her directing debut on this 2011 Sundance Film Festival premiere and has done her subject great justice.

Press clippings celebrate Roger Corman at the height of his 1970s B-movie success. Ron Howard is one of many directors reflecting on the opportunities Roger Corman gave them early in their filmmaking careers.

With the exceptions of James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola, Stapleton has caught up with virtually every significant living filmmaker who got a break from Corman, as well as Corman himself. The exclusive new interviews are judiciously implemented in a chronological overview of Corman's career. The film starts at the very beginning, recalling his first industry job as a lowly script reader at 20th Century Fox. When his recommendation and suggestions were heeded without recognition on the 1950 Gregory Peck western The Gunfighter, Corman moved on. In just a few years, he was making the equivalent of student films, only for general release.

Fittingly excerpting the works, Corman's World is able to arrange the director/producer's exhaustive filmography into concentrated, well-defined periods that make absolute sense. The antiestablishment tones of Corman's black & white teenager movies of the '50s are traced back to his unhappy stint in the US Navy. From there, we move to Corman's Edgar Allan Poe phase of the early 1960s. The counterculture movement of the late '60s allowed New Hollywood to emerge and Corman is there at its start, collaborating with Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern on the Hell's Angels-inspired The Wild Angels and Jack Nicholson-penned LSD drama The Trip.

These stretches reveal how close Corman was to breaking through to recognized films of lasting value. We discover how he narrowly missed out on the chance to produce Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider and Scorsese's Mean Streets (which Corman wanted to make as a black movie). Not that we should pity Corman, whose realized achievements are celebrated by famous fans like directors Eli Roth, Resident Evil's Paul W.S. Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino.

One production given as much notice as any is the 1962 racial integration Southern drama The Intruder starring William Shatner. It may very well be Corman's best movie and yet he claims it was his only unprofitable one. That reception steered the producer to put the "business" before the "show", a stance he maintained into the 1970s, the golden age of exploitation cinema, with titillating women in prison films and various Pam Grier action vehicles, while at the same time distributing the imported art films of Fellini and Bergman.

The crowds that turned up for "Star Wars" are credited with changing the industry and minimalizing Corman's world. Surrounded by alumni of The Corman Film School and honorary graduate Quentin Tarantino, Roger Corman proudly holds his lifetime achievement Oscar.

The documentary essentially ends in the late 1970s, attributing the summer blockbusters Jaws and Star Wars with changing the industry in a way that marginalized Corman's fast, frugal drive-in follies. Though his three most recent decades of output are understandably glossed over, we know Corman is still at it because the documentary gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of his 2010 Syfy movie Dinoshark in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Expressing concern about camera angles and the amount of time being spent on leading lady Iva Hasperger's make-up, Corman is still the same cost-conscious filmmaker and clearly still enjoying it. The film poetically closes with Corman finally being recognized with his 2009 honorary lifetime achievement Oscar.

Stapleton must be commended not only for her thorough efforts to get as many valuable perspectives as possible, but also for the fine way she implements the interviews, shooting them not as talking heads but in ways that establish the character of the speaker. Ron Howard is caught on a neighborhood walk which ends up at a cemetery. Bruce Dern is interviewed during a haircut. Pam Grier is poolside in the night. Scorsese sits in his comfortable screening room. Nicholson, the most candid and critical of all subjects, talks from the edge of a long couch.

As it turns out, Corman's World includes some of the last interviews ever given by a number of Corman colleagues: regular actor David Carradine, producer Polly Platt (one of this film's nine executive producers), documentarian George Hickenlooper, and director Irvin Kershner (Stakeout on Dope Street, The Empire Strikes Back). Those recent passings indicate that Stapleton didn't make this important movie a day too soon.

After a limited one-weekend engagement in two theaters last December, Corman's World comes to DVD and Blu-ray on March 27th alongside one of Corman's latest productions, a creature feature titled Camel Spiders.

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($26.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Naturally, Corman's World is presented in the new standard 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, although clips are wider or narrower based on their original design. As documentaries often are, this one is a mixed bag visually. The scenes from Corman's cheap catalog inevitably tend to be pretty rough-looking, although they appear to be culled from original prints and not just the DVDs. The new modern-day footage is expectedly cleaner and sharper, though some of the set-ups are plagued by light grain. The film is quite satisfying visually, with Stapleton employing a welcome variety of interesting sources, including old Corman interviews, animation to spice up poster imagery and news articles, and an inspired use of clips for the end credits. Documentaries may be a genre where you think standard definition suffices, but you definitely notice and appreciate the clarity of this 1080p presentation.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack largely limits itself to the front channels, but the audio is crisp, clean, and consistent throughout. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are kindly provided.

Horror director Eli Roth recalls the thrill of meeting his childhood icon in this extended interview. In his video message to Roger Corman, the late director George Hickenlooper expresses a desire to make a movie about L.A. riots with the producer.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On both DVD and Blu-ray, Corman's World is joined by three extras, which the Blu-ray presents in HD. First up is a reel of extended interviews (13:10),
which isn't just unused footage but good footage that would have added value had the film gone beyond 90 minutes. Eli Roth talks about meeting Corman at a 2004 awards show, Penelope Spheeris recounts the battle over the title Suburbia (while her cat roams), Jim Wynorski discusses his own back-to-back guerilla filmmaking experience for the Cormans, Ron Howard recalls both directing and directing for Corman, and Martin Scorsese ruminates on the making of Boxcar Bertha.

Next up is a collection of messages to Roger Corman (15:15) from most of the film's many interview subjects. That challenging exercise is typically tackled with sarcasm giving way to sincere expressions of gratitude. The reel includes comments from individuals who were cut out of the film itself, including Joey Ramone, Brett Ratner, Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, and Clint Howard. There are some great remarks, especially from Irvin Kershner, who unsentimentally closes it out.

The Corman's World theatrical trailer uses onscreen text to nice effect. Poster art from a 1970s Roger Corman women in prison movie briefly adorns the Blu-ray menu.

Finally, we get a sharp and fun Corman's World trailer (2:06).

The disc opens with trailers for Texas Killing Fields and The Son of No One, which are not accessible by menu.

The upbeat menu montage shuffles through Corman movie clips, poster art, and documentary footage to an exciting bit of French duo Air's score. Though the disc doesn't resume playback, it does support bookmarks.

Roger Corman condemns extravagant filmmaking in this 1970s interview excerpt. Vincent Price shoots green laser beams from his fingers in Roger Corman's 1963 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation "The Raven", one of the B-movies excerpted at the documentary's conclusion.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There is some very obvious irony in the fact that Corman's World is probably better than every single movie its subject has made over the years. Just as Ed Wood's career provided the blueprint for the excellent Ed Wood, Roger Corman's endless resume of low-budget productions lends itself perfectly to this winning documentary. This is without a doubt the definitive film on Corman, celebrating but not overstating his voluminous and influential work with insights from just about every relevant party you can think of. Alex Stapleton's picture is bigger than Corman himself, standing as a fascinating record not only of the King of the Bs, but of mid-to-late 20th century cinema at large.

While the film is recommended on its many merits, the Blu-ray satisfies too with its fine feature presentation and solid half-hour of extras. Don't let this little gem slip by you when it is released at the end of the month.

Buy Corman's World from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD

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Reviewed March 3, 2012.



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