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Monday, February 27, 2012


Like HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE, CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011) is a fun, well-constructed, and informative documentary tribute to an influential producer-director whose films continue to entertain us.  But while both are loaded with testimonials from friends and coworkers, Corman's are considerably more high-profile.  That's because he gave some of the biggest names in the film industry their first break.

CORMAN'S WORLD takes us from his first screen efforts in the 50s (THE MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) through his historic association with the groundbreaking American-International Pictures and successful exploitation of the burgeoning teen market, to his break from A-I to form New World Pictures and achieve creative freedom, and all the way to his current cheesy-but-fun monster flicks for the SyFy Channel (SHARKTOPUS, DINOSHARK).

The road is paved with a wealth of fun clips that document Corman's growth as a filmmaker from the crude early efforts such as ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, IT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, and THE WASP WOMAN to his more critically-acclaimed Poe adaptations (HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM).  "I never had the opportunity to go to film school," he says.  "My student work was being shown on the screen."  Of all his hundreds of pictures, none (save for the anti-racist message film THE INTRUDER with William Shatner, which was a labor of love) ever failed to make a profit, which, to the penny-pinching Corman, was of paramount importance.

The roster of names contributing their (mostly glowing) testimonials reads like a who's who of Hollywood.  Martin Scorsese recalls directing his first studio picture, 1972's BOXCAR BERTHA with Barbara Hershey and David Carradine; Ronny Howard enthuses about his own big break as a director with 1976's car-crash epic GRAND THEFT AUTO; Robert DeNiro and Bruce Dern look back on their early roles in such films as BLOODY MAMA and THE TRIP.

The list goes on--Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, David Carradine, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda, Jonathan Haze, Polly Platt, Penelope Spheeris, Gale Anne Hurd, John Sayles, Peter Bogdanovich, and William Shatner also pay tribute to Corman, while others such as Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino, who never worked with him but peg him as a key influence in their careers, testify to his importance as a filmmaker.  Rarely has one man had such a profoundly positive effect upon such a wide array of creative artists.

Aside from a few amusing montages, the lean, straightforward documentary by director Alex Stapleton doesn't try to be cute or to funny things up with cartoony humor or clever cinematic flourishes which, considering the wealth of material at hand, are entirely unnecessary.  Corman himself is seen happily going about his life with wife and producing partner Julie, seemingly as content as ever with the way things have worked out even as he continues well into his 80s.  (A highlight is his being presented, at long last, with an honorary Oscar.)  His own philosophical observations and practical advice regarding the moviemaking business are both fascinating and invaluable. 

Of all the famous faces yakking about Corman during the course of the film, my favorite is longtime associate Jack Nicholson.  The venerable Hollywood legend fondly recalls his early days on such films as THE CRY BABY KILLER, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (with its famous "dentist office" scene), and THE TRIP, which he wrote.  Best of all is hearing Nicholson talk about that infamous patchwork quickie THE TERROR (directed in turn by Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Nicholson himself, and possibly others) in which he co-starred with Boris Karloff, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, and his then-current wife Sandra Knight amidst sets temporarily left standing from THE RAVEN.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include extended interviews, personal messages to Corman, and the film's trailer.

An unexpected moment near the end finds Nicholson suddenly overcome with emotion, on the verge of tears as warm feelings toward his old mentor rush to the surface.  If you can inspire this kind of heartfelt sentiment in a salty old cuss like Jack, then your world must be a pretty nice place to live in.  And CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL is an ideal way for us to visit it for awhile.

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