My first conscious viewing of a Roger Corman produced film was ‘Humanoids from the Deep’, talked about somewhere on this very site. In retrospect I realize I probably viewed a few Corman’s on late night TV or Saturday morning TV as a little kid, but what eight year old knows or cares who the heck Roger Corman is. But I knew who he was when I saw ‘Humanoids’. I was twelve or something, had no business being in a theater to see that compendium of gore, nudity and rape by mutated salmon, but there I was. Transfixed. Mesmerized. Best. Movie. Ever. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Of course ‘Humanoids from the Deep’ is not the best movie ever, and some could easily mount an argument that it’s just awful, but we still love it, just as we love Roger Corman in a fatherly, non-gay way. A lot of people love Roger Corman and that’s why director Alex Stapleton’s virtual love letter to the octogenarian film producer, ‘Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel’ will entertain just about anyone even remotely interested the history of bad movies.
The film opens with Mr. Corman supervising things on the set of ‘Dinoshark’, talked about somewhere on this very site, and we see some cherished behind the scene action. Like the guy in the water holding the dinoshark head chomping on people. We knew there was a guy off screen holding the dinoshark head when we saw the movie, but watching it off screen was classic stuff. We also check in on of that film’s star, Eric Balfour, who hints at a recurring theme that will popup throughout this doc, that Roger Corman is really tight with a buck. For instance the other star of ‘Dinoshark’, Liv Hasperger, was looking very good in that movie. Of course she was, because every time Mr. Corman turned around they were freshening up her makeup, which was burning daylight, which was wasting money, which was pissing the old man off. At least in the way Roger Corman gets pissed off, which is politely complaining with a constant smile on his face.
After this stay on the set of ‘Dinoshark’, Stapleton gives a brief history of how Corman came to be in the movie business in the first place, and then how that led to series of fortunate events that united Corman with American International Pictures and low budget exploitation was unofficially born. Oh the movies these cats would make.
Stapleton also rounds up a laundry list of ridiculously famous people serving as talking heads to speak of their past relationships with Roger Corman, with Jack Nicholson being the most entertaining and probably the most revealing of all these people, almost all of whom would go on to amazing careers far outdistancing the career of the man who started it for most them. What made Nicholson’s segments so interesting to watch was that on one hand he was greatly appreciative of Corman since nobody seemed all that interested in hiring him except for Roger Corman, but on the other hand he realized that he was showing up in some truly gawdawful films, but he also didn’t seem to appreciate that Mr. Corman was so damn cheap and refused to pay him properly for certain services. Though the old man is a millionaire many times over, his frugality has also ultimately cost him more millions, many times over.
Martin Scorcese, Robert DeNiro, Gale Ann Hurd, John Sayles, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Peter Bogdonovich, Ron Howard, Joe Dante and many more all weigh in on Roger Corman, what he meant to them, the adventures in filmmaking they had, and how cheap he was. Even his producing partners in his brother Gene and his wife Julie talk about how cheap he is. And they love him for real.
The movie plays on, interspersed with various clips from Corman produced movies, some of which I’ve seen, some of which I’d seen which I had no idea that they were produced by Corman and some I absolutely have to track down. And anytime you watch a film documentary about say Grindhouse or Blacksploitation or any kind of movie that use to thrive before 1978, the subject of ‘Star Wars’ has to come up because ‘Star Wars’ changed… or ruined… depending on where you stand… everything. It changed theaters, it changed budgets, it changed subject matter, it changed movies stars and in relation to this movie it changed how Roger Corman went about his business.
Roger Corman himself does contribute to this documentary but he’s clearly a very private and reserved person. He doesn’t give you much about his personal life, in passing Julie Corman mentions that they have three children together but we don’t even get their names, much less meet them, and the long life they have had together is not even hinted at. I don’t know if anybody going into this documentary is going to come out of it with a great understanding of the kind of person Roger Corman is, but at least I think it does give you a better understanding beyond him a tightwad. We learn that he has a true appreciation for film beyond exploitation, that he has principles and passion, that he is generous when necessary, and that he is genuinely cared for by those who worked for him, even though the majority of them were resigned to the fact that he was exploiting them.
In a sad note a number of the people who showed up in this story are no longer with us such as David Carradine, Irving Kirsner, Paul Bartel, and producer Polly Platt who had some very kind words for Mr. Corman and how he supported her after her husband Peter Bogdonovich left her for Sybil Sheppard. But that’s another story for another documentary.
There’s so much gloriously rich material in the ninety or so minutes that this story runs, and it’s an absolute joy to sit through. Again, this is a tale more about Roger Corman the filmmaker than Roger Corman the Man, but as somebody who has been watching his films my entire life, no matter how bad they might’ve been and probably will be, that suits us just fine.