Whenever Judge Patrick Bromley visits Corman's World, he always goes on the Bucket of Blood ride.
Some men dream of conquering the world. Roger Corman created his own.
As a longtime fan of Roger Corman and the hundreds of movies he's made ranging from terrible to genuinely brilliant, I'm already in the bag for a documentary like Corman's World. Alex Stapleton's 2011 film examines the independent producer's rise from a low-level script reader to the director and producer of the single largest catalogue of drive-in and exploitation movies in existence. If the movie lacks a cohesive thesis—and it does—that's ok, because it still makes for a fast-paced and totally entertaining look back at the godfather of the B-movie.
It's a testament to just how many huge careers Corman helped launch that so many titans of the movie industry would submit to an interview for Corman's World, which includes reminiscences from the likes of Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Joe Dante, Allen Arkush, William Shatner, Pam Grier, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Polly Platt, Bruce Dern and more. It does become slightly repetitive after awhile, because the movie is populated by the same faces throughout; I wish the filmmakers had sat down with some of the directors, writers and actors who maybe hadn't gone on to mainstream success, either because they were never able to or just had no interest in it. Still, it's hard to argue not just with the credentials of a guy like Scorsese when he's praising Corman, but also how articulate he is in describing Corman's brand of genius. If you want someone to go to bat for you as a filmmaker, you could do worse.
As a documentary, Corman's World has a lot in common with other recent exploitation retrospective docs like Not Quite Hollywood or Machete Maidens Unleashed, combining talking heads with a succession of choice clips designed to make viewers want to go out and track down every movie featured within it. There's some attempt to include something of a narrative through-line in the movie, with interviewees and participants lamenting for three-fourths of the film that Corman doesn't get the respect he deserves so that the movie can climax with the legendary producer receiving an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2010. It works just fine, but it doesn't carry much weight because a) it's hardly evidence that Corman has finally been accepted by the mainstream Hollywood establishment, because the people presenting him the award and speaking on his behalf are all former employees who we know have already "accepted" him and b) Corman himself, though occasionally expressing displeasure at the way his contributions have been marginalized (he admits to sometimes resenting titles like "king of schlock"), hardly seems interested in that kind of success. For us fans of AIP and New World, it's nice to see him getting recognized, but it's not why he'll be remembered. The movies speak for themselves.
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray of Corman's World looks great, offering a clean and handsome 1080p HD transfer of the movie. There's a reasonable amount of detail in the interview segments that make up the majority of the movie, but those aren't really shot to show off much fine detail; what's better is that so many clips of Corman's old movies have been given and HD polish, including many films which have never had the Blu-ray treatment (it may be just a couple of brief shots, but it's fun to see what Monster from the Ocean Floor looks like in the best possible format). The film is offered with a lossless TrueHD surround audio track, and it's more than satisfactory for this kind of "talking head" documentary. The bonus features are disappointingly slim, made up only of a couple of extended interviews and "messages to Roger" from several of the doc's participants and the movie's original trailer. What a missed opportunity to offer, at the very least, a trailer gallery for a bunch of Corman's stuff. If the documentary didn't already convince the uninitiated to seek out a bunch of his old movies, the trailers would have put it over the top.
I'm not sure anyone will come away from Corman's World with a significantly deeper of Corman as a man or as an artist—most of the stories are of the same "Roger is very frugal" and "Roger knows what he's doing" variety. Perhaps that's for the best, though, as the man's career is too expansive to really be covered in detail in the confines of a 90-minute documentary. Instead, it's just a joy to hang out in the company of Corman, the filmmakers he launched and his ridiculous body of work—a legacy the likes of which we will never see again. Corman made a lot of movies, and while they weren't always good, they were always fun. Corman's World gets that.
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