It was inevitable that a team of smart film producers would make a worthwhile documentary about the outrageously smart film producer known as Roger Corman. Hell, to call Roger Corman a mere "film producer" is a massive understatement. Over his amazing career, Mr. Corman has produced films, built studios, and (most importantly) fostered dozens of wonderful filmmakers, many of whom have gone on to become, well, some of the best actors, writers, producers, and directors of all time. This larger-than-life but admirably soft-spoken movie king deserves a Ken Burns style series of documentary films!
But for now we'll have to be content with Alex Stapleton's supremely informative and entertaining documentary known as Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. And kudos to Mr. Stapleton and his team for doing this sort of documentary the right way; anyone could slap together a bunch of clips and archival interview footage, call it a retrospective documentary, and still find an eager audience among longtime genre freaks like myself -- but in this case the filmmakers really do the leg work: wedged into a tight 90-minute frame is a brief history of how Roger Corman got his start, met with some failures, went out and started his own cottage industry with American International Pictures, moved from there to his very own production company, and always, decade after decade, found a way to keep making his own brand of B-movies while both Hollywood and other indie outfits were busy stealing his formula.
So while Corman's World works consistently well as a colorful slice of movie history, it also stands as a long overdue and entirely deserved love letter to a guy who may not have been a great actor, writer or director -- but was such a brilliant producer that he knew how to get great talent early, and he knew how to let them earn their stripes. The best parts of Corman's World are recollections and warm anecdotes from folks like Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme, Penelope Spheeris, John Sayles, Dick Miller, Ron Howard, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, David Carradine, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, and the always beautifully articulate Martin Scorsese, whose brief thoughts about Roger Corman's Poe adaptations gave me small goose bumps on my arms.
Certainly made "by fans, for fans," which means it's a light documentary that's already preaching to its choir, Corman's World follows the smart, simple path (find a colorful famous person, explain why they're so cool, show some evidence, talk to his friends, indicate his cultural impact, end with a smile) -- indeed it's so expeditious it leaves out a few Corman classics (no mention of Targets?!?) -- but it also gives a well-earned and affectionate spotlight to a man who, let's face it, is one of the most impressive film producers who ever lived. Yes, the Corman fans of the world generally like to focus on the man's best works, and not the voluminous catalog of nearly unwatchable junk, and Corman's World does an excellent job of explaining why the guy is just another B-movie goofball.
And hey, if you include the extra interview footage on the DVD, Corman's World runs about two hours -- if you're even half the movie geek I am, it will fly by in about twenty minutes.