Monday, December 12, 2011

The Indie Godfather: Corman’s World

Roger Corman is the Elvis Presley of genre pictures. Before anyone did anything, he did everything—and he did it cheaper. So many stories about the man and his movies have become the stuff of legend, yet they are all true. Tribute is paid to the original independent filmmaker in Alex Stapleton’s affectionately uproarious Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Corman has made hundreds of films, anticipating major shifts in the cultural zeitgeist with atomic powered creature features, rebellious teenager melodramas, biker movies, and blaxploitation cult classics. He always brought his films in on-time and under-budget. The one exception came in 1962 with The Intruder, a moody issue-driven drama about school integration and white supremacy filmed on-location in the Deep South. Now hailed as a milestone of independent filmmaking (by those hip enough to hail), Intruder was Corman’s only film to lose money, but the indie mogul is justly proud of it anyway.

After the experience of Intruder, Corman resolved to return to his low budget genre roots, subtly but deliberately insinuating his political statements into his films, rather than trumpeting them from the get go. Once again, Corman blazed a trail the rest of Hollywood would eventually follow.

Corman has appeared in several grindhouse documentaries in recent years, including Mark Hartley’s Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which documented Corman’s love affair with the authentic locations and bargain basement production costs offered by the Philippines in the 1970’s. Yet, there is very little overlap between the films. Indeed, with literally hundreds of outrageous movies to chose from, Corman documentarians need not fight over material.

Corman’s record of mentoring up-and-coming filmmakers is a major reason why he won his honorary Oscar (a fact Exploits has a hard time accepting, preferring to think of him as an underappreciated B-movie auteur). Peter Bogdanovich explains it more in sink-or-swim terms, but an opportunity is still an opportunity. Stapleton scored some heavy-weight interviews, including Corman school of filmmaking graduates like Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, and Joe Dante. However, the marquee sit-down has to be the animated Jack Nicholson, whom only Corman would hire during his first ten years in the business. They clearly have a lot of history together, which makes for some of the more manic talking head footage you will see in a documentary.

There are plenty of juicy bits of trivia to be gleaned throughout Exploits, especially for those well versed in his filmography. We also watch Corman working behind the scenes of Dinoshark, one of his new Syfy original movies. Considering that network’s track record for original non-series productions, Corman actually represents a quantum step up in quality for them. Most importantly, there are generous clips from his oeuvre, in all their busty, blood-splattered glory.

Frankly, Stapleton probably could have made a film three times as long and the time would still fly by. Combining the joyous gusto of Corman’s films with top-shelf access to Corman and his celebrated alumni is tough to beat for sheer entertainment value. Easily the feel good film of the holiday season, Exploits opens this Friday (12/16) in New York at the Village East.