Now here’s a film trivia question for you. What connects the like of Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner and Peter Fonda? The answer – Roger Corman.
This one-man show of producer, director, writer and actor has been in the film business for near-on 60 years. A leading visionary in American entertainment who mentored two generations of actors and filmmakers, Corman received a richly-deserved Honorary Academy Award in 2009. This new documentary is an affectionate tribute to the legendary man, tracing his career, up to that auspicious occasion.
Modern-day audiences will know Corman’s latest efforts for the Syfy channel, the fun CGI monster flicks Dinoshark and Sharktopus, but he’s also responsible for a host of other classic cinematic offerings going all the way back to 1955, when he started out doing teenage drive-in flicks. These have included cult comedies like Little Shop of Horrors, gothic Edgar Allan Poe chillers like The Fall of the House of Usher starring Vincent Price, plus gangster dramas (Bloody Mama), biker road movies (The Wild Angels) and the underrated racial drama The Intruder, starring William Shatner.
In the 1970s, his New World Pictures and New Horizons outfits made a host of exploitation flicks (Women in Cages, Death Race, and Piranha) that have since became cult classic, and he also helped expose the films of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa to international audiences. While the huge success of Jaws and Star Wars knocked Corman for six in the mid-1970s and the straight-to-DVD market took over the exploitation market in the 1980s, Corman refused to retire. Today, he’s still ‘in the game’ and living by his mantra that ‘It’s OK to have fun at the movies’.
The best thing about this documentary are the tributes paid to Corman by the likes of an emotional Jack Nicholson, an erudite Martin Scorsese and a thankful Ron Howard, to name just three. Nicholson’s first picture for Corman, Cry Baby Killer, was humiliating, while The Terror with Boris Karloff still belies logic, but they were great for his career, which really took off after The Wild Angels and The Trip led him to Easy Rider (a film which Corman nurtured, but missed out on making himself). Martin Scorsese, whose favourite film of Corman’s remains The Tomb of Ligeia, got his first directorial duties on Boxcar Bertha in 1972. He would later use the techniques he’d learned on that film for his breakout feature, Mean Streets. Former Happy Days star Ron Howard, remembers that it was the TV campaign for The Pit & The Pendulum that drew him into film-making in the first place. Thanks to Corman, Howard would earn his directorial stripes on Grand Theft Auto in 1977 and has never looked back.
Featuring a cool soundtrack from Air, this is an outstanding documentary about an outstanding man and we should all be thankful for all the ‘cool, weird and wonderful moments’ (to quote Nicholson) that he has given us film fans.