A self-taught filmmaker, Corman is famous for three things. The first is for making movies fast and cheap, but not always good. (At the typing of this sentence, his producer credits number 400 titles deep.) The second is for doing so while never losing a dime, which isn’t exactly true, but makes for great hype.
And the third is for giving so many more famous filmmakers their start, be it in front of the camera, behind the camera, or both. Lucky for viewers, Stapleton got many of them to talk in his documentary: Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, William Shatner and so on. (Conspicuously absent: Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron. But Cameron’s ego is so titanic, I’m not sure he’d even admit to God having a hand in his creation.)
Fans of Corman’s work aren’t likely to learn anything new, but the slick 95 minutes (longer than most Corman films, it should be noted) serve as vindication for their admiration. Using the shooting of 2010’s Dinoshark as an anchor, the doc looks back on his storied career — one that began on penny-pinching schlock, but was not without critical acclaim, from the cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he directed to the acquisition of foreign films that otherwise would’ve gone unseen in America. As is noted, Corman is the only person to put Ingmar Bergman in drive-in theaters.
The documentary doubles as crash course in not only the subject of Corman, but some of the ugliest passages of American history, such as the lynching of African-Americans in the South, depicted in his controversial 1962 drama, The Intruder. Corman gained a lot of credibility with that film, but lost a lot of money; Stapleton doesn’t ask which the man would rather have.
Buoyed by a rich Air score, Corman’s World is the beneficiary of fortunate timing, climaxing in the filmmaker being awarded an honorary Oscar in 2009. It’s a touching moment, but can’t hold a candle to Nicholson getting choked up and shedding real tears when talking about his love for the man. If you weren’t already onboard with that sentiment before pressing “play,” you will be by then.
If there’s a fault with the Blu-ray release, it’s that it doesn’t include a trailer gallery for all the Corman classics the documentary touches upon — among them, The Little Shop of Horrors, Piranha, Death Race 2000, Big Bad Mama, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Hollywood Boulevard. —Rod Lott