That Corman's World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel is filled with amusing anecdotes about decades of low budget filmmaking isn't surprising. What is surprising is the way those anecdotes build up into something actually emotionally affecting; watching the legendarily cool Jack Nicholson literally CRYING about Roger Corman will put a lump in the throat of even the most jaded viewer.
Corman's World is a pretty standard documentary of its type; talking heads (some dead) reminisce about the good old days while film clips and the occasional of-the-era behind the scenes piece tell the chronology. Corman's World does all of this well, and the career of Roger Corman lends itself enormously to this sort of movie.
Where Corman's World shines is the quality of interviewees. Jack Nicholson, a guy who never does documentaries like this, is all over this thing. There's Ron Howard, there's Robert De Niro, there's Martin Scorsese, all singing the praises of the Corman factory. In fact the only major Corman alum missing is Francis Ford Coppola.
One of the most interesting thing about Corman is how you rarely hear a bad word about him. His methods are, exploitational from top to bottom - he definitely underpays his casts and crews - but most alums look back and laugh. It's part of the ride, it seems, and no one begrudges Corman his cheapness. It's part of his charm. And I think Corman's World gives you insight into why that is - Roger Corman himself is a sweet, soft-spoken, reasonable guy. I'm sure someone out there has a bone to pick with Corman, but after watching this doc you'll understand why there are so few.
The film makes the good choice to pretty much skip most of the 80s and 90s and 00s; there's some interesting discussion about how Jaws and Star Wars killed the Corman style - now the studios were making B movies with A budgets - and how home video ended up where his stuff lived. And behind the scenes footage from Dinocroc shows that the Corman technique - fast and cheap - remains alive. But it wisely avoids the SyFy resurgence and instead focuses on Corman's Oscar, a truly touching moment.
There is one other thing that the film doesn't address which I wish it did: the Corman factory no longer produces talent like it did. The sad fact is that there's no need for it to do so; the industry has figured out ways to bring in new talent and the entry is no longer B movies but commercials and videos. Corman was once instrumental in feeding talent to Hollywood, just as he was once instrumental in bringing foreign films to America (a real arthouse guy, Corman happily took a loss distributing Fellini and Bergman movies). In a lot of ways Corman is completely outdated.
But his movies never will be, and the man himself remains as sharp and funny and wise as ever. I admire the fact that he still plugs along, even as the world in which he thrived slowly died away. I'm happy that Corman's World doesn't end on a note of retirement for Corman - he's going to keep going until he can't go anymore.