Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Corman's World – Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

Corman's World (2011) highlights the amazing story of Roger Corman, King of the B's: a man who has always valued and known how to put to good use the power of a woman in a bikini. Especially if her bottom half is chopped off. In the words of Martin Scorsese: there's no need for taste in these movies. This film is a touching tribute to the man who brouht us some of the best men (Jack Nicholson, Rob DeNiro) and women (Pam Grier amongst others) of modern cinema; the man who, at 85, has four hundred exploitation movies with his name on them. So far...

I don't quite understand how it happened, but this movie had completely escaped my attention until a couple of weeks ago, when I practically stumbled across it at the new Oslo film festival, appropriately named Filmfest Oslo. I had put something completely different down in my schedule, but thankfully someone persuaded me that my time was better spent watching Corman's World (thanks, Joachim & Andrea). And so this went from being something I hadn't even heard of, to becoming one of my absolute highlights of the entire festival. I don't know how it is at your various local cinemas, but the cinemas in Oslo would normally never show this kind of thing – it's all about the big buck potential Oscar nominees and bland blockbusters. And even at a film festival, this definitely stood out: although this one was not the most pretentious of festivals, it seems there's inevitably a high level of very serious films, for lack of a better word. And as this was the fourth day of the festival, this was indeed a very welcome change.

Roger Corman is an extremely endearing man, and to think that he has made all of these films (all of these films) is just fantastic. This is like the punk movement of movie making, which is reflected in Jack Nicholson's comment that 'nobody really tried to make them [the films] good'. Furthermore, Corman talks about how until the 1950s, the idea of teenagers didn't really exist, and he recognised a need for the young audience to have something to identify with; he was of the opinion that they needed to be able to identify with some sort of rebellion on screen. This notion was further developed when the exploitation king took it upon himself to make a film like The Intruder. Yet another testament to the very punk spirit of Corman and his work was the feeling that this documentary left in me and my fellow cinema goers that we just wanted to go out, grab a camera and start filming something, almost anything. Just like with the guitars and the three chords.

Roger Corman

We also get to meet some of Corman's very biggest fans in this film, in the people who have worked with him on numerous occasions. One of these is Jack Nicholson, and I must warn you for this is heavy stuff: in this movie, you witness Jack Nicholson cry, completely genuinely, because he is so touched when he speaks about Roger Corman and all that he has done for Nicholson. Big Jack is a regular quote machine in this movie. One of my favourite parts is when he talks about the making of The Terror, and he claims that to this day, there is no-one who knows what that movie was ever about. I'm glad I'm not the only one. Nicholson pretty much gives Corman full credit for his acting career, repeating over and over again how Corman was the only one who would hire him for about 15 years. Other huge fans who are interviewed include Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Pam Grier, William Shatner, Ron Howard and Eli Roth. Not a bad bunch as far as fan clubs go!

Jack Nicholson in The Terror

Despite his sweetly innocent appearance, one of the things that Corman recieves the most praise for is his instinct or ability to just know what will work in a film. Or, in the words of Allan Arkush: 'Roger's exploitation movies don't need plots. They need outrageous things... Like girls shooting Filipinos out of trees. That works'. And Corman always made it work, despite little to no budget and very limited time. He didn't bother so much with getting permits from local authorities and other such trivialities: he knew what would make his film work, and he made sure he got that thing. This is true guerilla filmmaking.

I'll save for another time some more in depth analyses of Corman's rape revenge films and films like Bloody Mama, in which he was brave enough to present proper female villains; for now I will just tell you that you must watch this film. I implore you.

PS: Be sure to check out the official Corman's World Fan Hubsite, powered by my excellent friends over at Cult Labs!

PPS: If you still want more Corman, you should get your hands on a copy of his book 'How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime'! I went straight home and ordered my copy after the movie.