At time of writing, Roger Corman has produced 399 movies, directed 56, and is still going strong, aged 85, with four movies in post-production and one filming.
At various points in his 58-year career, he’s played King of the Bs (Attack Of The Crab Monsters and approximately 390 other pictures!), guerilla filmmaker (one take, no permits), artist (see his visually sumptuous, literate Poe cycle, 1960-64), counter-culture pulse-taker (The Intruder, 1962, The Wild Angels, 1966), mentor to New Hollywood’s most extraordinary talents (Nicholson, De Niro, Hopper; Coppola, Scorsese, Bogdanovich) and, under the auspices of New World Pictures, founded in 1970, US distributor to the world’s finest filmmakers (Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa).
Naturally, then, Alex Stapleton’s documentary is a celebration, though its spiky humour and wry honesty ensure it’s no hagiography. “A lot of [his movies] were grim,” beams Nicholson below signature shades. “By mistake, he actually made a good picture once in a while.”
Corralling family, critics and damn near every famous protégé – the exception is James Cameron, busy finishing Avatar – Corman’s World skips Roger’s childhood to track his trajectory from engineering degree at Stanford to messenger at Fox to story analyst. In 1954 he made the leap to producer (Monster From The Ocean Floor), the following year director (Five Guns West).
Whether making disreputable creature features (“The monster should kill someone early, then at regular intervals...”) or anti-establishment dramas with sociopolitical clout, Corman’s need to rebel is attributed to two straitjacketed years spent in the navy. Acceptance finally came in the form of a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2009.
The movies have changed, distribution has changed and exhibition has changed. But Corman’s still here, innovator turned survivor. Even if he is making Attack Of The 50ft Cheerleader...