When you sit down in a theatre to watch a movie, the logistics, politics, and general business deals that allowed it to play at that theatre is probably slightly behind why your popcorn is so damn salty in your general considerations. To be honest, that’s probably the way it should be. None of us want to admit that the movies we love fall into a business model that, in reality, makes them more similar to cereal than a novel or a painting. Movies, and cereal, are tested among focus groups, marketed, and advertised to fit certain demographics and market shares. There is no doubt that movies are a business. That’s what makes the career of Roger Corman so impressive. He manipulates the business of movie making and manages to creatively push the line and launch the careers of legitimate cinematic legends.
The recent documentary, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, explores the history of Roger Corman’s cinematic career, which included introducing the world to Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Peter Bogdanovich, William Shatner, and Ron Howard. These are all names with more recognition than Roger Corman but, as the documentary argues, may have never gotten their cinematic start without him. Even Corman, himself, though, needed a break and his was entering the movie business as a script reader. Being Roger Corman, he worked his way up relatively quickly and was given the chance to direct his own film, Five Guns West. The moderate success that film received proved his personal business model could work, you make a movie quickly for cheap and make a profit. Then do it again. This model gave him relative freedom to make his films without any real studio interference.
It also taught Corman another valuable lesson, that his personal rebellious personality was easily marketed. People were beginning to want to see that invisible censorship line pushed. The social shift of the 60’s made his movies full of cursing, blood, and nudity more than exploitation films, they were statements. The audience didn’t want Mickey Rooney and his Andy Hardy character anymore. They wanted something that played to something darker, something rebellious, something just plain naughty. Corman accommodated that desire and he thrived.
The documentary itself really is fascinating, largely due to the huge cast of celebrities that share their memories of Roger Corman and how he gave them their break. It’s also a little bit inspiring. Through his failures and successes he receives some affirmation that can’t help but warm the heart a bit. I mean, the ending includes a Jack Nicholson who is brought to tears and Jack Nicholson isn’t known for his sentiment. For any Corman, or general horror, fan who enjoys the history of the genre this documentary is wholly satisfying and, if you have a soul, may make your living room a little misty.