This doc of limited ambition never truly gets under the refined hide of such a diffident figure.
Robert De Niro. John Sayles. Martin Scorsese. Eli Roth. Peter Fonda. Bruce Dern. Jack Nicholson. Ron Howard. Polly Platt. QT. David Carradine. The Ghost of Dennis Hopper. Joe Dante. Oh, and Jack-FUCKING-Nicholson! If the cast of rare notables and outright crazies assembled for Alex Stapleton’s documentary on indie film godhead and New Hollywood bellwether, Roger Corman, hasn't totally twisted your collective celluloid melons, then you're either cinematically benighted, some variety of pitiless contrarian or, simply, a bastard.
Corman rose from script reader for Fox in the '50s to director and producer of irradiated monster movies, the shining light of which might be said to be 1957 killer lampshade aria, Not of This Earth. He then rose to one-man studio, specialising in succulent Edgar Alan Poe adaptations and blow-dried biker shenanigans whilst simultaneously kick starting the careers of such '70s golden-era doyens as Demme, Coppola and Bogdanovich. These were directors who would go on to co-opt their erstwhile mentor's daring and élan and forge it in to some of the most celebrated and personal studio films of the age.
It's a beguiling story, especially when one learns that Corman is not some craven dealmonger or diamond-backed shyster, but rather an affable, elusive, reserved – De Niro goes the whole hog and calls him "almost English" (!) – charmer for whom very few have even a remotely bad word.
It might be harsh, therefore, to be too critical about a doc that does the hard yards in terms of well-earned interviews and just-so clipology, but it’s also fair to say that Stapleton never truly gets under the refined hide of such a diffident figure. Corman comes across as not only passively deflective in person, but also inspires a remarkable degree of admiration and loyalty amongst his many ardent fans and acolytes.
There are moments when the deferential approach brings home the bacon, such as Peter Fonda’s rosy, guileless, summer lovin’ reminiscences of proto-Easy Rider biker rumble, The Wild Angels. Or there’s Jack Nicholson’s wholly unexpected and thoroughly moving broke-eyed eulogy to a man he clearly views as some kind of blood brother.
Further revelations that Corman utilised his catholic tastes and minor industry muscle to distribute European and Japanese arthouse classics alongside his stock-in-trade schlockers – resulting in the surely-none-more-surreal movie mash-down of screening director Luis Buñuel’s latin surrealisticas in shitkicking Midwest drive-ins – fill out the picture somewhat. But none of it gets us anywhere truly close to the beating heart of an essentially retiring figure.
Uncle Roger versus The Studio System?
Jack Nicholson's unchecked emotion versus too much footage of the filming of Dinoshark.
Endless goodwill versus a doc of limited ambition and fitful success.