If the ambitious, decades-spanning Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel highlights a defining trait about Roger Corman, it’s that he, in his fatherly way and with a professorial posture, gives new talent a confident chance, often assigning them a role or a job they didn’t even see coming. It’s fitting then that the film’s director, Alex Stapleton, a longtime fan without a single directorial credit to her name, was granted permission by Corman to document his world. For the uninitiated, Corman’s World, like the documentary on Australian exploitation films, Not Quite Hollywood, is a valuable link to a treasure trove of undiscovered cheap and tasteless pleasures. For those more familiar with Corman’s impact on cinema, Stapleton manages to enhance the film’s relatively boilerplate story with tinges of emotion from the interviews she coaxed from many of the now-famous who were given their start by Corman, including a teary-eyed and grateful Jack Nicholson.
But as great as it is see myriad clips from Corman’s films, the film also serves as a reminder that bio docs generally fall drastically short of a more critical interpretation of a subject’s life and character than can be found in books. For example, the film quickly acknowledges the incongruity between Corman’s genteel exterior that he presents to the world and the “boiling inferno,” as he describes it, of his “unconscious mind,” but it’s unsatisfying that there’s no speculation as to why. It’s the typical, from-the-archives, scrapbook approach that makes Corman’s World the safe bet that it is, one that respects Corman’s private nature as much as it skirts opportunities to probe his overly familiar history of making enduring B films (Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000, Piranah, Grand Theft Auto) on the fast and cheap and bringing innumerable notables (Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola) into the game since the 50s.
In fact, Corman’s role was so vital in the careers of so many Hollywood big shots that the idea of him pulling a George Bailey in 1955 bears repeating; you can’t say the American film industry would have been a better place without him. Corman’s World surely makes that clear and even slows down a bit to morally validate that claim by paying due to his under-seen The Intruder, which he made at a loss—his only, as the lore goes—to confront the “un-American” race problems in the segregated South. And that the film returns to Corman in Puerto Vallarta on the set of his newest film Dinoshark for the Syfy Channel is proof positive he takes a much more modest approach to earning his millions than, say, protégé James Cameron.