REVIEW – Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)

The good folk at FilmJuice have my review of Alex Stapleton’s documentary Corman’s World.

Corman is an interesting figure in the history of American film as he appeared at a time when the American film industry was very slow to react to the cultural needs of the post-War generation. By remaining attuned to the desires of the babyboom generation, Corman managed to bootstrap himself first into commercial success and then into a certain degree of artistic respectability:

One of the most poignant moments in Corman’s World sees Martin Scorsese and Peter Fonda reminiscing about Corman’s willingness to fund films such as The Trip and The Wild Angels. Filled with psychotropic imagery and language lifted from Vietnam War demonstrations, these films not only gave younger people a voice, they also laid the foundations for such ground-breaking films as Easy Rider. As people who rose to prominence on the back of the 1960s, both Fonda and Scorsese seem perplexed as to why Corman never followed them out of the drive-in and into the academy but this is because both men seem to have mistaken Corman for an idealistic filmmaker. Despite trying his arm at politically engaged filmmaking, Corman was never an idealist… he was a democrat and a capitalist who gave his audience idealism because that is what they wanted to pay for. The unease we feel about Corman’s willingness to pander to his audience is the same unease we feel about Hollywood as a whole: are they making art or are they making money? The answer suggested by Stapleton is that they are doing both because both activities involve telling people what it is that they want and need to hear.

Stapleton’s documentary is probably best understood as a companion piece to Peter Biskind’s book about the post-War movie brat generation Easy Rider, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock-‘n’-Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (2008). I say companion piece as Stapleton’s documentary leans quite heavily upon Biskind’s vision of a generation that stormed the barricades of Hollywood and launched successful careers before either collapsing into narcissistic self-indulgence or devoting themselves to selling toys. However, while Biskind’s book provides a deliciously unflattering portrait of that ‘golden’ generation of post-War filmmakers, Stapleton provides a far more enthusiastic picture of one of that generation’s most noted losers. Indeed, as I suggest in the above quote, Corman stood poised to become a ‘serious filmmaker’ but he somehow never made that transition and by the time he was in a position to capitalise on his success the likes of Lucas and Spielberg had pipped him to the post and convinced Hollywood that the future lay in pandering to audiences with multimillion-dollar B movies like Jaws and Star Wars.