SUNDANCE REVIEW: Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

American International Pictures
Entertaining doc makes a fannish case for Roger Corman's legacy.

PARK CITY -- An affectionate tribute to the not-quite-obscure Roger Corman, "Corman's World" breaks little new ground but serves as a lively primer for any film buff unconvinced of the low-budgeteer's lasting footprint on the American film biz.

Funny, quick-paced and stuffed with well-known interviewees, it naturally has far better niche theatrical prospects than anything its subject has produced lately.

The doc's straight chronological approach, which tidily breaks a mammoth career into comprehensible stages, is interrupted only by recent footage from the set of Dinoshark, a production that lets us observe Corman and wife/partner Julie at work and offers at least one new anecdote colorful enough to enter Corman lore.

There's lore aplenty here, as director Alex Stapleton interviews most of the figures closely linked to the producer's mythology (with the notable exception of Francis Ford Coppola) -- we walk down small-town streets with Ron Howard, visit Martin Scorsese in a jewel-box-like private screening room and watch as Bruce Dern gets his hair cut, everybody eager to share their experiences with the man.

And then, of course, there's Jack. Easily the doc's best interview, Nicholson is entertaining and surprisingly earnest (emotional, even) as he marvels at the man who kept him employed even after the kind of performance he gave in The Terror. Nicholson also caps the story of how Easy Rider, which could have been Corman's crowning achievement, slipped through his fingers.

The movie rarely lingers anywhere for long, leaving fans wanting to hear more about, say, how the Corman Corps created the not-so-special effects in his earliest sci-fi pictures. But it does give proper attention to The Intruder, the from-the-heart 1962 film about racism (starring William Shatner, who reminisces here) that bombed so badly it convinced Corman to embrace a "text/subtext" approach in the future, burying political themes under boobs, bombs and blood.

A few tidbits may be news to casual fans (New World's unlikely relationship with auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, for instance), and in ample footage of the man himself (including vintage talk-show appearances), Stapleton presents, though never really explains, the intriguing contrast between Corman's dignified persona and the bottom-feeding fare he produces.

Those B- and D-flicks are just art of a different sort, Scorsese generously suggests. In Corman's World, there's nobody around who will challenge that assertion.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Park City at Midnight
Production companies: Far Hills Pictures, Stick N Stone, Gallant Films
Director-Producer: Alex Stapleton
Producers: Stone Douglass, Mickey Barold, Jeffrey Frey, Izabela Frank
Executive producers: Molly Thompson, Robert DiBitetto, Robert Sharenow
Director of photography: Patrick Simpson
Music: AIR
Editors: Victor Livingston, Philip Owens
Sales: WME Entertainment
No rating, 95 minutes