Joseph Kwong's half-hour "Roger Corman: Shoot to Thrill," at 7:30 tonight on Channel 28's "California Stories" series, is a lively, solid thumbnail sketch of the producer-director often called the King of the Bs.
In conversations with the patrician Corman (who holds a degree in engineering from Stanford and who studied English literature at Oxford) and with his colleagues, the documentary touches on the many facets of this complex and gifted film maker. It tells of his ability to combine business acumen with his ongoing practice of giving opportunities to unknowns and of his distribution of numerous major foreign films.
The man who has made or produced countless exploitation pictures has also launched the likes of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Francis Coppola, John Sayles, Jonathan Demme--it would have been good to hear what they think of him--and presented Bergman's "Cries and Whispers," Fellini's "Amarcord" and Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala."
Corman himself says simply that the pictures he produces must make money and hopefully attain a respectable level of craftsmanship, which in most instances is the case with a Corman production, no matter how lurid the content.
The documentary does slight Corman's own skill as a director, leaving the uninformed viewer with the impression that his serious, anti-racist 1961 film "The Intruder" is his only worthy effort. What about his stylish Poe cycle? Or his gangster films, especially the riveting, skittish "Machine Gun Kelly"? After an 18-year hiatus, Corman happily threatens to return to directing.
You can only agree with director Joe Dante when he says of his mentor, "I don't think he's gotten the respect he deserves," for Roger Corman has done far more than any studio head to help keep American movies fresh and vital.
If there's any man overdue for an honorary Oscar it's Roger Corman. Heck, the man doesn't even have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.