Category Archives: Documentary

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2012) | Tinseltown’s finest pay tribute to the King of the Bs

Film trivia buffs will certainly know what Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner and Peter Fonda all have in common – it’s working with Roger Corman.

This one-man show of producer, director, writer and actor has been in the film business for near-on 60 years. A leading visionary in American entertainment who mentored two generations of actors and film-makers, Corman received a richly-deserved Honorary Academy Award in 2009. This 2012 documentary is an affectionate tribute to the legendary man, tracing his career, up to that auspicious occasion.

Modern-day audiences will know Corman’s latest efforts for the Syfy channel, the fun CGI monster flicks Dinoshark and Sharktopus, but he’s also responsible for a host of other classic cinematic offerings going all the way back to 1955, when he started out doing teenage drive-in flicks. These have included cult comedies like Little Shop of Horrors, gothic Edgar Allan Poe chillers like The Fall of the House of Usher starring Vincent Price, plus gangster dramas (Bloody Mama), biker road movies (The Wild Angels) and the underrated racial drama The Intruder, starring William Shatner.

In the 1970s, his New World Pictures and New Horizons outfits made a host of exploitation flicks (Women in Cages, Death Race, and Piranha)  that have since became cult classic, and he also helped expose the films of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa to international audiences.

While the huge success of  Jaws and Star Wars knocked Corman for six in the mid-1970s and the straight-to-DVD market took over the exploitation market in the 1980s, Corman refused to retire. Today, he’s still ‘in the game’ and living by his mantra that  ‘It’s OK to have fun at the movies’.

The best thing about this documentary are the tributes paid to Corman by the likes of an emotional Jack Nicholson, an erudite Martin Scorsese and a thankful Ron Howard, to name just three. Nicholson’s first picture for Corman, Cry Baby Killer, was humiliating, while The Terror with Boris Karloff still belies logic, but they were great for his career, which really took off after The Wild Angels and The Trip led him to Easy Rider (a film which Corman nurtured, but missed out on making himself).

Martin Scorsese, whose favourite film of Corman’s remains The Tomb of Ligeia, got his first directorial duties on Boxcar Bertha in 1972. He would later use the techniques he’d learned on that film for his breakout feature, Mean Streets.

Former Happy Days star Ron Howard, remembers that it was the TV campaign for The Pit & The Pendulum that drew him into film-making in the first place. Thanks to Corman, Howard would earn his directorial stripes on Grand Theft Auto in 1977 and has never looked back.

Featuring a cool soundtrack from Air, this is an outstanding documentary about an outstanding man and we should all be thankful for all the ‘cool, weird and wonderful moments’ (to quote Nicholson) that he has given us film fans.

Available on  DVD and Blu-ray






Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011) | The must-see documentary tribute screens on BBC2 and BBC iPlayer

Ray Harryausen: Special Effects Titan

Cinema’s most admired and influential special-effects innovator Ray Harryhausen is honoured in the comprehensive 2011 documentary, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, which airs tomorrow morning (Saturday 3 December) on BBC2 at 7.30am, following a screening of the 1949 adventure Mighty Joe Young (at 6am).

A seminal influence on modern-day special effects, the American visual effects creator, who sadly left us aged 92 in May of 2013, was the undisputed king of stop motion animation, and his films which include The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans – inspired many of today’s big-name film-makers – from Steven Spielberg to Terry Gilliam and Peter Jackson – to follow in his footsteps.

This is a must-see for all film fans, with a wealth of clips from Harryhausen’s classic films and, on the Blu-ray, some neat extras (my favourite being a featurette in which Harryhausen’s prized models are unpacked for the 2010 London restrospective). Click here for a gallery of images.

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan is also available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Arrow Films, can be streamed via the Arrow Films VOD service, or you can watch it for free shortly after its broadcast on BBC iPlayer





Gary Numan: Android in La La Land | An honest and endearing portrait of the electro-pop pioneer

Gary Numan Android in La La Land_1

‘We all can dance when we find music that we love’
There’s a moment in this honest and affectionate film about Gary Numan that captures perfectly the gentle soul behind the cold robotic image that the synth pioneer became famous for – albeit very briefly – in the late 1970s and early 1980s – when he crafted the electro-pop classics Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and Cars.

Gary Numan Android in La La Land_4

Gary is reading to his daughter Raven from a children’s book about a lonely giraffe called Gerald who learns to embrace his brilliance. It’s a story that matches Numan’s own outsider journey, one that has seen him battle years of rejection and mental illness with drive and determination and, most significantly, with the help of the love of a good woman. In Gary’s case, it is his wife Gemma, who has not only given him a loving family (daughters Raven Persia and Echo), but has supported him through all the highs and lows (including stage fright, depression, and a fall out with his parents).

Gary Numan Android in La La Land_3

Their tight-knit relationship, which started out when Gemma was a teenage fan girl, is core to the film’s unapologetic honesty (and her detractors should take note). The film also allows audiences to get inside the creative mind of the Godfather of electronic pop music as he moves the family from the UK to California to put the final touches to Splinter, his first album since 1983. As played out in the film, this labour of love would eventually reach the UK Top 20 on its release in October 2013 – earning Numan the praise and accolades from the very people who had for so long belittled his career.

Gary Numan Android in La La Land_2

You certainly do not need to be a fan of Gary Numan’s music to get totally absorbed in this captivating film, which can also be read as a real-life fairy tale, one in which a self-confessed geek and loner conquered his demons to recognise his own brilliance. But once you’ve seen it, you’ll be wanting to track down Numan’s back catalogue… and be hankering to see him live on stage.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is screening in selected UK cinemas throughout September. Check out the website for more details:

Rude Boy (1980) | When The Clash and punk collided in an electric British classic

Rude Boy (1980)Filmed as a fictional documentary, 1980’s Rude Boy follows a Brixton punk (Ray Gange) as he quits his job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for The Clash during their Clash on Patrol and Sort It Out UK tours of 1978.

Set against the backdrop of late 1970s Britain, this is an unparalleled film document of the iconic band (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon) as they tour the country and headline the legendary Rock Against Racism Carnival in Victoria Park, London (which happened on 30 April 1978), while also going into the rehearsal rooms and the recording studio to lay down tracks for their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope.

The Clash regretted their involvement with the film after watching the rough cuts and asked producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan to edit the film to just concert footage, when Mingay and Hazan refused the band had pin badges made with the statement ‘I don’t want Rude Boy Clash Film’. The film, however, was released in 1980 and won an Honorable Mention and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 30th Berlin International Film Festival.

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Rude Boy featuring The Clash is available on DVD and for the first time on Blu-ray – fully restored in high definition with all new 5.1 surround sound, from Fabulous Films, from Monday 6 April. It includes 19 songs, 28 performances and 72 mins of live Clash footage.

• Audio commentary from producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan
• Interviews with Ray Gange and Clash road manager Johnny Green
• Interviews with Jack Hazan and David Mingay
• 2 bonus live tracks that never made the final cut
• 4 deleted scenes
• 1980 theatrical trailer
• 1980 30sec radio ad
• Just Play The Clash’ separate song menu
• Clash discography with original sleeve artwork
• Clash image gallery
• The Clash Live in Munich 3rd October
• 7 songs, plus backstage interview
• Original 1980 promotional fanzine
• Rude Boy photo book


Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles | A moving, masterful montage on the maverick artist

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson WellesDirected by Oscar-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman, this illuminating documentary explores the life and career of Orson Welles, whose motto was ‘believe in something bigger than yourself’. And that’s exactly what you’ll discover on this crazy Wellesian journey through awesome Orson’s time in the theatre (where he brought theatricality and expressionism back to the stage), on radio (where he sacred the pants off America with War of the Worlds), in film television; as well as his sudden fall from grace in Hollywood to his amazing artistic rebirth in Europe.

Featuring personal anecdotes and insights from the likes of Simon Callow, Peter Bogdanovich, Jeanne Moreau, Peter Brook, Costa-Gavras, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater and illustrated with fantastic archival material and film extracts – from both his best and least-known works, this is a carefully-crafted insight into the pioneering, uncompromising artist who, although misunderstood in his own time, is now rightfully lauded as the master of his art and a true hero to independent cinema.

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If ever there was a documentary that will make you want to re-examine Welles’s back catalogue, then this is the one to do so. It will also make you see some of his works in a whole new light, especially Chimes at Midnight, which he regarded as his life’s masterpiece, and I quote: ‘If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of movie, it would be Falstaff’.

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles debuts on Sky Arts on Wednesday 16 September at 9pm and is out on DVD in the UK from BFI

The BFI release includes the film trailer; two featurettes: A Conversation with Director Chuck Workman (2014, 9mins) and A Personal Appreciation of Orson Welles by Simon Callow (2015, 31mins); and an illustrated booklet.

The Decline of Western Civilization | Penelope Spheeris’ celebrated rock doc trilogy gets a first-ever official release

The Decline of Western CivilizationPenelope Spheeris’ music documentary trilogy The Decline of Western Civilization has long been celebrated as an important cultural record of LA’s hardcore punk, metal and gutter-punk scenes of the 1980s and 1990s, and now all three films are getting a first-time UK DVD and Blu-ray release from Second Sight.

The box-set comprises the influential 1981 original, charting the chaotic lives and gigs of the likes of Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and The Germs; the 1988 sequel chronicling the OTT excesses of Hollywood’s hard rock scene from thrash metal merchants Motörhead to glam-metal stars Poison and rock gods like Alice Cooper; and the 1998 film, exploring LA’s punk rebirth – set in world of homelessness and societal breakdown – through a new generation of bands like Final Conflict.

Plus, there’s a raft of extras that’s been a real labour of love from Spheeris’ daughter, Anna Fox, who is the person to thank for bringing her mother’s work together for the first time.

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And if you want further reason for adding this to your music documentary collection, then here’s what some recent reviewers had to say:

‘The first two Decline of Western Civilization docs are among the greatest rock movies ever made – and until the release of this four-disc boxed set packed with extras, they existed only on VHS…. They’re gritty mementos of an earlier, better generation of rock films.’ Playboy

‘In addition to recording powerhouse bands in their prime, Spheeris also used these films to explore youth culture, the unifying power of music and the varying conceptions of (success). Her work here is outstanding, and it’s great to have it available again.’  The Los Angeles Times

The Decline of Western Civilization is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Second Sight in the UK, and from Shout! Factory in the US.

Man With a Movie Camera (1929) | Dziga Vertov’s radical, spectacular ode to Soviet life reigns supreme on Blu-ray

Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

‘I am the camera eye, I am the mechanical eye.
I am the machine which shows you the world as only I can see it’
Dziga Vertov

Voted the greatest documentary of all time in the 2014 Sight & Sound poll, Soviet director Dziga Vertov’s radical, ground-breaking 1929 city-symphony, Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek’s kino-apparatom), used every trick in the cinematic textbook and invented new ones to record the Moscow masses at work and at play from dawn to dusk, while celebrating the cameraman as hero.

Hugely influential, Vertov’s dazzling film certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the most contemporary of silent movies – and continues to inspire awe with each revisit thanks to its virtuso camera trickery. This is cinema vérité supreme.

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On 27 July 2015 the BFI in the UK will release a Special Edition Blu-ray of the documentary, presented with Michael Nyman’s celebrated score, and accompanied with the following extras, while the 2014 restored version, featuring music by the Alloy Orchestra, screens at the BFI from Friday 31 July, as part of the 10 Greatest Documentaries of All Time season.

• Audio commentary by Russian film scholar Yuri Tsivian (previously available on the 2000 BFI DVD).
Kino-Pravda No.21 (Dziga Vertov, 1925, 36 mins): this newsreel, one of 23 made over three years, charts Soviet progress under Lenin. With new electronic score from Mordant Music
One-Sixth of the Globe (Dziga Vertov, 1926, 84 mins): an ideologically charged documentary which denounces capitalism and celebrates Communist transformation. It is presented in its UK distribution version from the politically radical film distributor ETV, with a soundtrack by Mordant Music
Three Songs of Lenin (Dziga Vertov, 1935, 61 mins): poetic propaganda film based on three songs of the Soviet East. The first shows secular Communism’s victory over Islam and the empowerment of women, the second shows a country in mourning over Lenin’s death, and the third showcases Soviet military might and industrial expansion.
• David Collard on Three Songs of Lenin and WH Auden (2009, 7 mins)
• Simon Callow Reads WH Auden’s Verses from Three Songs of Lenin (2009, 3 mins)
• Illustrated booklet with essays on the film’s history, its director, the special features, and composer, Michael Nyman

Jodorowsky’s Dune gets a VOD release in the UK

Jodorowsky's Dune

The acclaimed 2013 documentary by Frank Pavich traces the history of director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt in the 1970s to adapt Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel. Starring Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Salvador Dali and his own 12-year-old son Brontis, and featuring music by Pink Floyd and the incredible art by HR Giger and Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud, Jodorowsky’s 14-hr take on Herbert’s saga was set to change cinema forever.

Jodorowsky's Dune

Over two years, the Chilean film-maker – best known for his surreal western El Topo and his mystical epic The Holy Mountain – and his team of ‘spiritual warriors’ worked furiously on the massive task of imagining Herbert’s universe: making storyboards, paintings, and even costumes. So what happened?

Jodorowsky's Dune

In creating what must be the best not-making-of documentaries ever made, Pavich hunts down the cast and crew of the aborted project from all corners of the globe to tell his tale, but the film’s real magic lies with the incredibly detailed book that Jodorowsky and his team assembled to woo the studios, and it’s the use of these pictures and storyboards that makes this the closest we’ll ever come to seeing Dune as the director intended.

Jodorowsky's Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune, which premiered at the 2013 London Film Festival and was screened last year at the British Library as part of a special exhibition, with the director in attendance, has now gone straight to digital on pay-per-view VOD platforms, including. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, blinkbox, and Google Play.

There’s no news of a UK DVD release as yet.

Orson Welles at 100 | Six of the Best from The Great Disruptor

Welles at 100

Throughout July and August, BFI Southbank in London will screen a comprehensive season of Orson Welles’ work in both film and TV, including his big classics, Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Lady from Shanghai (1948), and less familiar titles like The Trial (1962), The Immortal Story (1968) and F for Fake (1975), kicking off with StudioCanal’s restored print of The Third Man (1949) this coming Friday (26 June).

It will also include his three adaptations of Shakespeare: Macbeth (1948), Othello (1952) and Falstaff Chimes at Midnight (1966), which is widely considered a highpoint of Welles’ remarkable career, and which also gets a 50th Anniversary Restored Edition is released on 29 June on DVD and Blu-ray from Mr Bongo Films.

Also screening are some rarities, including the recently discovered Too Much Johnson (1938) – which is also set for a Blu-ray/DVD release from Mr Bongo Films – and six compilation programmes, featuring shorts, trailers, TV productions, theatrical adaptations, documentaries, and unfinished projects.

Here are the six that I’m most looking forward to…

THE LADY OF SHANGHAI (4k restoration)
The 1948 hall of mirrors noir thriller is charged by the on-screen chemistry between Welles and his ex-wife Rita Hayworth. This definitive restoration from Colorworks at Sony Pictures, scanned at 4K from the original nitrate negative, recently appeared in the Official Selection Cannes Classics lineup, and will be screened during BFI’s Welles centenary celebrations on Friday 17 July and Thursday 23 July.

Lady from Shanghai

THE THIRD MAN (4K restoration)
This 1949 noir classic is a consummate production, from Graham Greene’s witty, disturbing screenplay to Robert Krasker’s evocatively skewed photography and Anton Karas’ unforgettable zither score. But, despite his minimal screen time, Orson Welles’ amoral Harry Lime steals the show – thanks partly to the famous ‘cuckoo clock’ speech penned by Welles himself. Re-released by StudioCanal in a new 4K restoration in cinemas on 26 June and on DVD and Blu-ray on 20 July.


Touch of EvilTOUCH OF EVIL (1998 version)
The last feature Welles made in Hollywood, 1958’s Touch of Evil is a virtuoso foray into film noir, exhibiting his extraordinary sense of cinematic style, vivid characterisation and an almost Shakespearian flair for tragedy. The 1998 version is a re-edit of the original by Walter Murch based on a 58-page memo Welles wrote to Universal with his suggestions of alterations to the studio’s cut. This 2013 re-master is released in selected cinemas UK-wide on 10 July.

In 1955, Associated-Rediffusion commissioned Welles to write, direct and host this ground-breaking mini-series filmed in Europe. Part home-movie, part cinematic essay, each of the six episodes takes the viewer on a fascinating journey across Europe. In Paris, we are introduced to famous artists such as Jean Cocteau; in Madrid, we attend a bullfight; and in Vienna, in an episode which was long believed lost, we are taken to the locations of The Third Man. Released on BFI DVD and limited edition Blu-ray on 24 August.

Mr Bongo Orson Welles Releases

FALSTAFF CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (50th Anniversary Restored Edition by Orson Welles)
One of the most radical and groundbreaking of all Shakespeare adaptations, 1965’s Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight was Welles’ favourite of his films and gets a DVD and Blu-ray release on 29 June 2015 from Mr Bongo Films, along with the legendary director’s first feature, Too Much Johnson (1938) and his second-to-last feature, The Immortal Story, starring Jeanne Moreau.

Released to mark Welles’ centenary, awarding-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman’s documentary is an illuminating portrait of one of cinema’s most extraordinary personalities. Expect my big review real soon. Released in selected UK cinemas on 3 July and on DVD on 24 August.



Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films | Calling all trash cinephiles! This is a must-see!

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Most of Hollywood is all talk, we make films’ – Menahem Golan

B-movie fans growing up in the 1980s will certainly remember Cannon films and their iconic logo, as well as the names of the company’s owners, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – two movie-obsessed Israeli cousins who set out to be bigger than Hollywood and ended up changing the way movies were made and marketed forever.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)Throughout the decade, Golan and Globus – aka the Go-Go Boys – churned out some outrageously schlocky fare that ended up on the shelves of VHS rental shops everywhere, including Sylvester Stallone’s lame arm-wrestling flick Over The Top, the Lawrence of Arabia meets The Great Race rip-off Sahara with Brooke Shields, the Mount Everest of bad musicals, The Apple, and the cut price Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which featured a Chippendales dancer as the bad guy. They also introduced ninjas into pop culture – courtesy of Franco Nero – turned Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme into action heroes, and brought two pastel shades of breakdancing to the big screen – hence the title, Electric Boogaloo.

For me, I will never, forget their foray into sci-fi and horror, especially 1985’s Lifeforce (1985) and the creaky 1983 comedy House of the Long Shadows, which famously teamed Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Back in the day, they were grave disappointments. Today, however, they are cult favourites – and so are alot of films in Cannon’s back catalogue.

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For his latest delvings into cinema’s weirder side, Aussie film nut Mark Hartley’s crams in as many excerpts from Cannon’s back catalogue as he can, and interviews a roll-call of names who worked on the howlers, including Elliott Gould, Dolph Lundgren, Bo Derek and Sybil Danning, and their recollections provide a fascinating, hilarious – and at times vitriolic – portrait of the fiery Golan and the shrewd Globus, who, despite their flaws, certainly put their mark on pop culture.

Your head might spin at Hartley’s fast-cut editing as many of the same anecdotes about how G& G were tasteless, misguided and out of touch are all told by multiple interviewees. One that had me in stitches is Golan pitching a role directly to Manis the orang-utan (Clint Eastwood’s sidekick Clyde in Every Which Way But Loose). But despite labelling them as junk peddlers and names far worse – all of the interviewees agree on one thing – that the brash pair loved cinema more than anything.

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As outlaws working against a Hollywood that ostracised them, they came, they conquered (briefly), and they crashed spectacularly. Along the way, they gave moviegoers some truly memorable B-movie cinema moments. But for all the awful Death Wish sequels, Indiana Jones rip-offs, and bargain bin stinkers, they also had the odd flicker of artistic integrity when they gave the likes of Barbet Schroeder (Barfly), John Cassavetes (Love Streams) and Andrei Konchalovsky (Runaway Train) their chance to shine, and Franco Zeffirelli the opportunity to make his 1986 opera musical masterpiece, Otello.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films is available to stream from Metrodome and BFI Player, and screens in selected UK cinemas, while the UK home entertainment release is scheduled for 13 July


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