J.J. Abrams, now a successful filmmaker and television producer, recalls getting contacted by another filmmaker, Larry Cohen, when he noticed Abrams had one of his monsters from his horror It's Alive on a TV appearance, and wanted to ask him about it. Abrams pointed out they had met before, but he probably wouldn't remember, it was years ago on the street in New York and he was late for a meeting, asking him and his friend for directions. Turns out Larry did indeed remember, and could give him all the details of their brief meeting, even that he had been with Dom DeLuise's son. Just one story from the remarkable life of one of cinema's great mavericks...
If you're making a documentary about film, you really have two options, either make it akin to an essay with theorising and observations, maybe only from one authorial voice, or you could go the showbiz route and pack the piece with as many talking heads as possible, liberally applying famous faces, or at least names the interested viewer will recognise. This second option is the route director Steve Mitchell travelled for his Larry Cohen effort, a run down of his work, first in television and then in film, becoming what can be highly entertaining, the anecdote parade after the trail blazed by Mark Hartley and his Ozploitation and Cannon documentaries.
As expected after Hartley's cult successes, there were many who followed in his wake who realised that quite often film folks are flattered to be asked about their experiences, even when those experiences were pretty awful, and many are more than happy to be sat down in front of a camera to be interviewed as themselves, as opposed to being invited on a chat show when they have something to plug, which can be entertaining, but the publicity tours can also be a slog. Mitchell didn't find anyone with a bad word to say about Cohen, another reason why those chatting for him were delighted to be discussing him: the loyalty he engenders is noticeable from the first ten minutes.
Maybe we missed out on a more critical reading of Cohen's canon, a pity in a way since it could more than stand up to examination as his films are so often returned to decades after they were made thanks to the obvious intelligence in their themes, not something that everyone who made a horror flick in the seventies and eighties could claim. More than that was the trickster sensibility that turned musings over the environment, or politics, or religion, or consumerism, or whatever Cohen's mind had latched onto into material that never seemed out of place in the context of a genre item, so God Told Me To was addressing religion as science fiction, and The Stuff was consumerism as a horror, all his movies having the knack of a simple hook that can be summed up in one inspiring sentence.
This was touched upon, but mostly the tales were more about what a mensch Cohen was, a man of integrity who was willing to stick up for his scripts and ideas just as much as he was those who were employed by him: time and again we hear that he hired an out of work actor or crewmember who had been cast adrift by the industry, often because they were regarded as too old. Cohen had a genuine love of old movie stars, and would cast them as often as possible, hence the late career appearances of anyone from Bette Davis to Red Buttons to Broderick Crawford, and if that doesn't endear him to you as a movie buff, what will? Only Fred Williamson, star of his Black Caesar duo, gets a little testy, but in an amused way that enhances the subject's abundant reminiscences, everyone else makes us realise how lucky we were to have him creating his movies guerrilla style, like nothing else at the time or now, for that matter. We leave him as he is still writing away, every day, his inspiration never having run dry.