While many argue about the subjective success of a movie, there is one indisputable objective marker of a movie's success and that is whether it has recovered its cost. Regardless of the former, those who have repeatedly accomplished the latter make careers for themselves in the business and deserve respect. Documentarian Steve Mitchell pays that respect to Larry Cohen and his interesting filmography with King Cohen, which La-La Land Entertainment is releasing in a Limited Edition set of 5,000 that includes the film on Blu-ray accompanied by its soundtrack by Joe Kraemer on CD.
Mitchell tells Cohen's story through an impressive roster of interviewees, from the man himself, to people he worked with like Michael Moriarty and Eric Roberts, and his filmmaker peers, such as Joe Dante, John Landis, and Martin Scorsese. There are also scenes where Cohen is appearing at some unnamed pop-culture convention selling movie miscellanea.
He got his start when he sold an adaptation of Ed McBain's novel Killer's Choice to television at 17 to Kraft Television Theater, though it's not clear how the rights were worked out. He wrote for a lot of TV shows in the late '50s and through the '60s. He created the western series Branded, inspired by seeing the movie Four Feathers listed in a catalog, and the science-fiction series The Invaders but he wasn't a guy who worked well within a structured system and had no interest in writing the same thing every week. Cohen's perseverance is revealed when he tells of having a story for Naked City rejected in 1961 only to sell it 34 years later to NYPD Blue.
Frustrated by directors ruining his work, he stepped into the chair himself, writing and directing Bone. an unsuccessful 1972 film about race and gender. He then did the blaxpoitation film Black Caesar. Cohen tells of jumping out a cab to demonstrate a stunt to star Fred Williamson, who denies the story and calls it "a Larry myth." After a terrible preview where Black Caesar died, Larry respond pragmatically and just cut off the ending. The film was a hit and generated a sequel.
Cohen was a guerrilla filmmaker determined to capture his vision in a manner that wouldn't be tolerated in out post-9/11 world. He shot Hell Up in Harlem at Los Angeles airport without permits, in a parking lot, and staged a fight in baggage carousel. While working on Q (which he unabashedly claims is probably the best monster movie after King Kong), he terrified people on the streets of New York with unannounced machine-gun fire at the Chrysler Building.
In addition to his successes, King Cohen also covers his leaving I, the Jury and Bette Davis dropping out of Wicked Stepmother. After reteaming with Williamson for Original Gangstas in 1996, there's a 10-year gap before he directed again (and for the last time so far) on the Masters of Horror episode "Pick Me Up" While he worked as a screenwriter on Phone Booth and Cellular, the movie leaves one curious about what happened. Was it lack of interest by himself or investors?
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The modern-day interviews have strong colors and feature sharp objects while the quality of the archival film clips varies. The audio track is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, although the dialogue-heavy track makes little use of the surrounds beyond Kraemer's score.
The Special Features are:
An Audience with the King (47 min) and More Stories from the King's Court (38 min) are basically deleted scenes. Raw video footage of interviews with Cohen and others who appear in the film, respectively telling even more stories. Well worth checking out.
Monsters on the Table (4 min) - A deleted scene featuring different monster props from Cohen's films.
Hello, World (14 min) - Introductions Cohen recorded to accompany the film at different festivals at which it was screened.
Joe Kraemer's score does a great job evoking the scenes it supports. Predominantly jazz pieces, it also got funky during the blaxpoitation segments and evoked the work of composer Bernard Herrmann, who had worked on It's Alive and was planning to work on God Told Me To, but died in his sleep shortly after seeing a rough cut. On its own, the soundtrack is an enjoyable listen.
While folks can argue about the success of his movies, King Cohen reveals there's no denying the success of his career. It's an inspiring story about a man doing things his way and accomplishing his goals.