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Buckle up for the true story of writer, producer, director, creator and all-around maverick, Larry Cohen. Told through compelling live interviews, stills, and film/TV clips, the people who helped fulfill his vision and industry icons, including Larry himself, bring one-of-a-kind insight into the work, process, and legacy of a true American film auteur. Few can boast of a career as remarkable or prolific, spanning more than 50 years of entertaining audiences worldwide. (From La-La Land’s official synopsis)

 King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen
During the ‘60s and ‘70s, New York City was a hub location for horror films, thrillers, and psychological dramas. Filmmakers like Roman Polanski, Michael Winner, and Martin Scorsese built a new gothic mythology around the five boroughs that has endured in the decades that followed. The unsung chronicler of New York’s less extravagant side was Larry Cohen, who cut his teeth writing and directing Bone (aka: Dial Rat, 1972), Hell Up in Harlem (1973), and Black Caesar (aka: The Godfather of Harlem, 1973) for the blaxploitation market. As he moved on to horror and sci-fi subjects, Cohen applied the tactics he’d developed while making blaxploitation movies to a larger audience demographic. As a director, he worked exclusively with modest budgets and tight schedules, which is not particularly conducive to quality, but even his weakest movies share a distinctive tone, one that is flavored by natural, disarmingly charming people that counteract his supernatural concepts. His best work in the arena includes (but is not limited to) God Told Me To (1976), Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), and The Stuff (1985). As a writer for other directors, he specialized in high-concept screenplays, exemplified in Bill Lustig’s Maniac Cop (1988), Sidney Lumet’s Guilty as Sin (1993), and Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002).

That’s just the tip of the Larry Cohen iceberg and, if you’re looking for a more in-depth, career-spanning look at the man’s work, you could do a lot worse than King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen – the first and, as of yet, only feature-length documentary on the subject. It is written and directed by Steve Mitchell, who has his own, albeit smaller cult career, as co-writer of Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall (1986) and Saturday morning cartoon favourites G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Jem. Among the interviewees are a bevy of surprising and not-at-all surprising folks, including filmmakers and perpetually available genre fans/experts Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, Mick Garris, and John Landis; frequent collaborating actor Michael Moriarty ( Q, The Stuff, It’s Alive III [1987]); less frequent collaborating actors Yaphet Kotto ( Bone), Fred Williamson ( Black Caesar), Eric Roberts ( The Ambulance, 1990), Robert Forster ( Original Gangsters, 1996), Eric Bogosian ( Special Effects, 1984), and Tara Reid ( A Return to Salem's Lot, 1987); special effects titan Rick Baker; and critic/authors David J. Schow, Jon Burlingame, and Gary Phillips.

 King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen
Mitchell does a fine job balancing the interviews with footage of Cohen on the festival trail and clips from his movies. Recently, I’ve noticed that many similar documentaries find themselves trapped between methodical career retrospectives and fly-on-the-wall examinations of an artist’s current life, often with a nostalgic, sad slant, as the subject’s old age is taking a toll. As a result, these movies aren’t satisfying for neither their informational value nor dramatic impact (Alan Hicks & Rashida Jones Quincy [2018] and Steve James’ Life Itself [2014] both spring to mind). Mitchell understands the quirky and comparatively limited appeal of Cohen and his movies, so he mostly sticks to an older, tried-and-true bio-doc model that gleefully celebrates the writer/director’s work. The film runs breakneck through his pre-film work as a frustrated comedian, then slows down while covering the different periods of his television and movie career, opting to give his most popular releases the most in-depth screentime. This light-hearted approach is a bit fluffy and lacks any notable conflict (most of the drama stems from a glut of elderly actors and other crew members that died on him), but Cohen is critical enough of himself to deflate Mitchell’s tone when it threatens to get too sentimental or congratulatory. He and his cohorts also occasionally contradict each other, which helps establish a slightly more Cohen-esque, sarcastic tone.

 King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen

Video


La-La Land Entertainment’s Blu-ray is presented in 1080p and framed at 1.78:1. Like most documentaries, the image quality is inconsistent, because the footage used is inconsistent. Generally, it breaks down between (depending on the location) static camera interviews, less uniform handheld festival interviews, clean stills/poster art images, and movie clips, which are all over the place in terms of clarity. Mitchell and company were able to score HD footage of almost everything, though, which is quite impressive, even if some of the footage is a bit beat-up (their Black Caesar and Q: The Winged Serpent scenes actually look better than the available Blu-rays). When they aren’t able to use HD clips, as in the case of his television shows and most obscure movies, they do a pretty good job upconverting. These upconverted bits and VHS home videos exhibit the most obvious compression artefacts, which we can’t hold against this Blu-ray transfer.

Audio


This largely dialogue-driven documentary is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Given the fact that most of the sound is centered and far from complex, the extra channels aren’t necessary, but the stereo spread is pretty important to the clarity and breadth of the film clips and Joe Kraemer’s funky, straight-outta-the-’70s score. There are a few bibs & bobs that reverberate into the rear speaks, as well, though no one will be using this as their new demo disc.

 King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen

Extras


  • An Audience with the King (46:32, HD) – A substantial collection of deleted and extended interview bits with the writer/director. Essentially, these are anecdotes that are too amusing not to share, but not really pertinent to the movie’s narrative.
  • More Stories from the King's Court (37:43, HD) – These additional outtakes feature more behind-the-scenes tales from the people that worked with Cohen over the decades.[* Monsters on the Table (3:25, HD) – Cohen shows off some old props.
  • Hello, World (13:21, HD) – A collection of personalized introductions that Cohen recorded for the documentary’s premieres around the world.
  • Trailer
  • CD soundtrack (Limited Edition exclusive)


 King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen

Overall


King Cohen is about as thorough of an investigation into writer/director Larry Cohen’s career as you can fit into a two-hour timeframe. It lacks heft, but is consistently entertaining and leaves me ready to work my way back through his filmography right this very minute. This Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as you’d expect from an interview and archival footage based documentary and includes almost another movie’s worth of deleted/extended interviews, alongside other extras.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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