As much a tribute to a bygone era as a legendary filmmaker, ‘King Cohen’ deserves to be considered alongside such greats as ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ and ‘DePalma’ in the world of documentaries about cinema. Demonstrating clear admiration for his subject, writer/director Steve Mitchell has gathered together a stunning array of talent to celebrate to talk about the life and work of Larry Cohen.
If you’ve never heard the name Larry Cohen, there’s a strong chance you would’ve seen some of his work, in one way or the other. He’s the brains behind such high concept thrillers as ‘Celluar’ and ‘Phone Booth’ (according to the Internet Movie Database, Cohen has some 87 writing credits to his name). Cohen has directed downright classics across a range of genres; from blaxploitation (‘Black Caesar’) to horror (‘Maniac Cop’, ‘It’s Alive’), comedies (‘Full Moon High’) and thrillers (‘The Ambulance’ - a film so ahead of its time, it featured a cameo by Stan Lee before they became passé). The documentary charts his rise from NBC page, to screenwriter, to producer/director. Along the way offering many a cracking anecdote that reveals a mischievous, quick-thinking filmmaker ready to face down virtually any challenge and take advantage of any situation.
It’s a testament to how well-loved and respected he is in the industry that so many are willing to eagerly sing his praises. Whether it’s god-among-men Martin Scorsese (who, along with Cohen, were the last filmmakers to work with legendary composer Bernard Herrmann), cult greats John Landis and Joe Dante, effects wizard Rick Baker or new kid on the block JJ Abrams (and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the talent on display here… I haven’t also mentioned any of the actors who have worked with Cohen), they all have some fantastic stories to share about the guy.
Of course, some of the best tales come from Cohen himself, who discusses filming crucial scenes for ‘Black Caesar’ from far enough away that people thought Fred Williamson was really dying. Or filming climactic moments from ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ in which authorities try to shoot the titular beast down from the sky from the top of the Chrysler Building, unaware that people on the ground below were terrified by the empty machine gun shells raining down on them from on high.
They’re the sorts of tales that most indie filmmakers would listen to in envy - wishing they could get away with the stunts Cohen pulled in the 70s and 80s these days, knowing they would probably get arrested in they tried.
‘King Cohen’ a joyous experience - and a reminder that sometimes the saying ‘They don’t make them like they used to’ is 100% true.
Anotherfilmnerd's earliest cinematic memory was seeing Don Johnson throw up all over a suspect in John Frankenheimer's 'Dead Bang'. Ever since, he's devoted his life to searching out cinema that's weird, wonderful and features vomit in the most unlikely of places.