There are few filmmakers as successful and simultaneously under the radar as Larry Cohen. He’s made some of the most vibrant and entertaining movies around, but there’s a good chance you don’t realize how many of your favorite movies he’s responsible for. There’s proof that the man behind The Stuff, Maniac Cop, It’s Alive, Black Caesar and Phone Booth is still around and kicking, thanks to a new biographical documentary. King Cohen finds Larry at a peaceful, content spot in his career, having an enormous and well loved body of work behind him. The film’s a tribute to one of cinema’s great mavericks and is essential viewing for any fan.
Much like the recent documentary De Palma, much of the joy of King Cohen rests in the man himself looking back on his films. There are myriad behind-the-scenes revelations to be found here as well as some touching anecdotes about the friends Cohen picked up along the way. The form of the doc is fairly straightforward and devoid of frills, but the format works just fine for this material. Larry Cohen’s career is so incredible that the only job this filmmaker had was to present the timeline in a concise manner, and he does so admirably. The film is a breezy 104 minutes that doesn’t waste a terrible amount of time on anything besides Cohen’s life and artistic process. The film tracks the development of Cohen, originally a television writer, into a genuine auteur. His writing process and direction of actors take the front seat and offer a veritable film school’s worth of wisdom by the time the credits roll.
Many of Cohen’s frequent collaborators and friends appear throughout the film, such as John Landis, Martin Scorsese, and Fred Williamson. Thompson’s appearances are particularly fantastic due to the friendly rivalry he appeared to have with Cohen. Williamson and Cohen’s recollections of their time on set together are often intercut with each other, which provides a nice balance in terms of representing their views on the films. It’s a fair portrayal of both, which is a laudable accomplishment.
Fans of outsider cinema need no introduction to Cohen, given his mythic status. However, this film does provide some nice detail and reflection on his filmography. For the uninitiated, it fills in another gap in the history of gonzo filmmaking. Like a great bonus feature on your favorite movie, King Cohen will beguile and fascinate all fans of cinema.