While his roots may be in television, it’s most likely his indelible work in cinema as a writer/director/producer that has made filmmaking maverick Larry Cohen such an influential force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. With a professional career that kicked off in the late 1950s, Cohen has yet to slow down at all, and it’s that enduring creative spirit that King Cohen documentarian Steve Mitchell celebrates in his loving and lively look back at the brazen trail that Cohen has journeyed on thus far.
In King Cohen, Mitchell takes us all the way back to the beginning of Cohen’s life, as we hear stories about Larry’s childhood in New York City, and how his experiences growing up there continued to define him, especially in his film work, which was usually set around the Big Apple, or in New York in general. Cohen also discussed how he sold his first script at the tender age of 17, and then began consistently working in the world of television as a writer for numerous years after that.
But a growing frustration over not having creative control of his scripts led Cohen to start making films on his own, and doing it in a fashion that can only be described as “Typical Larry Cohen.” Not content to make entertainment that simply entertained audiences, Cohen set out to create audacious and thought-provoking films that would not only keep moviegoers talking on their way out of the theater, but would also be profitable in the end. Part-showman/part-savvy businessman, Larry Cohen did it all on his own terms, forever changing the landscape of genre cinema.
Featuring a cavalcade of notable talents, including Joe Dante, Mick Garris, John Landis, J.J. Abrams, Eric Roberts, Fred Williamson (who lovingly refers to Cohen as the “King of Stealing Shots”), Martin Scorsese, Yaphet Kotto, Robert Forster, as well as longtime Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty and many more, King Cohen delivers everything you’d want to know about Hollywood’s greatest puzzle-solver (truly, some of the obstacles he overcame to make his movies are downright unbelievable at times), and then digs even deeper with some personal anecdotes that feel relevant and give us an even greater understanding of just what kept Cohen so driven throughout his career from the perspective of those who lived it alongside him.
As far as topics go, Mitchell delves into all of Cohen’s films, covering both their socio-political influences as well as how they helped shape the landscape of cinema at that time. Mitchell leaves no stone unturned here, even digging deep into Cohen’s illustrious career as a screenwriter, and pays tribute to Larry’s impressive television contributions, especially in the realm of live TV. Something else that King Cohen dives into is Larry’s relationship with acclaimed composer Bernard Herrmann, and I hadn’t realized just how close the two visionaries were outside of their professional collaborations. Some truly lovely stories there.
For anyone who loves Cohen’s work and offbeat storytelling sensibilities, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy what Mitchell has crafted with King Cohen, and even cinephiles in general should have a lot of fun with this one, too. At one point in the doc, Larry makes the comment, “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been there,” and that quote in particular feels so relevant to the subject matter at hand. Cohen’s enjoyed a wild ride in Hollywood for over six decades now, and King Cohen is a perfect celebration of his unwavering dedication to the creative spirit and to delivering movies that he believes fans want to see.
Movie Score: 4/5
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