A fixture of low-budget filmmaking since the 1970s, there is no filmmaker quite like Larry Cohen. His scripts are brilliant: smart, structurally sound, filled with ideas, subversive, and incredibly satisfying. His directing style is unpretentious and has an air of danger about it, mostly because he made so many in and around New York City in the 1970s and '80s when the city had a very different energy and he did it all guerilla-style, stealing shots without permits and grabbing locations that gave his movies real production value at no additional cost. And though he almost always worked within identifiable genres -- action, blaxploitation, horror -- his movies are impossible to truly predict. Sometimes they zag when you expect them to zig, like in Special Effects; other times, like in the case of God Told Me To, they become another movie entirely. He is one of the true originals of cinema and we are lucky to have him.
My favorite sections in the movie are the ones in which Cohen opens up about some of his relationships with classic Hollywood actors and technicians who became collaborators and friends: people like Bernard Herrmann, Red Buttons, Sam Fuller, and, finally, Bette Davis, whose relationship with Cohen went a different way. These stories are touching and speak to Cohen's love of classic Hollywood and his desire to give great actors work when they were no longer able to find it (though he admits the decision is also cannily economical). It also speaks to a sweetness and a beautiful spirit that isn't always obvious in his gritty, transgressive movies. He forged relationships with some of these men that were more familial than friendly, and when he recounts the last days he spent with Red Buttons and Bernard Herrmann, it's genuinely moving.
Hell Up in Harlem) helped create what would become the blaxploitation genre of the 1970s. Cohen is modest about the whole thing, again speaking to the economics of the projects and adopting a sort of "Why wouldn't I?" attitude, which only endears him to me more. Fred Williamson's interview segments are incredibly entertaining, too, mostly because he and Cohen have conflicting memories about of how certain things went down during filming, from their early movies through Original Gangstas in 1996.