When I got Billy Corben on the phone this week, I asked how he was doing by way of opening pleasantry. “Exhausted, thanks for asking,” Corben told me, an understandable response from anyone doing a press tour, as Corben is, to promote his new documentary, Screwball (which I recently described as “an insane masterpiece of Floridiana.”)
Then I asked my first real question, and Corben proceeded to give one of the most expansive, caffeinated interviews I’ve ever conducted. This is exhausted? Billy Corben’s tired makes my wired look like Steven Seagal after a couple quaaludes.
I soon found that Corben is easy to wind up, loves to tell stories, and is a great salesman, which probably helps explain what makes him such great documentarian — whose mostly Florida-based ouvre includes Cocaine Cowboys (1 and 2), Dawg Fight, and The U (1 and 2). Where some documentarians seem to have a standard style guide that they merely apply to different subjects (Ken Burns’ photo zooms come to mind), Corben’s subjects seem to inspire his formalistic approach.
In Screwball, which is about steroids and Alex “A-Rod” Rodriquez — or more specifically, “the fact that the career of the highest paid baseball player in history effectively ended over a $4,000 debt between a cocaine-addicted fake doctor and his fake tan-addicted steroid patient,” as Corben puts it — this meant hiring child actors for the recreations.
Even in his supposedly-exhausted state, Corben had lots to say about it, the kind of interview subject who constantly makes you think both “oh boy this is great stuff” and “oh no, am I going to have to write all this?”
Screwball opens this week on VOD, iTunes, and most streaming platforms.