Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Warner, DVD) – Australian filmmaker Mark Hartley has become a champion of the disreputable genre films of the seventies and eighties thanks to such loving productions as Not Quite Hollywood (spotlighting the disreputable side of the early Australian film industry) and Machete Maidens Unleashed (on Filipino grindhouse films). Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a labor of love from a man whose career to date has been a labor of love.
The story of Cannon Films is unique and fascinating. In 1979, Israeli producer / director Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus, who handled the financial side of their Israeli production company, decided to go international. They purchased Cannon Films, a small American independent production company with a couple of successes to its name. Golan and Globus quickly became B-movie moguls, determined to beat Hollywood at its own game with a series of cheaply-made genre movies with stars like Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson and cashed in on current fads and box-office hits with quick knock-offs. They became infamous for their flamboyant presence, their non-stop self-promotion, and their reputation for cranking out incoherent and at times incompetent movies between their occasional hits, while in a seemingly alternate universe also produced arthouse movies by Andrey Konchalovskiy (Runaway Train, 1985, Shy People, 1987), John Cassavetes (Love Streams), Franco Zeffirelli (the opera film Otello, 1986), and Jean-Luc Godard (King Lear, 1987), whose contract was written on a napkin over dinner at a restaurant. By the end of the eighties, they had driven the company to bankruptcy by the end of the decade.
Mark Hartley’s documentary is one of two new documentaries about the filmmaking duo (they rushed their own version into production, The Go-Go Boys, in classic Cannon fashion) and this unauthorized film takes an irreverent but affectionate approach that emphasizes the excesses of the company. Electric Boogaloo features interviews with over 80 actors, directors, and executives who worked with the men. Hartley spent years getting the interviews for this film (apart from Golan and Globus, their top marquee names Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme are conspicuously absent) and he has a wealth of riches to work with. The default position is that these guys were all enthusiasm and ego with little talent and even less taste and the interviewees are happy to confirm Hartley’s thesis, even while many of the performer and filmmakers who worked with them still harbor some affection for the duo. “He had this uncanny ability to just make up shit and then we’d do it,” remembers one director of Golan, while another confirms “These were bad ideas on a regular basis.” Given their constant interference, it’s fascinating to see so many collaborators harbor such good feelings toward these filmmaking pirates. Frank Yablans, who was the head of MGM when the studio cut a deal to distribute Cannon’s output, is less nostalgic about the crap that Golan and Globus sent his way, and he dumped them as soon as he could.
While Hartley can’t cover everything in its brisk 106 minutes, he moves through the history of the company at a rapid clip, stopping to marvel at the array of films, from grindhouse hits like Missing in Action and American Ninja to attempts to ride the pop culture zeitgeist with Breakin’ (1984) and The Forbidden Dance (1990) to crazy colorful disasters like the futuristic musical The Apple, the Stallone arm-wrestling drama Over the Top, and the live-action Masters of the Universe. I’m a little disappointed that Hartley, a true historian of B movies, doesn’t acknowledge that the Cannon practice of creating poster art for non-existent movies to sell at Cannes and then creating films for the titles that sell, came from Roger Corman, though that’s about all they have in common. They were fixated on the idea that everything should be crammed with sex, violence, nudity, and sheer excess, and they had a habit of invading the editing room to add those elements to films regardless of appropriateness while simultaneously cutting them down to get more turnover in a day of screenings. Corman respected his filmmakers and let them be as creative as they wanted as long as they delivered the requisite amount of exploitation spectacle and kept to the budget.
The lax quality control caught up with Golan and Globus—for every hit, Cannon cranked out dozens of flops—even while they kept funneling money into more and more productions. Spread too thin in the final years and under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, they lost $90 million in their last two years before finally going bankrupt. During their decade or so as Hollywood’s black sheep studio they turned out some of the worst films of their day, but they also produced the best American films of Andrey Konchalovskiy, Robert Altman’s Fool For Love (1985) and Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987), and kept John Frankenheimer employed in his lean years (they also kept Michael Winner working, which wasn’t much of a public service). No studio before or since had such a schizophrenic output.
On DVD with 25 minutes of deleted scenes and over 30 minutes of trailers from Cannon films.