Friday, September 16, 2016

#2,195. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Directed By: Mark Hartley

Starring: Sam Firstenberg, David Paulsen, Luigi Cozzi

Premiere: The movie had its world debut at the 2014 Melbourne Int'l Film Festival

Trivia: Both Menahem Golan or Yoram Globus turned down offers to be interviewed for this film

To this day, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace ranks as the worst picture I ever saw in a movie theater. A group of us checked it out in the summer of 1987, and while I can’t speak for the others, I went in hoping this film would help me relive a bit of my childhood. I had a great time watching both Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980) with a crowd of people (in both instances, the audiences cheered in all the right places), and couldn’t wait to experience yet another entry in this normally-reliable franchise (I wasn’t a big fan of Superman III, but I didn’t hate it).

What we got instead was a smoldering turd, a nearly-unwatchable pile of cinematic dung that had none of the magic of those first two entries. I mean zero. The effects were pathetic, the story was laughable, and nobody had a clue how things work in outer space (I distinctly remember Mariel Hemingway hyperventilating when the baddie dropped her on the surface of the moon. Where she got the air to do so, I have no idea). The movie didn’t just disappoint me; it shit on my memories, and my dislike of it remains as strong today as ever.

So what happened to the Superman series that caused it to go out with a whimper instead of a bang? The answer is simple: the first movies were produced by Warner Brothers, a top-tier Hollywood studio. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was made by Cannon.

Directed by Mark Hartley (the man behind the superior documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation), Electric Boogaloo covers the careers of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, a pair of cousins from Israel who loved movies so much that they decided to make some of their own. After scoring major hits in their home country (Lemon Popsicle, a nudity-laced look at teenage life in Tel Aviv, is still one of that country’s biggest Box Office successes), the two headed to America where, in 1979, they took control of Cannon Films, at the time a small, struggling studio. Putting the focus squarely on B-movies, the duo produced flicks like Enter the Ninja, The Last American Virgin (a U.S. remake of Lemon Popsicle), and Death Wish II. Golan was a filmmaker at heart, and left the financial side of the business to his partner Globus, who many called the more “reasonable” of the two. For a while, their approach worked; throughout the ‘80s, Cannon turned out dozens and dozens of low-budget pictures each and every year, a few of which actually made money.

Some of their films weren’t very good (The Apple was Golan’s attempt to duplicate Ken Russell’s Tommy, and was received so poorly at its premiere that audience members tossed the free soundtrack CDs they were given at the screen), while others were a lot of fun (I’m a fan of the movies they made with Chuck Norris, including Missing in Action and The Delta Force; and the hugely popular Breakin’ is credited with inspiring the decade’s break dancing craze). But Cannon put out more misses than hits, and their reputation as schlockmeisters was well-known throughout Hollywood. In an attempt to make more “respectable” films, they tried teaming with established directors like Franco Zeffirelli and John Cassavetes (I had no idea until watching this documentary that Golan and Globus financed Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly), then turned their attention towards bigger budgeted pictures. Unfortunately, this new way of thinking didn’t jive with the low-budget model that made them a success, and as a result Cannon Films collapsed, causing Golan and Globus to part ways.

As he did with Not Quite Hollywood, Hartley jams as much info into Electric Boogaloo as he possibly can, interviewing writers, producers, editors, and actors who worked for Cannon over the years, then pairing these segments with plenty of movie clips, behind-the-scenes photos and contemporary news coverage of both the studio and the two men behind it. Many of those who agreed to be interviewed didn’t have nice things to say about either Golan or Globus; Bo Derek, who along with her husband John made Bolero for Cannon in 1984, remembers the duo bashing her in the press (based on the dailies, they felt the movie, despite tons of nudity, wasn’t erotic enough), and she even accused Golan and Globus of swiping photos from her bag after a meeting, then using them as publicity stills (Derek’s hatred of Cannon was nothing, however, compared to that of another actress, who so loathed the studio that, during her interview segment, she tried to set fire to a video copy of the Cannon movie she appeared in).

But then not everyone was harsh: Robert Forster (co-star of The Delta Force) remembers Golan fondly, calling him one of the best directors he ever worked with; and others (some of whom were tossing out snide remarks by the dozen) begrudgingly admired Golan’s “grab it by the throat” approach to filmmaking (some of the stories concerning his behind-the-scenes antics are priceless).

And while I agree that Cannon, under Golan and Globus, made more than their share of turkeys, there’s also something quite endearing about the two men, whose love of movies inspired nearly every aspect of their lives. As a film fanatic myself, I recognize the love they put into their productions (even the bad ones), and admire the hell out of them for doing things on their own terms. Ridicule them if you must, but Golan, Globus, and Cannon were an integral part of the 1980s, and regardless of whether or not people give them credit for changing the cinematic landscape during that decade, that’s exactly what they did.

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