In this post-“Man of Steel” era, it is perhaps worth reminding yourself that there is another truly, deeply awful Superman film out there, but watching 1987’s “Superman IV: The Quest For Peace” is a horribly cruel thing to do to yourself. Instead, try this: a 1986 documentary on the mad business that was The Cannon Group, the most dynamic and radical movie studio of the ’80s, who were brought low the next year when ‘Superman IV’ flopped.
The Cannon Group was, really, just two Israeli cousins, Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, whose very existence made Hollywood bigwigs wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, yelling incoherently about Vietnam veterans and break-dancing. Globus and Golan rode the wave of the VHS revolution by buying almost any script they could get their hands on, producing it as cheaply as possible, putting it into the large number of cinemas they owned in various countries around the world, releasing it as soon as possible on video, and sitting back and watching the money roll in.
It duly did, and with it came a weird kind of pop-cultural power, which has seeped into modern life in unexpected ways.Cannon gave us Chuck Norris, producing many of his ’80s action flicks including “The Delta Force” and “Missing in Action.” Cannon gave us “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” not an influential film but an enormously influential title. Cannon gave us several well-remembered European art movies like “The Assault,” which kept certain critics on their side even as they churned out B-movies by the dozen. Cannon helped to give us anime (or “Japanimation” as they called it back when Ronald Reagan was still bumbling about the White House), releasing garbled versions of entire anime series, rammed together into 90 minute films but nevertheless awakening peoples’ interest. And Cannon died that we might have superhero movies, practically bankrupting themselves with the Superman flop and then spending the remaining cash buying the rights to Spiderman, which failed even worse in that it never even got filmed.
Globus and Golan made such a fuss of the project that when it failed to materialize, their credibility went with it. And yet here we are, a quarter of a century later, with superhero films the foundation of the blockbuster business, and yet with very few risk-taking studios left. Take a moment then to watch this BBC documentary, made just before the wheels came off The Cannon Group, and enjoy a glimpse at “The Last Moguls,” obviously having the time of their lives.