During the Cannes Film Festival of 2001, Menahem Golan, onetime chief blunderbuss of the celebrated schlock factory Cannon Films, could be found hawking his latest movies at the Cannes Market, including one called “Elian: The Gonzalez-Boy Story.” Golan was ruling like a pasha over the Palais. Yes, it was the basement of the Palais. But that’s precisely where he belonged.
With “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films,” director Mark Hartley captures the grand-fromage character of Cannon, where Golan (who died last month) and his partner and cousin, Yoram Globus, created a legacy that included such tours de force as “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” “Braddock: Missing in Action III,” “Death Wish IV: The Crackdown,” and “American Ninja V.” They were very big on numbers — except the ones that added up to good business.
Certainly they had successes, but the thrust of “Electric Boogaloo” is the aesthetic that ruled at Cannon, where Golan and Globus (a.k.a. Golan-Globus) defied the Hollywood policy of at least pretending to make quality motion pictures while latching onto every cultural trend and minor social phenomenon and turning around a film on the subject in less time than it takes a studio exec to order coffee.
They had no shame about trying to make copy-cat killings at the box office: “King Solomon’s Mines” was a shameless “Raiders of the Lost Ark” knockoff; “Breakin'” mimed “Beat Street.” As one of Hartley’s dozens of witnesses – who are cut together with the kind of rapid-fire editing Golan would have appreciated – Cannon films “always resembled something, minus the good taste.”
Golan and Globus were Israeli immigrants and Golan was fixated on the films he grew up on. Early in his career, he produced “Lemon Popsicle,” a Middle East version of “Porky’s,” which was an early hit. Its virtues, such as they were, were replicated in film after film produced by Cannon, which subscribed to the belief that no movie could not be made better with the addition of a naked woman. The films might not have been full-blown porn, but they were porn-ish, and a number of the women performers interviewed – Catherine Mary Stewart, Lucinda Dickey, Bo Derek – reflect on their Cannon experience with good-natured dismay.
All the people Hartley talks to, many of whom got in bed with Cannon after their career trajectories had flattened out (Elliott Gould, Just Jaeckin, Franco Nero, Dolph Lundgren, Molly Ringwald, Barbet Schroeder, Tobe Hooper, Franco Zeffirelli) harbor vague affection for the Go-Go boys (as they were called), but no illusions. A few of the witnesses are quite blunt: Frank Yablans, who was running MGM when it allied itself with Cannon, slams Golan and Globus for their shoddy work and ethics. Sharon Stone takes a few shots from people who were involved in the eighties productions “King Solomon’s Mines” and “Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold,” which helped make her career (“everybody hated her”). Michael Winner (“Death Wish”) is widely excoriated.
A few potshots are taken at the very charming Dickey, too, regarding her appearance in “Breakin’.” And the ex-Solid Gold dancer becomes collateral damage when the film assesses one of Cannon’s true masterpieces of cheese, “Ninja III: The Domination,” which is described as a martial-arts movie, “The Exorcist” and “Flashdance” rolled into one.
“Electric Boogaloo” is basically a celebration of chutzpah; even the most critical appraisal in the film concedes that Golan-Globus — but especially Golan — brazened their way into Hollywood, rode the tacky train till the wheels fell off and left moviegoers with films they never would have seen otherwise: “Masters of the Universe,” “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” “The Last American Virgin,” “Tough Guys Don’t Dance,” “Robotech: The Movie”…the list goes on.
“Electric Boogaloo” screened this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. RatPac Documentary Films will release it later this year.