Much like the Orion Pictures logo that recently resurfaced and excited Generation Nostalgia™, you probably know the Cannon Films emblem, may remember their films and might even fetishize their library. But unlike Orion, which gave cineastes nine Woody Allen movies, unimpeachable genre classics like “RoboCop,” “The Terminator” and four Best Picture Oscar winners (“Platoon” among them), Cannon’s independent outsider brand was immediately defined by its lack of quality, good taste and sense.
A schlock ‘em, sock ‘em house of shameless low-rent, Z-grade movies, the rogue and independent Cannon broke through the mainstream film market in the 1980s with its rash of no-budget exploitation pictures that even Roger Corman would be appalled by. Starting with Charles Bronson‘s “Death Wish II” (and its subsequent sequels), through “highlights” like Tobe Hooper‘s “Lifeforce,” “American Ninja” and “Breakin’,” Cannon delighted B-movie genre heads with their bloody, tawdry, often vulgar, crude and almost always cheap pictures. Their logo became so synonymous with cinematic crud that audiences would even boo at it during trailers.
But as a proto-Miramax, just as savvy, but lacking in real discerning taste, Cannon changed the game for better and worse, and prove, if only for a brief second, the Hollywood establishment could be, if not usurped, at least challenged.
Founded by filmmaker/producer Menahem Golan and producer/businessman Yoram Globus, two movie-obsessed Israeli cousins, the duo crashed through Hollywood’s gates in the late ‘70s after accruing enough cash to start their own U.S. company with hits like “Lemon Popsicle“—a 1978 Israeli coming of age film that spawned eight sequels, an American remake (eventually made by Cannon) and even earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. But while Golan and Globus had dreams of Oscars and becoming respected members of the Hollywood community, they instantly dashed their own chances by vomiting an outbreak of junky bargain basement B-movies. “At Cannon, 52 pictures a year wasn’t enough,” was the motto typifying the company’s unfortunate quantity over quality approach. Restless and with their eyes on too many prizes, Golan and Globus (and especially Golan, the creative “brains” behind the duo) threw together movies with non-existent plots, wooden acting, gratuitous nudity, vulgar violence and half-assed concepts at an insanely prolific rate (Mattel toy adaptation “Master Of The Universe,” cult music film “The Apple,” “American Ninja,” 1983’s laughable “Hercules” with Lou Ferrigno, “Bolero” “Runaway Train” and “Breakin'” being some of the standouts).
Directed by Mark Hartley (and executive produced by Brett Ratner), “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films” is often a deeply entertaining and amusing romp through the annals of trash cinema history. At least initially. Even at a fairly routine (but ultimately overlong) 105 minutes, Hartley’s doc begins to wear out its welcome with its repetitive style and narrative. Mainly using talking heads and Cannon footage, ‘The Wild, Untold Story’ uses standard operating techniques to hammer home the same point over and over again: Golan and Globus were ambitious moguls with a lot of passion, but little patience or talent. A big part of the enjoyment of the film is the (potentially unremembered for younger audiences) nostalgia it treads upon and the deliciousness of celebrating that which is so bad it’s good. But Cannon’s oeuvre is so bloody bad, the laughs start to strain. And advanced irony majors aside, the joy found therein gets tired (if you think you remembered how bad their films were, guess again).
Complicating matters, the film’s tone and recurring implications are troubling (some are possibly spot-on, but bothersome nonetheless). Golan and Globus are cheapskates and wheeler-dealer merchants, but ‘The Wild, Untold Story’ veers dangerously to anti-Semitism with indulging in its Jewish stereotypes. While there’s plenty of hilarious anecdotes—the fact that they cast Spaghetti Western star Franco Nero as a ninja is hysterically misguided—they’re all about a yarn or two shy away from labeling these guys Shylocks. The doc’s affections are obviously felt for Cannon and the two mavericks (mostly, anyhow), with little to say other than repeating the same narrative—“These guys were crazy!” “They cared about movies, but their urge to make movies and money outweighed their desire to properly care for them!”—Cannon tilts dangerously close as a pile on of disparaging talking heads without its main two subjects present to defend themselves.
And therein lies the rub. The film’s most glaring deficit is the absence of Golan and Globus themselves because—perhaps perfectly in character—when the two men found out about the doc, they refused to participate and announced plans to create a rival doc (which they of course rushed into production so it would come out first; their m.o. during the ‘80s with any rival productions).
While ‘The Wild, Untold Story’ does track the company’s flirtation with auteurs, masquerading as patrons giving financing to the at-the-time “unfundable” filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard (“King Lear”), John Cassavetes (“Love Streams”), Franco Zeffirelli (“Othello”) and Barbet Schroder (“Barfly” with Mickey Rourke), it pales in comparison to all the junk the company released (though an aged Zeffirelli is the one rare respectable filmmaker who sings the studio’s praises for the creative freedom they allowed him, and describes his Cannon effort as his best). This is certainly a fascinating tangent, but ‘The Wild, Untold Story’ is more interested in “Death Wish 5” and the sordid cinema that earned the arriviste company their notoriety (and to be fair, it’s more emblematic of their releases).
Featuring often amusing testimonials by Molly Ringwald, Tobe Hooper, Dolph Lundgren, Richard Chamberlain, Elliot Gould, Just Jaeckin, Franco Nero, Franco Zeffirelli, Alex Winter, Albert Pyun, Boaz Davidson, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), Bo Derek, Michael Dudikoff and more, ‘The Wild Untold Story’ is formally pretty dull, vacillating between interviews and stock footage and back again.
By the maker of Aussie “Ozploitation” doc “Not Quite Hollywood” and the “Machete Maidens Unleashed”—two docs that employ the exact same formula and exploit the same sense of cinematic irony for films you probably didn’t witness firsthand—Hartley has his method, and it’s served him well. But the familiar conventions of ‘Electric Boogaloo’ recommend the filmmaker should ply his trade elsewhere if only to get a breather (and to be fair, he did, 2013’s “Patrick” is a remake of an old Aussie horror movie).
Cannon shuttered in the early ‘90s after financial mismanagement and one too many flops (“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” being one of the final blows to their already terrible reputation), and even the thick-as-thieves founders had their own falling out. While low on major insights, the doc has no paucity of hilarious stories and is certainly informative. What Golan and Globus were prescient about was Hollywood’s horse-before-the-cart approach. While routine now, back then the moguls pioneered the idea of the pre-sale—packing a movie around an idea or a poster before even a script existed. With this pre-sale money coming, Golan and Globus could fund their next movie and continue this precarious Ponzi scheme as far as they could take it.
While frequently enjoyable, the doc’s typical rise and fall narrative seems like pretty stock stuff. ‘The Wild, Untold Story’ is also a little at odds with itself. The real meat of the story is the Golan and Globus dynamic, their relationship and their rebel approach to making movies. But at the same time, Hartley’s doc is beholden to going through Cannon’s greatest hits.
Entertaining but uneven, for movie enthusiasts—particularly for the genre-happy cineaste with a predilection for the disreputable—’Cannon’ is likely a must (it went over like gangbusters at Fantastic Fest). Hartley’s got a knack for excavating untold or forgotten stories of cinema and getting the players of the day to discuss the topic at length (and then some), but after three films that lean heavily on rose-tinted nostalgia via various sorts of schlockmeisters, maybe it’s time to say when. [B-]