Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Armstrong, John G. Avildsen, Martine Beswick, Peter Jan Brugge, Richard Chamberlain, Michael Chambers, Malcolm J. Christopher, Greydon Clark, Luigi Cozzi, Olivia d’Abo, Boaz Davidson, Sybil Danning, David Del Valle, Bo Derek, Christopher C. Dewey, Lucinda Dickey, Danny Dimbort, Michael Dudikoff, Richard Edlund, Harrison Ellenshaw, David Engelbach, Quentin Falk, Sam Firstenberg, Robert Forster, Diane Franklin, Gary Goddard, Mark Goldblatt, Elliott Gould, John Grover, Cynthia Hargrave, Michael Hartman, Mark Helfrich, Lance Hool, Tobe Hooper, Just Jaeckin, Alain Jakubowicz, Yiftack Katzur, Sharon Khan, Richard Kraft, Laurene Landon, Roy Langsdon, Rusty Lemorande, Avi Lerner, Sheldon Lettich, Tom Luddy, Dolph Lundgren, Charles Matthau, Rick Nathanson, Gary Nelson, Franco Nero, Ted Newsom, David Paulsen, Christopher Pearce, Cassandra Peterson, John Platt, Gideon Porath, Edward R. Pressman, Albert Pyun, Adolfo Quinones, Sheldon Renan, Molly Ringwald, Todd Roberts, Alan Roderick-Jones, Mark Rosenthal, Al Ruban, Jerry Schatzberg, Barbet Schroeder, Robin Sherwood, Marina Sirtis, William Stout, Catherine Mary Stuart, John Thompson, Oliver Tobias, Stephen Tolkin, Pete Walker, Alex Winter, Dan Wolman, David Womark, Frank Yablans, Rony Yacov, Franco Zefferelli
Written by: Mark Hartley
Directed by: Mark Hartley
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, violence including rape, language and some drug use
Running Time: 106
Date: 09/29/2015

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Enter the Schlockmeisters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like Quentin Tarantino, I used to work in a video store, renting VHS cassettes and talking movies with cinema lovers in my town. During my time there, many Cannon Films releases decorated the shelves. They rarely figured in any over-the-counter discussions, even if they moved out the door readily enough. I myself was often fascinated by the lurid box covers and confess to having checked out things like Breakin' 2, The Delta Force, and Cobra, although I couldn't work up the courage to pick up some of the ones I secretly wanted to see; what would people think?

The enthusiastic new documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, directed by the Australian filmmaker Mark Hartley — who also gave us the equally enthusiastic Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (note the exclamation points) — puts these 1980s schlock movies in a kind of historical perspective. They are no longer forgotten stepchildren, and they can now be enjoyed (if "enjoyed" is the word) as part of a certain movement in cinema history.

The brains behind this operation were, of course, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, and the documentary paints them as a kind of missing link between Roger Corman, the Weinsteins and Jerry Bruckheimer. They were crackpot geniuses at one end, and, at the other, inspired much head-shaking and even downright hatred. "Here's what I think of Cannon Films," says actress Laurene Landon on camera, as she produces a VHS copy of her film America 3000 and ignites it with a lighter.

Golan was a prolific filmmaker in Israel who lived and breathed cinema, and of course decided to come to Hollywood; it's curious as to why director Hartley decided to leave out details of Golan's brief association with Corman. Instead he makes it sound as if Golan hit the ground running, shooting things like Schizoid (1980) with Klaus Kinski just weeks after arriving. His younger cousin Globus was apparently the more business-minded of the two, and they made a formidable team.

Taking over the struggling Cannon, Golan tried to fulfill his dream of becoming the next Fellini by making The Apple, which is still considered one of the worst musicals ever made, but today may have a small cult following somewhere in the world. Golan didn't quite give up his dream of being a director, and personally handled some of the studio's more prominent titles, including Enter the Ninja (1981), The Delta Force (1986), and Over the Top (1987). The pair quickly embarked upon a scheme of selling movies in advance based on their posters. They also lined up stars like Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, and discovered new ones like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Michael Dudikoff.

They specialized in sex and nudity, reworking an Israeli hit, Lemon Popsicle, into The Last American Virgin. They showed off the assets of Bo Derek in Bolero, Sybil Danning in Hercules, and Sylvia Kristel in Mata Hari and Lady Chatterley's Lover. The director of the latter, Just Jaeckin, says that, judging by their notes, he realized that neither of the cousins had ever read the book. (More sex was more important than narrative value.) Hercules director Luigi Cozzi says that he wanted to make an adventure film for kids, but his producers insisted on oral sex.

Some interviewees talk about the cousins' Frankenstein-like tendencies, marrying bits and pieces from other successful movies into bizarre hybrids, like Ninja III: The Domination, which not only cribbed from previous ninja films, but also The Exorcist and Flashdance! The trouble was, according to the documentary, that with their enormous output, they tended to have more flops than hits. But not much information is provided as to just which films were hits and which were not. Breakin' (1984) was definitely a moneymaker (perhaps the biggest in the company's history), but what about Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (1985), for which this film was named, and which earned a "thumbs up" from Roger Ebert?

Eventually it is clear that 1987 yielded three costly flops, Masters of the Universe, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie Over the Top, all of which signaled the beginning of the end. But as most of the interviewees remark, what Golan and Globus "didn't have in taste, they made up for in enthusiasm." Hartley indicates that there's no shame in what they tried to do or how they tried to do it. Many of the participants adopt an exaggerated Israeli accent to tell their Menahem Golan stories, and they are so bizarre they must be true. One of the stories recounts that Sharon Stone was accidentally cast in King Solomon's Mines, because Golan had requested "that Stone girl," referring not to Sharon, but to Kathleen Turner of Romancing the Stone.

Perhaps preferring shock and laughter, Electric Boogaloo spends a little less time on Golan and Globus's finer achievements, and there are quite a few, like John Cassavetes' Love Streams (1984), Andrei Konchalovsky's Runaway Train (1985), Barbet Schroeder's Barfly (1987), Godfrey Reggio's Powaqqatsi (1988), Fred Schepisi's A Cry in the Dark (1988), Konchalovsky's Shy People (1988), etc. One film, The Assault (1986), won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Director Franco Zeffirelli is interviewed about making his Otello (1986) with Golan and Globus, and says it was the best picture he ever made.

Cannon also handled a Jean-Luc Godard movie, King Lear (1985), which is no Breathless, but has its admirers. Yet the documentary laughs it off, with star Molly Ringwald describing how weird and difficult it was to work with the legendary director. Horror legend Tobe Hooper is also here, sadly recapping and writing off his Cannon trilogy, Lifeforce (1985), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and Invaders from Mars (both 1986), although, in hindisight, those movies tend to hold up rather well.

It should be noted that Electric Boogaloo is one of two new documentaries on Golan and Globus. Hilla Medalia's The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, which recently played the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, is the official version, signed off by Golan (who died in August of 2014) and Globus in person. That version is said to be more polite than this one, and this one probably spends too much time being irreverent. (Electric Boogaloo acknowledges the existence of The Go-Go Boys and cheerfully compares it to the race between Breakin' and Orion's Beat Street to be the first breakdancing movie out.)

Clip shows like this are always fun for die-hard movie buffs (including critics), especially in a case like this, when the clips are much more potent than the completed films. Images of ninja kicks, blood spatters, and cavorting women can make you feel giddy, at least in the moment. As for the rest of it, it would have been nice for a little more insight into Golan and Globus as humans, rather than as subjects of amusing stories. But even if the impressive selection of interviewees can never really get to the hearts of their former bosses, they at least show something in common. They all love movies, and they once cared (and perhaps still care) about what went into these poor, ragged, laughable, but lovable films.

Warner Home Video released a DVD edition (no Blu-ray), with 25 minutes of extra interview footage and 30 minutes of trailers that I eagerly dove into. For those with a little more cash to spend, the doc is also available as part of a huge, 10-film box set.

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