Oh, hell yessssssssssssssssssssssssssss.
It’s generally well known that we (and by that I mean “I”) are (and by that I mean “am”) big fans of (which should read, I suppose, “am a big fan of”) Australian director Mark Harley here at TFG, and when it was first announced that his third and final documentary chronicling the history of exploitation cinema (after Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which tackled the amazing backstories behind Ozploitatation and Filipino exploitation, respectively) would be focused on the exploits of Israeli- expats-turned-short-lived-Hollywood-moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the twin pillars who did their level best to prop up Cannon Films throughout the 1980s, I was stoked. And I remained stoked — for a long time.
This project was first announced around 2008, if memory serves me correctly, and while some of the delays that plagued its production were understandable enough — such as when Hartley took a break from it to try his had at “re-imagining” a classic Ozploitation horror franchise himself with the superb Patrick : Evil Awakens — I have a feeling that there are some suitably crazy stories that could be told about the journey from concept to screen of Electric Boogaloo : The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films. Maybe we’ll hear about them one of these days, maybe we won’t, but the good news is that we’re finally getting to hear the Cannon story, warts and all, and I’m pleased to report that it was well worth the wait.
Okay, fair enough, that “wait” I just mentioned actually ended towards the tail of 2014, when Hartley’s labor of love finally started playing the festival circuit, and it’s been available on Blu-ray and DVD for some little time now, but it recently made its way into the Netflix instant streaming queue, as well, so really, there’s absolutely no excuse to put off seeing this thing any longer, is there?
I didn’t think so, and given that most readers of this site are probably at least somewhat familiar with various parts of the Golan-Globus odyssey, only the briefest of historical run-downs is probably in order here — in fact, if I say that Menahem Golan and his cousin, Yoram Globus, made a tidy sum churning out second-rate sex comedies in Tel Aviv and parlayed their small fortune into purchasing a controlling stake in the already-extant Cannon Films, only to crank out a literal ton or more of celluloid in under a decade before their whole dream went belly-up, that would probably about cover it as far as stage-setting goes. But there’s so much more to it than that, and in a very real sense, Cannon epitomized the boom-and-bust of 1980s capitalism, Reaganomics-style.
In fairness, though, some of their hucksterism owes more to the 1950s and 60s marketing ethos of William Castle and his legion of imitators than it does to anything else — consider, for instance, that Golan and Globus once went to Cannes with poster mock-ups for literally dozens of phony “movies” and only went ahead and made actual films for the handful that attracted the most attention and/or investment. That’s old-school movie biz con artistry right there. But the involvement of seminal 80s swindlers like slimy “junk bond” king Michael Milken — who dumped over $50 million cash into Cannon’s coffers — shows that the cousins were very well in tune with the times, indeed.
And hey, give ’em credit for dreaming big — they graduated from ninja movies and T&A romps to Charles Bronson vigilante flicks and from there to Sylvester Stallone action “epics,” along the way temporarily bringing the likes of John Cassavetes, John Frankenheimer, and Franco Zeferelli into the fold, Heck, they even had a deal with Godard going for a minute there, and somehow even managed to gobble up a number of European theater chains to ensure that their product always had houses to play. It was a pretty sweet set-up — for a time.
Yeah, alright, most of the flicks that went out under the Cannon logo weren’t good (although who can deny that Runaway Train and 52 Pick-Up, among others, weren’t examples of actual quality cinema?), but damn if the vast majority of them — from Invasion U.S.A. to Death Wish 3 to The Delta Force to Breakin’ (and its sequel, from which Hartley borrows the title for his documentary) weren’t all kinds of low-grade, cheesy fun?
This film makes a pretty strong and compelling case for the idea that if Golan and Globus hadn’t let their reach exceed their grasp, they might still be in the “picture business” to this day, but when they sunk too much of their ever-tenuous fortunes into would-be-big-money productions like Superman IV : The Quest For Peace and Masters Of The Universe, they ended up truncating the shooting schedules, slicing the effects budgets, and ending up with products that looked and felt like any of their other “B”-movie fare, but cost a lot more.Combine these ambitious mistakes with a collapsing “high-risk/high-yield” investment market and the writing was on the wall.
Cannon didn’t go quietly, though, and its agonized (and agonizing) death throes are every bit as fun to hear about (in a “car wreck” sort of way, mind you) as earlier tales relayed in the film about the high-maintenance behavior of Sharon Stone or the sheer acting incompetence of Chuck Norris. It’s all such a gleeful post-mortem that honestly, friends, words can hardly contain my enthusiasm.
The eventual falling-out that occurred between Menahem and Yoram — and their short-lived Lambada-based rivalry (yes, really) — make for an almost-difficult-to-endure final act, but there’s still a strong sense of poetic justice that permeates even that difficult period, so all in all, even though things didn’t end well (to put it mildly)l for Cannon (nor for their many investors, I would assume), I have no problem labeling this a bizarre sort of “feel-good” film.
So hey — let’s close out 2015 on an unambiguously enthusiastic note around these parts : do yourself a favor and check out Electric Boogaloo : The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films as soon as you possibly can! We’ll see you in 2016!