D: Mark Hartley / 106m
With: Sam Firstenberg, Boaz Davidson, Mark Helfrich, John Thompson, Mark Rosenthal, Christopher Pearce, David Engelbach, Pieter Jan Brugge, Lance Hool, Frank Yablans, Rusty Lemorande, Avi Lerner, Stephen Tolkin
There’s a saying that if you remember the Sixties then you weren’t really there. In a similar fashion, if you remember the Eighties but never saw a Cannon movie then you’re not really a movie buff (though in reality you probably did but just didn’t realise it). Cannon, run by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, were the ne plus ultra of awful, low budget movies, often taking the most basic of ideas and using as little money as possible in order to get the finished product out there. Did they worry about the quality of the movies they produced? Most of the time, no. But they did know what they were doing, and between 1979 and 1994, Cannon Films released a succession of movies that played poorly in cinemas, were slammed by critics, but which were perfect for the home video market. Titles such as Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype (1980), The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (1983), and The Naked Cage (1986) were all movies you’d normally cross the street to avoid, but thanks to Cannon’s continuous and unerring ability to make the worst movies possible, their output became the cinematic equivalent of a car wreck: you just had to see how bad they could be.
In Mark Hartley’s latest documentary to explore the wider reaches of low budget movie making – after Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) – the story of the Cannon Group and their feckless approach to movie making is given a thorough deconstruction thanks to the people who were there: the production executives, the screenwriters, the directors, and the stars. The very existence of Cannon Films, and the fact that it survived as long as it did as a producing entity is a testament to the stubbornness of Golan and the financial smarts of Globus. Their business model was simple: sell the distribution rights for one movie and use that money to make another. Occasionally they worked with some very well-known stars (Richard Chamberlain, Charles Bronson, even Katharine Hepburn), and gave some directors the chance to make movies they couldn’t make elsewhere (John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard, Franco Zeffirelli). They were as much an enigma to themselves perhaps as they were to everyone else. For Golan and Globus it was all about being successful, and being seen to be successful. The movies? In the end, merely the tools to achieve that success.
Electric Boogaloo presents a fair and balanced overview of the life of Cannon, and the wider impact such a company had on Hollywood during the Eighties when their movies were being distributed by MGM. It also allows those who were involved with Cannon to air their views and opinions in a way that appears consistently derogatory (there are only so many ways you can say a Cannon movie is bad), but which also as the documentary progresses, reveals a common fondness for the so-called Go-Go Boys and the movies they made. There are plenty of humorous anecdotes to be had, and some stories would be hard to believe if they were about another studio or production company, but with Golan and Globus often unsure themselves as to what constituted a Cannon movie – they were both unaware that Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) was intended as a comedy – the stark reality of just how little they knew about what they were doing comes across as plainly as the awful special effects in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) (they wanted to match the quality of the first three movies, but on a fraction of the budget needed). Like many of the interviewees, you’ll be shaking your head at some of the revelations, and at the same time telling yourself, “it could only be them.”
Rating: 8/10 – plenty of clips and archival footage as well as a plethora of talking heads means Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films covers a lot of bases and does so with a great deal of affection and an earned respect; Golan and Globus may have given us some of the worst movies ever made, but there were times when their luck and their movie making acumen paid off in spades, though you have to admit that after ruining Superman on the big screen, thank [insert preferred deity here] they never got the chance to ruin Spider-Man as well.