By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 3, 2015)
In dissecting the “art” of cinema, one can very easily bang on all day about narrative construct, auteur theory, lighting, camera angles, tracking shots, meow meow, woof woof…but you know what “they” say: all that artifice and a dime will buy you a cup of coffee. Let’s get real for a moment. At the end of the day, it’s still show business. And business is all about making money…amirite, boychick? And movies are basically about make-believe, right? So bottom line, what we really need here is ideas, bubbeleh, ideas! Ideas that sell tickets, and put asses in seats! With that in mind, here’s a crystalline distillation of all film theory, from one of the interviewees in Mark Hartley’s uneven but generally engaging Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films: “[Producer Menahem Golan] would make shit up…and then we’d film it.” See? Simple!
Mr. Golan and his cousin, Yoram Globus were two movie nuts who grew up in their native Israel dreaming about one day moving to America and becoming Hollywood moguls (which they in fact ended up doing…sort of). Golan directed several films in the late 70s, including one genuine cult item that (depending on who you ask) occasionally threatens to unseat Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space as “Worst Movie of All Time”…the 1979 sci-fi disco musical, The Apple (oy!). Hartley’s film primarily focuses on Golan and Globus’ joint tenure as the honchos of Cannon Films from 1979 until 1989.
During that period, the pair gained a rep for crankin’ ‘em out fast and cheap; as someone in the film observes, “[the money] was all up there on the screen.” That doesn’t necessarily guarantee that what ended up on that screen was eminently watchable, but it was product. And apparently somebody was buying tickets, because they had a “golden period” once they perfected their formula (mostly involving profitable overseas sales).
One thing I had forgotten is that Cannon accidentally made some good films during that period: Love Streams, The Company of Wolves, Runaway Train, Otello, 52 Pick-Up, Street Smart, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Barfly, Powaqqatsi, and A Cry in the Dark. But again, that’s a relative handful among hundreds like The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, Hospital Massacre, Revenge of the Ninja, Bolero, Hercules, Sahara, Death Wish 3 and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Not to mention Cannon’s culpability in jumpstarting the careers of Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme (j’accuse!).
While Cannon’s Golan-Globus era indeed makes for quite a “wild story”, it unfortunately morphs from “untold” into “retold one too many times” early on. About halfway through I began to tire of yet one more anecdote from a former associate that illustrates how flinty and eccentric the cousins were (we get it, already!). On the plus side, you can always elect to turn off your brain and revel in the guilty pleasure of all those campy film clips.