Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Electric Boogaloo

TCM likes to show documentaries about the movies. One such documentary that's particularly fun, although I can't imagine the TCM programmers thinking it would fit in with their normal lineups, is Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus were a pair of cousins in Israel who really enjoyed Hollywood movies, and wished (especially Golan) that they could make movies too. Israel, however, didn't have much of a film industry in those days, with any domestically-produced movies being shoestring affairs where everybody takes on multiple jobs (there's a story about Golan using his own infant child in a scene that Mrs. Golan thought was particularly dangerous). Eventually, however, they hit upon a formula that worked for the Israeli market, with a combination of sex and violence.

Hollywood has always had Poverty Row-type studios, churning out product on as small a budget as possible. Sometimes, such studios have a sleeper hit or hit on a formula that can turn a consistent profit, with Roger Corman at American International probably being the most successful. Anyhow, there was a small production company called The Cannon Group that had made a sleeper hit at the beginning of the 1970s called Joe (I haven't seen it, so no comment on it here). Come the end of the 1970s, Golan and Globus were looking to break into Hollywood, since that's where real movies were being made, and decided to try to take over a production company, with Cannon being the target.

They did get control of Cannon and proceeded to start churning out the same sort of movies they were making in Israel, only for an American audience. The results were something like an ultra B-movie version of Purple Moon, the 1960 French version of the Patricia Highsmith story Hollywood later made as The Talented Mr. Ripley. That is, it's a simulacrum of what a foreigner would think a movie desiged to appeal to Americans should be like, but something that anybody would look at and see there's something not quite right with it.

But there were a lot of such movies, and Golan especially tried to get bigger-named people to make movies for the company as he really wanted to make prestige movies. So we get a version of Lady Chatterly's Lover where the director wonders if Golan ever read the book; musicals that don't work at all unless you want to watch something that's so bad it's good; or movies with lots and lots of eroticism (Bo and John Derek's Bolero). They were putting out so much stuff that some of it would turn just enough of a profit to fund the rest of it. And they were even able to get Charles Bronson for a sequel to Death Wish.

But that's where the company started to falter. With the success of a film like Death Wish II, as well as finding a second bankable star in Chuck Norris, the studio started to grow, and grow too fast. Where Golan and Globus had been able to make films for maybe $1 million in 1980, by 1986, with movies like Superman IV and Over the Top, they were getting into the $20 million range. The failure of such a "big" budget movie caused a cash crunch that eventually led to the two cousins having a falling out.

Along the way, however, there are so many insane stories to tell, both about the terrible movies, as well as things that became surprise hits like Breakin'. With the notable exception of Chuck Norris (and Golan and Globus themselves, although that omission is accounted for at the end of the movie), documentarian Mark Hartley was able to get a great deal of interviews with surviving cast and crew of the movies, including some surprisingly big names like Franco Zeffirelli and Bo Derek.

If you enjoyed watching any of the Cannon Group movies back in the day, I think you're really going to enjoy this documentary. Even if you haven't seen them, it's still an insightful look into how things can go so badly wrong.


thevoid99 said...

I saw this doc years ago as I found it to be entertaining as hell. Even in the movies they made as it ranged from so much. It's a shame their ambitions got the best of them.

Tom said...

I will look for this doc.