When a documentary features Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Bo Derek, Charles Bronson, Superman, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme and a couple of ninjas on its one sheet then it is worth sitting up and taking notice. Following that particular rule of thumb led me to the entertaining Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films, Mark Hartley’s third paean to exploitation cinema, which traces the rise of movie producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, from their early success in Israel to their later notoriety as purveyors of cheapo schlock in the US via The Cannon Group (the recent spoof Kung Fury does a pretty good job of summing up the majority of Cannon’s output from the 1980s in a mere 30 minutes). The pair bought the production house in 1979, turning the company into one of the most prolific in the movie business, and in doing so created something of a template that was followed by the Weinsteins, at least during the early years of Miramax.
The documentary is made in a straightforward fashion, with a mix of talking heads (screenwriters, actors, directors, producers and so on who worked with Golan and Globus) and footage from Cannon’s vast library of exploitation films: mostly slasher flicks, action movies, teen comedies and softcore erotic dramas. I found myself laughing throughout at the various tales and clips from the likes of Ninja III: The Domination, described fondly here as ‘martial arts meets Flashdance meets The Exorcist‘, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, which was made as a slapstick comedy featuring Dennis Hopper.
The early Golan and Globus years saw increasing levels of violence and nudity in films such as Death Wish II and Lady Chatterley’s Lover; hence the likes of Charles Bronson, Michael Winner, Sylvia Kristel and Bo Derek popping up on Cannon’s roster. By the mid 1980s Cannon enjoyed success with films like Breakin’, which tapped into the breakdancing craze, and much-loved action flicks, with Missing In Action and American Ninja among the more popular efforts (launching the acting careers of Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff respectively). Somewhat inevitably the success led to the duo seeking respect through ‘serious’ productions, and the subsequent involvement of well-respected actors and filmmakers: the likes of John Frankenheimer, John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard and Franco Zeffirelli all worked with Cannon during this period, and the company is remembered fondly by most of the directors appearing here; Golan was a director himself, and took pride in supporting filmmakers who were unable to secure budgets elsewhere, generally allowing them complete creative control. Thus Cannon backed the likes of Zeffirelli’s Otello, Godard’s King Lear (starring…er…Molly Ringwald, Woody Allen, Leos Carax and Julie Delpy), Frankenheimer’s 52 Pick-up and Andrei Konchalovsky’s underrated Runaway Train, while simultaneously releasing dross like Mata Hari, King Solomon’s Mines and Invaders From Mars.
This way of operating – Cannon released 33 films in 1986 and 1987 alone, most of which were dredged up from the bottom of the barrel – simply couldn’t carry on forever. With a desire to turn Cannon into a large studio, Golan and Globus started concentrating on making movies with bigger budgets, like the arm-wrestling Stallone vehicle Over The Top, for which the actor was paid an amount between $10 and $25 million, depending on who you believe here. Flops like Over The Top ensured that debts increased and budgets were cut on other films, such as Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, which ended up with terrible special effects as a result. The company limped on and occasionally repeated earlier successes, like Kickboxer and Cyborg (which made $10 million….not bad for a budget of $500,000), although Golan and Globus eventually fell out and went their separate ways. One of the final nails in the coffin for The Cannon Group was Captain America, a 1992 turkey that cost $10 million to make and – incredibly given the popularity of Marvel’s franchises today – made a paltry $10,000.
There are some great inside stories here, such as the fact that Golan and Globus drew up a contract for Godard on a napkin, or the gleeful retelling of Golan’s attempt to sign Manis, the trained orangutan that played Clyde in Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can, with the producer supposedly addressing the ape directly throughout an entire meeting. However it’s a shame that certain details are overlooked – there’s no mention of Powaqqatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s follow-up to arthouse masterpiece Koyaanisqatsi, or Stallone’s Cobra, despite the fact it made the company $160 million worldwide – but naturally such entries do not quite fit with the overall narrative and it’s far more entertaining to concentrate on the plethora of breasts and beheadings associated with the company’s g(l)ory years. It’s also disappointing that certain key players, including Golan and Globus themselves, chose not to appear; the two producers decided to release a documentary telling their side of the story instead, a self-aggrandising puff piece called The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story Of Cannon Films. In true Cannon style it was made swiftly and beat Hartley’s film in the race to cinemas, a point amusingly made at the end of Electric Boogaloo. I haven’t seen the other documentary but this one is certainly worth a look, especially if you grew up in the VHS era pondering the relative merits of Norris, Dudikoff, Bronson and Van Damme.
Directed by: Mark Hartley.
Written by: Mark Hartley.
Starring: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, Olivia d’Abo, Robert Forster, Franco Zeffirelli, Alex Winter, Michael Dudikoff, Richard Chamberlain, Franco Nero, Molly Ringwald, Dolph Lundgren, Elliott Gould.
Cinematography: Garry Richards.
Editing: Jamie Blanks, Sara Edwards, Mark Hartley.
Music: Jamie Blanks.
Running Time: 106 minutes.