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ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD UNTOLD STORY OF CANON FILMS (2014) review

September 14, 2015

electricbogaloodoc

 

written by: Mark Hartley
produced by: Veronica Fury and Brett Ratner
directed by: Mark Hartley
rating: R (for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, violence including rape, language and some drug use)
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: September 19, 2014 (Fantastic Fest) and September 17, 2015 (one night only)

 

In the documentary  “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films”, director Mark Hartley serves as a tour guide to those who either vaguely recall Canon Films cheesy output or who never knew the production company existed.  The movie premiered almost a year ago at last year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas months after another documentary “The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films” that focused on producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, two Israeli cousins who had a knack for creating movies at a rapid clip between 1979 and 1985, substituting quality for delightful schlock. It’s a fun nostalgic trip for those who grew up on these predominately crappy movies and just a trip for those

Growing up in the 80s, during a time when movie schlockhouse Cannon Films was churning out a horde of crappy films, was kind of fun. It was my first exposure to lousy genre features that made me realize cheesy Z-movies could be enjoyable and entertaining even if they were truly bad. Of course, I had no idea that many of those teen sex comedies (“The Last American Virgin”), sci-fi/fantasy (“Masters of the Universe”) and action flicks (“Missing in Action”) were made possible by Golan and Globus – who are comparable to Havery and Bob Weinstein in their insatiable appetite for business and overpowering egos. Some of their movies were regurgitated actioners starring Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris, while a few even went on to earn Oscar nominations (“Runaway Train” and “Street Smart”). Their movies were the equivalent of a teenager throwing spit wads at the ceiling during detention to see what would stick  – and I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked them. Well, some of them.

 

Cannon-Films-Logo

 

Hartley is aiming his doc at an audience with a built-in nostalgia for the genre movies they grew up with. It’s not foreign territory for the director, having previously helmed the similar “Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation”. He may stay behind the camera, but his enthusiasm and obsession for the material he’s covering is obvious. Some of what is covered may be common knowledge for die-hard fans of Cannon Films, but for the rest of us there are certainly some superfluous gems to glean here.

“Electric Boogaloo” starts off with Golan, who is labeled, “the father of Israeli cinema,” a man passionate for movies who built quite a collection of films as both a director and producer in the 1960s and ‘70s, but wound up making a name for himself with the “Lemon Popsicle” series of teen sex comedies. Golan is an obvious force, loud and boastful – able to hawk any movie idea to anyone with cash to back it. Globus was all about the business and someone who could crush the right numbers and perfectly comfortable with Golan bringing the right clients through his door. businessman, the financially literate one who could put the numbers together while his partner drew attention to himself. Both of them hand one thing in common though when they purchased Cannon Films, which was to flood theaters with entertaining money-making movies.

Prior to the Golan and Globus purchase of Cannon Films, the studio really only had one modest hit under founders Dennis Friedland and Christopher Dewey, which was the 1970 anti-hippie vigilante flick, “Joe” starring Peter Boyle (and a then-unknown Susan Sarandon) directed by John G. Avildsen (who went on to direct “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid”) . At that time, the studio could only serve to benefit from two savvy blowhards with two different talents like Golan and Globus, coming in and shaking things up. As Hartley tells it – the problem was that, although Golan may have loved movies, he didn’t necessarily have an eye for what makes a movie good. He had his own ideas and they were often quite awful. Nevertheless, he had those ideas greenlit and when the movie inevitably flopped, he was both flummoxed and crushed.

 

boogaloo-apple

 

What intrigued me the most about “Electric Boogaloo” was what I learned about Cannon Films. For example, I had no idea that a movie called “The Apple” even existed. It sci-fi musical or disco opera (you pick) directed by Golan that featured the debut of Catherine Mary Stewart (“The Last Starfighter” and “Night of the Comet”) and was filled with sexual innuendos. Golan must have thought he was Ken Russell (who directed “Tommy”) and wanted to make another “Saturday Night Fever” but wound up making an utter failure during the waning days of disco that resembled “Xanadu”.  It’s a movie I definitely want to see simply for the trainwreck it is reputed to be.

What surprised me the most is how it seemed like Golan and Globus were really trying to make good movies. They wanted Oscars and to be accepted by Hollywood. But churning out crap – at one point 52 movies in a year – didn’t get them the respect they longed for and it got to the point where once audiences saw Cannon’s logo on the big screen they knew they would be getting movies with weak plots, stiff acting, copious nudity, gruesome violence and lame concepts – from Lou Ferrigno in “Hercules” to Bo Derek in “Bolero”. How they could not see that most of their movies were crap is baffling.

Granted there was a short period in the mid-80s when Golan managed to recruit some reputable directors life John Cassavettes (“Love Streams”), Robert Altman (“Fool for Love”), Fred Shepisi (“A Cry in the Dark”), Barbet Schroeder (“Barfly”) and Franco Zeffirelli (who made “Otello” and called Golan “the best producer I ever worked with”), because they were able to come to Cannon and do whatever they wanted to. Still, those films would be overshadowed by cheesy ninja flicks and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” knock-offs. The two producers come across as oblivious in “The Wild, Untold Story” and couldn’t help but get in the way of their success by being cheapskates, settling for low-grade talent and coming across like snake oil salesmen. Still, they’d have posters made of movies that weren’t even filmed yet – and they’d get foreign markets to finance it. Once they had the money, they’d hire and screenwriter and get going with the movie-making. That’s crazy!

What entertained me the most though were the host of talking heads Hartley invited to reflect, commiserate and share anecdotes about the Golan and Globus days at Cannon. Actors such as: Stewart, Derek, Elliot Gould, Alex Winter,  Richard Chamberlain, Dolph Lundgren, Diane Franklin, Molly Ringwald, Lucinda Dickey, Sybil Danning, Michael Dudikoff and Robert Forster. Directors such as: Tobe Hooper (who made “Invaders From Mars” and “Lifeforce”), Albert Pyun (“Cyborg” and “Captain America”), Boaz Davidson (“The Last American Virgin”). Chuck Norris may not be present unfortunately, but seeing executives and editors facepalm about “Going Bananas” and “American 3000” is incredibly entertaining. It’s also fun to see how “Breakin” and “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo” (where Hartley got this film’s title) took off as runaway hits, capturing the zeitgeist of the time and wound up being incredibly dated in a most amusing way. There’s also talk about how “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” ran out of money and how a movie revolving around arm-wrestling like “Over the Top” could ever be compelling. It’s fun stuff and a good reminder of how quickly concepts can nosedive.

While “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films” follows a routine “rise and fall” formula it is nevertheless an enjoyable watch for those in the know or out of the loop about Cannon. Hartley understandably emphasizes the trash and unsuccessfully tries to establish a respect for Golan and Globus for their rebellious spirit.  Is it required viewing for the student of American film history? I think so. Just to see how at one time there were two charismatic figures who dreamed big and ultimately failed gloriously.

 

electricbooglalooboys

 

RATING: ***

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Steven Attanasie permalink
    October 24, 2015 2:15 pm

    Watching this again, I find it incredible to see how Cannon knew thirty years before everyone else that non-American markets love trash. They love spectacle and movies that never aim anywhere other than around the strike zone. I don’t necessarily think they were precursors to the Weinsteins. I think they were more likely precursors to Michael Bay and Brett Ratner.

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