'Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films': Melbourne Review

Electric Boogaloo Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Melbourne Film Festival

Electric Boogaloo Still - H 2014

Eighties trash cultists will have a (Cannon) ball.

Mark Hartley follows "Not Quite Hollywood" and "Machete Maidens Unleashed!" with this concluding entry in his exploitation trilogy, focusing on Israeli film cowboys Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus

Unlike the sanctioned version, The Go-Go Boys, which was made with the full cooperation of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the second documentary this year to examine their rise and fall, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, doesn't pull its punches. A zippy chronicle of the Israeli cousins' decade at play in the Hollywood sandbox, the documentary makes no bones about them bringing way more chutzpah than taste to their astonishingly prolific output. But even the gripes of collaborators whose careers were tarnished by the Golan-Globus touch can't dim the film's abiding affection for the nonpareil schlockmeisters.

Its largely disposable slate of horror, sex, cheap sci-fi and derivative action makes Cannon an obvious source of fascination for director Mark Hartley. This entry completes the trash-tastic trilogy that the Australian exploitation aficionado began with his survey of homegrown genre flicks of the 1970s and '80s, Not Quite Hollywood, and continued by celebrating Filipino grindhouse grist in Machete Maidens Unleashed!

What made Not Quite Hollywood a blast was the insanely disparate body of work it covered, the common link being the Oz films' anything-goes ethos and the free-for-all of the period's relaxed national censorship laws. Electric Boogaloo takes in a similarly diverse genre panorama with the same rollicking approach. But while the countless clips sampled are often hilariously bad, the sheer tackiness of all but a relatively small handful of them becomes repetitive.

One of the more amusing talking heads, music supervisor Richard Kraft, likens the Cannon product pipeline to bowel movements dumped onto the international market with scant concern for quality or plot coherence: "You flush it. You make another one." The relentlessness of that cycle makes one wish Hartley had spent less time geeking out in a haze of fanboy enthusiasm and more time shaping the story of the Golan-Globus Hollywood odyssey.

He provides a cursory recap of Golan's grounding in the Israeli film industry, skipping any acknowledgment of his brief association with Roger Corman but mentioning such directorial nuggets as the 1968 Fiddler on the Roof knockoff, Tevye and His Seven Daughters.

That shameless tendency to pillage popular material intensified once Golan, the creative dreamer, teamed with his younger cousin Globus, the shrewd businessman, and the pair descended on Hollywood. Even before that, however, they discovered the commercial rewards of sensationalizing current events as screen fodder, via the Entebbe hostage crisis thriller Operation Thunderbolt; and depicting the sexploits of horny teens in Lemon Popsicle, which they later reworked stateside as The Last American Virgin.

Some of the funniest excerpts detail Golan's penchant for creating Frankenstein's monster-type amalgams. Ninja III: The Domination married the fight action of Cannon's Enter the Ninja with the demonic chills of The Exorcist and the moves of Flashdance, casting Lucinda Dickey as an aerobics instructor by day, possessed instrument of vengeance by night. Sahara, featuring a wooden Brooke Shields, is described as Lawrence of Arabia meets Blue Lagoon meets The Great Race. Coverage of the making of 1984 hip-hop success Breakin' and the follow-up that lends this doc its title also yields lively insights.

The Cannon honchos blazed a trail for pop-cultural regurgitation and unnecessary sequels by jumping on every potential new franchise that landed on their desks, as well as revitalizing a few dead ones. A key example was the recruitment of Charles Bronson to follow Death Wish with a series of increasingly worthless sequels that gave Brit director Michael Winner license to indulge his worst excesses. Those Bronson shoot-'em-ups seem almost tame, however, compared to Winner's The Wicked Lady, a bawdy 1983 period romp in which Faye Dunaway sadistically whips a topless Marina Sirtis.

There's a common thread of actresses discovering that the nudity and sex requirements of a project were far more extensive than they had signed up for. This is typified by Bo Derek's account of making Bolero, a tawdry bid to cash in on her success in 10, though given that her husband John Derek directed, the Cannon guys can hardly take sole responsibility for that one.

Among industry insiders represented, Frank Yablans is particularly disparaging about the Cannon taint on MGM when the studio entered a distribution agreement with the Golan-Globus company. However, Yablans' comments might have benefited from some acknowledgment of his own role in the lion's demise. Of the filmmakers on hand to recall their time in the Cannon stable, Tobe Hooper and Boaz Davidson provide compelling input.

The Chuck Norris oeuvre gets ample coverage, though the actor himself is absent among interviewees, as are other heavy-hitters like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone, whose unprecedented deal for north of $10 million to make the arm-wrestling grunt-a-thon Over the Top was the beginning of Golan's outsize ambitions getting the better of him. That downfall continued with debacles like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Masters of the Universe, a failed Mattel toy vehicle captained by Dolph Lundgren in a resplendent mullet.

Several commentators suggest that the brash Golan-Globus style, their cheapskate operation and refusal to observe standard Hollywood etiquette caused them to remain unwelcome outsiders. Others insist it was simply a lack of taste and understanding of the American idiom that they were trying to emulate.

Hartley devotes some time to one of the best of the Cannon movies, Andrei Konchalovsky's Runaway Train, and almost as much to Barbet Schroeder's boozy downer Barfly. But the company's forays into artier waters with names like Robert Altman, John Cassavetes, Franco Zeffirelli, Norman Mailer and even Jean-Luc Godard aren't explored with enough depth to reveal whether it was a genuine bid for legitimacy or an occasional delusion.

More attention is given to the business model of selling off foreign rights via trade ads, posters or insta-pitches for thinly conceived movies, many of them never to be made. Golan and Globus were masters of this strategy, making them the kings of Cannes for a time. And while The Go-Go Boys is somewhat sketchy on the dwindling fortunes that forced the cousins to offload their British film industry holdings, that chapter along with allegations of irregular accounting practices is addressed here, albeit briefly.

Hartley gets around the absence of both Golan and Globus as active participants in the film by dipping heavily into archival interviews, most of them from a BBC special, The Last Moguls, and from a 60 Minutes segment.

There are plenty of colorful anecdotes. Soft-core porn purveyor Just Jaeckin muses that Golan had probably never opened a copy of the D.H. Lawrence novel when he packaged a coke- and booze-addled Sylvia Kristel in Lady Chatterley's Lover, while Richard Chamberlain reveals that Sharon Stone was cast opposite him by mistake in the Raiders of the Lost Ark ripoff, King Solomon's Mines, and its sequel. Golan reportedly had asked for "that Stone woman," meaning Kathleen Turner, hot off Romancing the Stone. Perhaps the best tidbit is an account of Golan pitching a project directly to Clyde, the orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose.

Hartley's film is consistently entertaining, if somewhat one-note. Where it could have been more satisfying is in coaxing the poignancy from this tale of two likeable interlopers, chasing Hollywood's version of the American Dream without ever being fully admitted to the club.

With: Dolph Lundgren, Molly Ringwald, Tobe Hooper, Richard Chamberlin, Elliot Gould, Just Jaeckin, Franco Nero, Bo Derek, Franco Zeffirelli, Alex Winter, Michael Dudikoff, Robert Forster, Catherine Mary Stewart, Olivia d'Abo, Marina Sirtis, Cassandra Peterson, Sybil Danning, Lucinda Dickey, John G. Avildson, Charles Matthau, Laurene Landon, Albert Pyun, Barbet Schroeder, Avi Lerner, Frank Yablans, Gary Goddard, Sam Firstenberg, Boaz Davidson, Jerry Schatzberg, Luigi Cozzi, Oliver Tobias, Edward R. Pressman, Stephen Tolkin, David Womack, Richard Kraft, Tom Luddy, Christopher Pearce

Production companies: Wildbear Entertainment, RatPac Documentary Films

Director-screenwriter: Mark Hartley

Producers: Veronica Fury, Brett Ratner, James Packer

Executive producers: Nate Bolotin, Todd Brown, Jeff Harrison, Hugh Marks

Director of photography: Garry Richards

Editors: Mark Hartley, Sara Edwards, Jamie Blanks

Music: Jamie Blanks

Sales: Celluloid Dreams

No rating; 107 minutes