'The Go-Go Boys': Cannes Review

The Go-Go Boys Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Hilla MEDALIA
A little love for Golan and Globus.

Hilla Medalia's documentary centers on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the prolific Israeli duo behind Cannon Films.

The last of the brash, shameless, old-school, ingratiatingly crass pirates to streak across the cinematic firmament before the advent of the suits and bean counters, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus get a lively and largely sympathetic hearing in The Go-Go Boys. Made with the full cooperation of the subjects and loaded with clips from the first cousins’ generally tacky library of films, Hilla Medalia’s documentary will serve to those who were around during Cannon Films’ 1980s heyday as a fun reminder of some high-flying low-brow times and will prove amusing to younger viewers with a retroactive soft spot for Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson at their most archetypal. The nicely constructed piece will play well at festivals and extensively on TV internationally.

An Israeli documentarian with such films as To Die in Jerusalem, Dancing in Jaffa and the recent Web Junkie to her credit, Medalia has definitely made what could be called a friendly film about the irrepressible duo. A second documentary on the same subject, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, by Australian filmmaker Mark Hartley, is due to surface soon and reportedly digs rather deeply into the company’s modus operandi.

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Medalia does a very good job of establishing the men’s Israeli roots and the early nature of their relationship. Single-mindedly obsessed with movies from an early age, Golan (whose birth surname the film doesn’t note, was actually Globus, which he changed in the late ‘40s for patriotic reasons) became a prolific producer-director of legitimate repute in Israel in the 1960s; his production “Sallah” was Oscar nominated for best foreign film in 1964 and one he actually directed, “Operation Thunderbolt,” was similarly honored in 1977. One other key fact Medalia doesn’t mention is that, prior to all of this, Golan got his real start in professional films working for Roger Corman on The Young Racers, where he no doubt learned a lot about low-budget filmmaking.

Globus, on the other hand, developed business expertise working at a cinema owned by his father and was, so everyone says, always good at making money. So when the cousins joined forces in the mid-1960s, it followed that Globus would handle the financial side while Golan would choose the projects and personnel.

Clips and some newsreel/TV footage from the Israeli days provides some colorful background, but the greatest interest lies in the Hollywood years, which began in very modest fashion. But once Cannon scored some hits, notably with Breakin’ in 1984, the go-go years took off, with Golan making his verbal deals right and left and Globus watching the books.

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Cannon specialized in second- and third-tier action-exploitation fare, stuff that soon would be said to appeal more to the international market than to American audiences. Clips featuring the likes of Norris, Bronson, Michael Dudikoff and Jean-Claude Van Damme (whom Golan claims he met when the latter waited on his table at a French restaurant) serve as a quick reminder of how lame all those films were, and when you hear Eli Roth deliver testimonials like, “Cannon was my favorite studio as a kid” and “They really took over American pop culture,” you suspect that this says a lot more about Roth than it does about Cannon.

Like the moguls of old Hollywood, the boys (or at least Golan) sought prestige as well as profits and so signed the likes of John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Barbet Schroeder, Andrei Konchalovsky, Franco Zeffirelli, Norman Mailer and even Jean-Luc Godard to make movies for Cannon; mostly these didn’t work out too well. With long-dominant figures like Sam Spiegel, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Lew Grade and the Salkinds on the way out, Golan and Globus became the kings of Cannes in the mid-1980s, dominating with their billboards, endless trade ads for coming productions real and imaginary and blow-out parties that, appropriately enough, felt cheaply produced.

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But they made movies, talked a great game and put showmanship back into show business. It all looked good until, suddenly, it didn’t. In 1986 alone, Cannon reportedly made 46 films, paid Sylvester Stallone anywhere from $10-13 million (a record either way) to star in the lousy Over the Top and then blew it with the embarrassingly under-produced Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. The boys also made egregious investments in the U.K., buying Thorn-EMI-Screen Entertainment as well as the ABC cinema circuit and Elstree Studios.

Company stock, once worth $45 a share, sank to $4.50. By 1989, it was all over; Golan and Globus got a “divorce,” the latter aligned himself with the soon notorious Giancarlo Parretti in a takeover of MGM, while Golan tried to make a go of a new company, and they both ended up back in Israel, no longer on speaking terms (they subsequently made up, appearing together congenially in the film as well as at the Cannes premiere of this film). There’s a sadness in Medalia’s presentation of the demise, a feeling fed by surprising interview snippets with Golan’s wife, who admits, “I didn’t fit in” in Hollywood, as well as with a daughter, Ruth, who also only wanted to leave L.A. and return to Israel; they rarely saw the whirling dervish Menahem.

Engaging as the film is, it rather disingenuously ignores two major issues. First, Cannon had very bad taste in movies. An extraordinarily low percentage of its films are worth talking about or seeing; “product” is the operative term. One of the most amusing moments has Golan sarcastically telling Globus, “You, for once in your life, read a script!”

Second, there’s precious little discussion, except in the most general terms, of the company’s suspected financial shenanigans. Cheapness is one thing and often admired. But there are many industry stories about the Cannon way of doing business that never come up here; perhaps some of these will pepper Hartley’s documentary. It’s entirely likely that a double-bill of the two films will provide a reasonably dimensional portrait of a very colorful, if not distinguished, chapter in Hollywood history.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Cannes Classics)

Production: Noah Productions, Yariv Horowitz/Roy Lev Productions

With: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, Sam Perlmutter, Jon Voight, Andrei Konchalovsky,  Tom Pollock, Boaz Davidson, Billy Drago, Michael Dudikoff, Eli Roth, Ram Globus, Neomi Golan, Yehuda Baykan, Rachel Golan, Ruth Golan, Lea Globus

Director: Hilla Medalia

Producers: Yariv Horowitz, Roy Lev, Hilla Medalia

Executive producers: Ishay Mor, Asher Lagziel, Ido Lev

Director of photography: Oded Kirma

Editor: Daniel Sivan

Music: Jonathan Bar Giora

84 minutes