Director: Mark Hartley
Screenplay: Mark Hartley
Starring: Menahem Golan (archive footage), Yoram Globus (archive footage), Sam Firstenberg, David Paulsen, Luigi Cozzi
Running Time: 106 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Yes I’m excited about some of the big name films coming out (particularly the new Star Wars of course) and couldn’t wait to catch Mad Max: Fury Road a couple of weeks ago. However, those are/were all still risky ventures. They could quite easily be a huge disappointment, but given the subject matter of Electric Boogaloo and the excellent job writer/director Mark Hartley did of the fairly similar cult movie doc Not Quite Hollywood, it was highly unlikely I wouldn’t enjoy this documentary and, what do you know, I enjoyed the hell out of it.
As the title clearly points out, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films looks at the history of the notorious film studio, Cannon Films (or Cannon Group for the wider corporate title), that battered its way through the movie world during the 80’s before coming crashing down and dissolving in the early 90’s. The company was actually formed in the late 60’s by youngsters Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey, but it’s better known as being run by its 80’s owners, Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, and this film largely focuses on their work in making the Cannon brand notorious among cinema-goers and eventually running it into the ground.
For those not familiar with Cannon Films, they were a company that got a name for themselves by producing a veritable stream of trashy movies. Operating a production line mentality, they made low-rate genre films on the cheap and threw everything into the mix (particularly sex and violence) to try and appeal to every possible lower common denominator. They helped boost the career of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme as well as drag out the career of Charles Bronson. This was their public image at least, for actually they backed a few respected directors when they were struggling to get work financed (e.g. John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard and Franco Zeffirelli) and they also made a few underrated gems such as Runaway Train, 52 Pickup and Barfly. Unfortunately their terrible reputation made them a source of ridicule and their over-eagerness to make as many films as quickly and cheaply as possible, among other problems, caused everything to implode.
I have a fond memory of Cannon Films. Not because of the classier, under the radar work they did (which I wasn’t fully aware of until watching this doc), but for the ridiculous trash they released in their heyday. Watching the film and looking through the list of releases online, I think I actually watched fewer than I remember, but I certainly recognise the logo and a huge number of the titles and posters. That’s one thing Cannon was famous for – big over the top posters, regularly claiming their films to be the next big thing. In fact, they would go to Cannes and other film markets with posters made up for films they’d not even written yet, selling them on the stars and/or concepts alone, before chucking together some ideas once they got the green light. Back in the 80’s and 90’s when I was a kid, that’s all I’d need too. A VHS cover showing a big action star or fun looking rip-off of a popular franchise was enough to get me to hand over my money over to rent a copy.
This documentary will clearly appeal to those of a certain age looking for a nostalgia fix, particularly through the clips played throughout the film. Hartley looks to have got the rights to pretty much all of Cannon’s films as there are a staggering number of them shown. It’s a joy to see the naff special effects, ludicrous concepts and gratuitous nudity that I remember from those morally dubious, quality control free days.
However, Hartley isn’t just stringing together a load of silly film clips like those TV ‘best of’ lists you get filling listings gaps. He brings in a heap of relevant contributors to give their brutally honest opinions of working with Golan and Globus. This isn’t a love-in celebrating the unheralded brilliance of Cannon’s work. Everyone is pretty damning of their output for the first half in particular (which I felt was a little unfair – there is fun to be had in some of the sillier films) and a couple of the interviewees have harsh words to say about the producers. The second half brings in some of the more positive attributes to the company mentioned earlier though and the film ends on a briefly touching note, with some contributors showing admiration for the pair. On the whole though, the cousins come across as passionate but clueless and too concerned with business over art. Interestingly, they weren’t interviewed themselves for the film, they’re only viewed in archive interviews and other material. A caption at the end clears this up, stating that Hartley asked them, but they declined, only to later announce they were making their own documentary about the history of Cannon Films, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, which ended up being released 3 months earlier than this!
Hartley weaves the interviews and clips together brilliantly. His skill is in keeping the film constantly firing on all cylinders. It’s a breathlessly fast-paced documentary, which fires out snappy quotes by the dozen and bombards you with clips from the films, behind the scenes footage and an array of stills. It really takes you along for a ride through the wacky world of Golan and Globus. It maybe skims over a few details along the way or at least you miss a few points because it’s moving so fast, but Hartley’s pacing keeps you glued to the screen where a lot of nostalgia-tinged fluff pieces get boring after an hour or so. That’s also because this works as more than just nostalgia. The story is genuinely interesting and the interviewees’ quotes are equally as fun to hear as the clips are fun to watch.
Yes, it helps if you know (and preferably enjoy) the Cannon brand, but Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is an incredibly fun ride through a bizarre side note of cinema history, which anyone even remotely interested in genre cinema can get on board with.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is out on 5th June 2015 in selected cinemas in the UK and then on DVD on 13th July, released by Metrodome. I saw an online screener, so can’t comment on the picture/sound quality or any special features.