A documentary about Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus - two movie-obsessed cousins whose passion for cinema changed the way movies were made and marketed - and the tale of how this passion ultimately led to the demise of the company they built together.
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Electric Boogaloo is a documentary about Israeli filmmakers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who, having produced the biggest Israeli box office hit ever, took the leap into the big pool of Hollywood (picking up a small company called Cannon films along the way) to become an international empire. The two cousins professed a love of movies, but it was energetic and shameless salesmanship that kept the company afloat until the momentum – and the money – eventually ran out. There’s probably a fascinating documentary to be made about their years as pioneers of popular Israeli cinema, but this isn’t it. Like his earlier film Not Quite Hollywood, which acted as a love letter to Australian schlock of the 1970s and 1980s, Mark Hartley’s doco is more interested in the snake oil, the razzle dazzle and the ludicrous projects that splashed the Cannon name across the world after the success of the 1978 Israeli teen flick Lemon Popsicle emboldened Golan and Globus to take on the world.
If you’re one of those people who still use the phrase, “It’s so bad, it’s good,” then you’ll love this. The documentary (the title comes from the Cannon portfolio’s 1984 dance movie sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo) is a cavalcade of clips from some of the most terrible films of the 1980s (featuring names that became bywords for mediocrity: Lou Ferrigno, Chuck Norris, Sylvia Krystal, Bo Derek and lesser luminaries) and interviews with some of the survivors of Cannon’s expert and inexpert hustling. When the laughter subsides, pity begins to mount as you begin to feel sorrow for the poor souls who plunked down their cold hard cash to watch these atrocities until one realises I was one of those poor souls who had his life stolen by these producers in several 90-minute instalments.
Electric Boogaloo is undeniably lots of fun, but what it lacks is a desire to put events in a wider context. The war stories of shonky producers are amusing for their sheer audacity, but Hartley and his talking heads mostly gloss over the importance of the rise of right-wing Reaganism that gave political support for the Death Wish sequels and the Chuck Norris phenomenon created by these conservative guys. (Not that Cannon were alone in that regard.) There is also a brief mention by one or two talking heads of junk bonds pioneer and later jailed criminal, Mike Milken, who acts as a metaphor for the Cannon mentality. But mostly the film skips over the bigger picture to giggle about the crazy vision of Hollywood grandeur grasped at by two Israeli hucksters, when really it was systematic of the era’s corporate values (such as they were). The madness, though prevalent throughout the film industry (how else could MGM end up as Cannon’s partners?), wasn’t just confined to the movies. It was also present in Western politics and international banking, as the whole world swung to the right and switched to living on credit.
That’s not to say good things didn’t happen along the way. John Avildsen’s Joe, Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train, John Cassavetes Love Streams, Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance (a personal favourite for the best worst film ever made or the worst best film ever made or something), Fred Schepisi’s Evil Angels (one of the great Australian films!), and even Franco Zefferelli Othello. (In the documentary’s sole touching scene, Zefferelli speaks lovingly of how the Golan and Globus team nurtured his operatic 1986 vision, and production executive John Thompson quotes Golan saying, “The dailies looked like they were created by God”.)
But for every one of those landmark films, there were hundreds of movies like The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, X-Ray, Lifeforce, The Apple, Enter the Ninja, the Jean-Luc Godard fiasco of King Lear, and a million others too painful to recall (and those were painful enough).
The film reveals that as Cannon’s empire became increasingly unstable, they needed to make more films to pay the bills that were accumulating at $US5 million per week. But somehow Electric Boogaloo neglects to mention the stock market crash of 1987, which not only pulled the plug on Cannon, but had a worldwide impact on other businesses in and outside of the film industry.
Hartley knows it’s fun to highlight the business model of financing posters, getting a cast and then writing a script, i.e. borrowing against the future to pay for today, but it seems the doco doesn’t want audiences to draw any substantial conclusions. Any aggressive idiot can make a fortune when the cash is flowing. Surviving when the luck is running in the other direction is a different matter. But there’s always another wave and there’s always another set of surfers. Many of the talking heads cite Harvey Weinstein and Miramax, but the producers of this doco, cashed up cowboys Jamie Packer and Brett Ratner, clearly see themselves in the same vein – except smarter. But that’s always the case with the finance industry. They always think they are smarter than the greedy people who preceded them. The truth is that luck always runs out on gamblers eventually.
Taken out of its context, the rise and fall of Cannon is all a joke. But congratulations to Hartley for including a clip of American TV film critic David Sheehan commenting on Delta Force: “Blatantly and brainlessly concocted to inspire vengeful hatred toward Arabs and Palestinians.” It’s a moment that shows Cannon’s movie madness didn’t happen in a vacuum, and it wasn’t all harmless fun.
An end title that explains the reason why Globus and Golan (who incidentally died in between the film’s first and second screening at the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival) do not appear in the documentary: When approached to participate, they declined, and then announced their own documentary about themselves.