The 'Not Quite Hollywood' director is back with 'Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films', a 'celebration' of the dubious '80s movie studio.
7 Aug 2014 - 2:42 PM  UPDATED 5 Oct 2016 - 10:46 AM

Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were partners, movie moguls with a bad rep. Golan was the director. Globus was the shrewd businessman. Both were showmen with chutzpah to burn. To on-lookers, they were fast, cheap and out of control. Critics spanked them for the quality of their product. Peers scorned them as no better than hustlers. One story goes that Golan promised to mortgage his wife and kids if it meant getting the necessary cash needed to finish a flick. But in their homeland of Israel, this pair of movie-mad cousins were architects of the country’s modern film industry. Their ropey exploitation actioner Operation Thunderbolt was a hit and Oscar nominee for best foreign film in 1978. They followed it up with a bittersweet coming of age tragic-sex comedy which had a plot that co-mingled a dick-measuring contest with an abortion. It was called Lemon Popsicle. Nearly half the population of Israel paid to see it. Soon after, they bought Cannon Films, based in the USA, for a song in 1979. They shared a dream to make it in Hollywood. They made 120 movies in 10 years – mostly terrible movies on short money starring Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, and Dolph Lundgren. They were terribly profitable. Still, they aspired to something higher. Whilst churning out more sequels to Death Wish, Ninja, Missing in Action or the Exterminator, Cannon scored a best foreign language film Oscar for the Holocaust drama The Assault (1986). By the end of the ‘80s, they had their names attached to films by Jean-Luc Godard, Franco Zeffirelli and Robert Altman. It didn’t make any difference to Hollywood’s powerbrokers. They never got into the important parties because they weren’t invited. As the ‘90s came, the dream was over. Cannon owed the banks millions. “That’s depressing,” Golan said at the time, “I want to owe $100 million.”

“It’s hard to say ‘Cannon Film’ without laughing,” says one eyewitness in Mark Hartley’s terrific new feature documentary, Electric Boogaloo, which, as the sub-title promises, is the ‘wild, untold story’ of Cannon films and the weird profligate energy that was Golan and Globus. But as Hartley explained to SBS only days after locking off the final edit, it is not a ‘hatchet’ job. Full of laughs and gasps, redolent with spectacular choice clips from the Cannon catalogue, relentlessly paced and enriched with superb research and interviews of jaw-dropping candour, there is something unsuspectingly poignant about Electric Boogaloo. That’s because, Hartley suggests, it’s the story of outsiders… who never quite made it.

Interviewed via phone from his home in Melbourne on the eve of its premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Hartley talks about the making of the film and how the Golan and Globus business model became the template for indie cinema of the noughties.

PG: Not Quite Hollywood (2008), Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) and Electric Boogaloo form a kind of trilogy – an informal intercontinental history of grindhouse/exploitation in the ‘80s.

MH: [That was unintentional]. All of these films started from me wanting to meet people. Not Quite Hollywood was about shining a spotlight on filmmakers who had inspired me as a kid and had been written out of the history books in Australia. With Machete Maidens, it was a chance to talk to all of Roger Corman’s protégés.

Boogaloo came out of me reading Michael Winner’s autobiography. It had fantastic stories about Cannon. And I’d really loved Winner’s films of the ‘70s (Death Wish, 1972 et al). I always wanted to sit down and chat to him and I thought this was a great opportunity. He wanted to be in the movie. Between us coming up with the idea and finding the financing, he died.

Not Quite Hollywood took many years to make. How long was this in gestation?

It started three years ago.

You started it while you working on your first feature Patrick (2013). How did the James Packer/Brett Ratner Ratpac company get involved?

When we first announced the title. There was a press release and that appeared in Variety and Brett Ratner read that and suddenly decided to be part of the project. That was fortunate because at that stage it looked like Boogaloo was dead – the financing was proving difficult.

Like the earlier films, you’ve assembled once again an impressive roll call of eyewitnesses for interview: filmmakers and executives like Boaz Davidson and Frank Yablans, actors Bo Derek, Richard Chamberlain, and Cannon ‘stars’ Catherine Mary Stewart and Lucinda Dickey. They don’t spare themselves and they certainly don’t spare Golan and Globus. [Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris are conspicuous by their absence].

They were talking about this stuff for the first time. It was liberating for them. I hope the film is irreverent and honest. It turns out that Golan and Globus were their own worst enemies. Whenever they had the opportunity to get to the next level, they sabotaged themselves. One thing I do hope you take away from the film is how much these guys really did love film. They just needed that one hit to keep their company alive. It could have been Over the Top (1987). It could have been Superman IV (1987). They short-changed these productions.

Someone says in the film that ‘bad ideas’ happen every once in a while when you are making films –  but they were the norm at Cannon!

They didn’t spend too much time nurturing projects. Quantity seemed more important than quality. That was part of the reason for the downfall of the company.

Another is a lack of taste, perhaps? Menaham Golan directed The Apple (1979), a rock and roll sci-fi rip-off of Tommy. At the premiere the audience were so enraged, they hurled their free CD soundtracks at the movie screen. Organisers were still prising them free after the booing stopped! It debuted about the time Golan and Globus took over Cannon. That’s not going to encourage good word of mouth?!

Menaham Golan loved movies so much he just wanted to keep making them. Whenever they were in trouble he said, ‘Well, let’s make another 20 movies.’ Instead of taking a pause, they’d sign up 12 new stars and commit to 20 more productions.

The film suggests that the ‘foreign-ness’ of Golan and Globus – the fact that they were Israelis – as much as their personal styles and product defined their status in Hollywood. Someone says they were ostracised in Hollywood because they didn’t have the proper manners.

Sure. Golan and Globus weren’t just outsiders, they were brash outsiders. Of the top 20 most successful films made in Israel, they produced 17 of them. Once they got to the US they rubbed people up the wrong way. They could treat filmmakers and stars as family – or have them fear for their career. But our film is really the story of Cannon Films as opposed to a biography of Golan and Globus.

Golan and Globus appear in the film only as archive. Were they approached?

Yes! They’d agreed to be in the film and then suddenly all communication stopped and they announced their own film!

That’s Hilla Medalia’s The Go-Go Boys. It bowed in Cannes in May.

Yes. I only just saw it because I didn’t want to be influenced by it. It’s about Golan Globus. It’s very different to our film. They compliment on another. Not having them in the film didn’t worry me. To see them as old men would have taken the focus away from them in their heyday.

Did you know Cannon films like The Apple?

I had no excuse to seek out the Apple. I had read about it. As a kid I certainly knew a lot of Cannon Films. Lifeforce (Tobe Hooper, 1985) was one of the great experiences of my cinema going life as a teen. It was like nothing I had seen before and certainly nothing like I’ve seen since.

Electric Boogaloo is very good at nailing the exploitation elements: the tacky gratuitous insistence on T&A, for instance, but it’s also good on describing the diversity and richness of the Cannon slate: everything from action flicks to softcore to ‘street’ dance pics like Breakin’ (1984) to Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train (1985).

Runaway Train, in terms of quality, is Cannon’s masterpiece. Nowadays people think of Cannon rightly or wrongly as schlock merchants. But Menaham Golan was a European filmmaker at heart. Not on screen necessarily, but at heart. He wanted to surround himself with the greatest filmmakers of our time. He recruited into the company people like Barbet Schroder and Norman Mailer. [John Frankenheimer, Fred Schepisi and Dusan Makavejev all directed films for Cannon.] They were using the money they were making from the Norris movies to finance [prestige] pictures. They were saying that if you want to buy a package deal for these action films, you also must take Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984).

In terms of style and approach, this is very like Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens: a mix of crazy production stories and film history.

Unlike Not Quite Hollywood, which had Quentin Tarantino, or Machete Maidens Unleashed, which had John Landis [as expert fan-guides], this time I wanted people from the Cannon trenches [to carry the narrative]. This is an insider’s story. Everyone in the film knew them intimately or at arm’s length. There’s Chris Pearce in the film; he was third I-C at Cannon.

Instead of one [dominant voice], it’s good to have many voices each with a different perspective. I got a bit of criticism on NQH for this technique. But it adds to the drama. This was the hardest film I’ve ever made: we shot 90 interviews in the UK, Spain, USA, Israel, Bangkok; we did 18 flights in 30 days. Eighty-four of them ended up in the movie.

What’s the Cannon legacy?

It’s in the way the business finances independent movies today [foreign pre-sales, for instance]. Avi Lerner of Nu Image (The Expendables) and Danny Dimbort of Red Granite, who produced The Wolf of Wall Street, are ex-Cannon and they’re in the film… and they and others all learned what to do and what not to do from the Cannon experience and turned that into an amazingly successful business model.