Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

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Like me, most people growing up in the 80’s who have since gone on to be avid film fans (no matter what type or genre) will forever have a soft spot for the films of the Golan/Globus hit [and miss]-making machine. Many of their films, at the time considered exploitative and trashy, have since gone on to be thought of fondly as classics of their kind. In fact, it would not be too far amiss to state that Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are responsible in no small way for modern genre classics such The Expendables 1 and 2 and almost everything Jason Statham has ever been in.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films is the new film from Mark Hartley, following on from Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild Untold Story of Ozploitation (his loving 2008 look at Australian exploitation films) and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (about subterranean Filipino genre (exploitation again) films) and completes his documentary trilogy about lesser known and lesser respected film-making institutions (though they stand as testament too to a more liberal time, a time of experimentation and a freer attitude to what is acceptable and available to the artist.) Though as we shall see, despite many similarities in tone and style, I think the films of Golan and Globus stand head and shoulders above those in Hartley’s first two films in terms of both quality and importance.

Electric Boogaloo is a very simply constructed film consisting of a barrage of clips spanning Cannon’s entire output, from its early beginnings in Israel through to their brief but terrifying reign as kings of Hollywood schlock. For most of the films mentioned, the routine is the same. The more salacious moments are given a brief screening before we hear from the various actors and crew involved in each one, with a couple of glaring and regretful omissions: surely no survey of 80’s action can be complete without hearing from two of its greatest sons: Jean-Claude van Damme and Chuck Norris. And given the number of people of we hear from, its unfortunate that though most of the greatest action stars’ greatest vehicles are covered in some depth (Missing in Action, Delta Force bizarrely, amongst others), Harltey decides to concentrate on the less polished films in Cannon’s oeuvre (which to be fair is a large majority of them) and we don’t hear from enough of the actors. Besides, if those involved in making The Apple or even the titular Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo are more than happy to appear on screen, certainly Stallone and company can have no excuses.

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The above kind of makes sense though. Whereas Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed are both love-letters to a time and a place and type of film-making, and it is obvious that Hartley holds both very dear, the tone of Electric Boogaloo is a little more ambivalent. Despite the fond memories most of those involved have for their films, there are not too many good words said about Golan or Globus. Indeed both come across as exploitative and narrow-minded in the extreme, neither willing to commit entirely to one film or aesthetic nor to put aside entirely their desire for a quick cash-in or unnecessary sequel in favour of producing a cohesive product. And it’s not like they didn’t have the opportunities either. It’s not many cheap distributors or ham-fisted producers that can claim to have had, at one point or another, the likes of Barbet Schroeder, Jean Luc Godard and Franco Zeffirelli on their books. Films like Otello and Barfly, quality motion pictures, and even rubbish films with huge names attached, like Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance, got lost in the system and were laughed out of Cannes mostly, one feels, due to their having been produced and distributed by Cannon in the first place. It is a shame that Cannon was painted with the taint of exploitation, as many of their films (as Barbara Hershey will attest) were genuine attempts at serious cinema. I suppose though that it is just too tempting to get carried away with the sleaze.

All of this seems a little disingenuous now though considering the fact that a lot of Cannon’s practises and strategies (much derided in the film) such as pre-selling rights to films that have yet to be made and the purchasing of rights for future sequels sight unseen are now considered run of the mill Hollywood procedures. Even a lot of the actress’ complaints about mismanagement, misdirection and the Cannon pair’s insistence on nudity and salacious plots and nudity were hardly new to cinema in the 80s and are probably just as applicable today.

Despite this rather more double-edged approach to the subject matter than in his previous films, Hartley still manages to instil an awful lot of entertainment into Electric Boogaloo. The sheer exuberance of the film, the non-stop film-clip mayhem and the hilarious anecdotes (a terrific story involving an ape of some size and a priceless clip of the great Lou Ferrigno from the much maligned Hercules series are worth the price of admission alone) make Electric Boogaloo as amazing a ride as I imagine working for Cannon might have been. It drags you in directions you remember well, and others you’d rather not remember at all, it has a wry grin and a snide frown, and even makes you a little angry, but in the end it is one hell of a lot of fun.

Like last year’s Milius, the London Film Festival is once again screening a great documentary about great, though perhaps undervalued, American film characters.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films is screening as part of the Cult programme.

Director: Mark Hartley
Stars: Molly Ringwald, Alex Winter, Dolph Lundgren
Runtime: 107 min
Country: Australia

Film Rating: ★★★★½

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