Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015)

fourstar

“I do believe motion pictures are the significant art form of our time. And I think the main reason is, they’re an art form of movement, as opposed to static art forms of previous times. But another reason that they’re the preeminent art form is they’re part art and part business. They are a compromised art form, and we live in a somewhat compromised time. And I believe to be successful over the long run, unless you’re a Federico Fellini or an Ingmar Bergman or a true genius in filmmaking, you have to understand that you’re working in both an art and a business.” – Roger Corman

There are a few documentaries that might get me as excited about movies as an artform as Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films does (Life Itself & Corman’s World both immediately come to mind), but few elevate the finance side of the business as an artform in itself in the same way. The Israeli-born cousins/filmmakers Menahem Golan & Yoram Globus, who rose to prominence as a pair of real-life Morty Finemans in the 70s & 80s as the heads of the schlock giant Cannon Films, understood the art of finance on an intrinsic level. On the surface Electric Boogaloo is a celebration of the batshit insane catalog the team of Golan-Globus managed to build in their Cannon Films heyday, but the movie also stands as a priceless testament to the importance of turning a profit vs. the secondary concern of making fine art in the film industry. It’s impressive how many of their productions tapped into a surreal, over-the-top headspace far above the “tits & explosions” formula they aimed for, but what’s even more impressive is how these Hollywood outsiders managed to make hundreds of films for American markets in the first place. For a strange, difficult to understand time in cinema’s past, Golan-Globus & Canon films were on top of the schlock world and that success had a lot more to do with their artistry with the dollar than the artistry of what they were doing behind the camera.

The trajectory of Golan-Globus’s success in the film industry is far outside of the norm. After growing up watching American movies in Tel Aviv they started filming cheapies for the Israeli market, lucking out with a huge hit in a picture titled Lemonade Popsicle, a sort of wild teen sex romp, a precursor to Porky’s. With Golan operating the artistic end of their partnership & Globus handling the all-important finance, they decided to chase their dream of making Amercian films with this newfound success. Their first major act was to purchase the production company Cannon Films so that they’d have a sizeable back catalog of works they could sell to independent movie circuits & use the profit to produce their own work. Since their work began in the historically nastiest time for schlock, the 1970s, early Golan-Globus films are heavy on the sex & violence formula for commercial success. Even by the time they were able to produce their first Hollywood film, a sequel to the highly paranoid Charles Bronson shoot-em-up Death Wish, their films gleefully participated in the salacious depictions of sexual assault that make so many B-pictures form that era difficult to stomach. Things got better (or at least more fun) from there once Golan-Globus (foolishly) attempted to outshine major studios, striking a distribution deal with major player MGM & reaching the American movie-going public at large instead of the . . . more grizzled grindhouse crowd.

Their success obviously didn’t last forever, but it’s incredible how they found ways to survive financially in an industry that wanted nothing to do with them. In the early days they would sell a picture to distributors based on the poster & title alone and then turn around to use that profit as funding for getting the picture made at breakneck speed. They’d crank out so many movies in such a short amount of time that there was never any real pressure for a single title to be a success. Often, their plan was to sell a surefire hit as “the engine that would pull the train”, making enough money that they could finance pictures they were more excited about. This rapid production rate would ultimately be their demise as Canon Films expanded too big too fast & eventually collapsed. Golan produced too many films. Globus tied up too much money in purchasing theater chains wholesale. They collectively got too big for their britches when they tried competing with major Hollywood studios in increasingly expensive (and increasingly bizarre) film productions instead of continuing their model of making a torrent of small budget films & hoping one strikes gold. However, what’s most remarkable about Golan-Globus is that they were able to survive in their hostile industry as long as they did, not that they weren’t able to survive forever.

Of course, I can prattle all day about how fascinating the financial end of Golan-Globus’s business partnership was, but the truth is that it’s the films themselves that are the main draw for Electric Boogaloo in terms of entertainment value. The documentary gives off the distinct vibe of drunkenly searching YouTube for bizarre movie trailers after a long night of crazed barhopping. Each film feels more improbable than the last. A Blue Lagoon meets Lawrence of Arabia mashup? Sure. A melting pot Frankenstein monster of equal parts The Exorcist, Flashdance, and ninja-themed martial arts cinema? Why not. Of the few Golan-Globus titles I’ve seen I can confirm that the films are as deliciously inane as they seem from the outside looking in. Masters of the Universe, Over the Top, Invasion USA, Breakin’, Invaders from Mars . . . these are the kind of (to borrow a phrase) over-the-top messes schlock junkies hope for when their combing through B-pictures for the so-bad-it’s good variety. And for every title I’ve already seen & fallen in love with, Electric Boogaloo includes a dozen more than I’m excited to watch ASAP. Of course I want to see Hercules hurl a bear into outer space or some topless sword fighting or the wall-to-wall inanity of big budget epics like The Apple or Lifeforce. As one interviewee puts it, “What [Golan-Globus] didn’t have in taste, they made up for in enthusiasm.” Electric Boogaloo does a great job of representing this enthusiasm at every turn, making Cannon Films look like the greatest show on Earth, a runaway circus of schlock.

If there’s one moment in Electric Boogaloo that captures Golan-Globus in a nutshell, it’s the last minute revelations that the famed producers refused to be interviewed for the film & rushed to complete their own documentary on Canon Films three months prior to this one’s release. Their refusal to work within the system (or to be shut out by it), their enthusiasm for producing relative work in a short amount of time, and their shrewd business sense are all captured perfectly in that factoid. It’s a piece of trivia that’s oddly endearing & more than a little insane, the exact qualities one looks for in a Cannon classic.

-Brandon Ledet

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2 thoughts on “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015)

  1. Pingback: Mad Ron’s Preveus from Hell (1987) |

  2. Pingback: Movie of the Month: The Funhouse (1981) | Swampflix

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