Director and documentarian Mark Hartley scores both a film history and comedy success with this ‘wild, untold’ account of the 1980s film studio that was both revered and despised by everyone who had contact with it. The ‘cast list’ of interviewees is encyclopedic, everybody has a strong opinion, and some of them don’t need four-letter words to describe their experience!
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
On a double bill with
Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Umbrella Entertainment (AU, all-region
2014 / Color / 1:77 widescreen / 106 min. / Street Date April 4, 2017 / Available from Umbrella Entertainment / 34.99
Starring: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, Al Ruban, Alain Jakubowicz, Albert Pyun, Alex Winter, Allen DeBevoise, Avi Lerner, Barbet Schroeder, Bo Derek, Boaz Davidson, Cassandra Peterson, Catherine Mary Stewart, Charles Matthau, Christopher C. Dewey, Christopher Pearce, Cynthia Hargrave, Dan Wolman, Daniel Loewenthal, David Del Valle, David Paulsen, David Sheehan, David Womark, Diane Franklin, Dolph Lundgren, Edward R. Pressman, Elliott Gould, Franco Nero, Franco Zeffirelli, Frank Yablans, Gary Goddard, Greydon Clark. Harrison Ellenshaw, Itzik Kol, Jerry Schatzberg, John Frankenheimer, John G. Avildsen, Just Jaeckin, Lance Hool, Laurene Landon, Leonard Maltin, Lucinda Dickey, Luigi Cozzi, Marina Sirtis, Mark Goldblatt, Martine Beswick, Michael Dudikoff, Michael Hartman, Michael Winner, Molly Ringwald, Olivia d’Abo, Pieter Jan Brugge, Quentin Falk, Richard Chamberlain, Richard Edlund, Richard Kraft, Rick Nathanson, Robert Forster, Robin Sherwood, Roger Ebert, Rony Yakov, Rusty Lemorande, Sam Firstenberg, Sheldon Lettich Sheldon Renan, Stephen Tolkin, Sybil Danning, Sylvia Kristel, Ted Newsom, Tobe Hooper, Tom Luddy, William Stout, Yiftach Katzur.
Cinematography: Garry Richards
Film Editors: Jamie Blanks, Sara Edwards, Mark Hartley
Original Music: Jamie Blanks
Animation director: Marcus Cobbledick
Produced by Veronica Fury, James Packer, Brett Ratner
Written and Directed by Mark Hartley
Finally catching up with Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is quite a shock, as Mark Hartley has captured much of the truth of the renegade film studio run by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the jolly Israeli pirates that cut a red-ink swath through Hollywood, releasing a lot of movies and sometimes paying the people who made them. The candid interviews in this fast-paced tale of filmmaking and financial chicanery are terrific, ranging from slumming A-list filmmakers telling it like it is (was) to former Cannon insiders waxing nostalgic about Mo & Yo, two swell cousins that just wanted to make movies.
Director Hartley is a recidivist for this sort of thing. His 2008 Not Quite Hollywood was an eye-opening look at the trashy end of Australian pop filmmaking unknown to most Yanks, while his 2010 Machete Maidens Unleashed! covers the much sleazier sub-genre of productions filmed in the Philippines. Electric Boogaloo has a broader appeal than either of those subjects, as everybody remembers (sometimes fondly) the films of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, the cheap Cannon musicals that made money, and the megabuck losers that put the company into receivership. If you attended movies in the last half of the ‘eighties, perhaps you remember what often happened when a trailer came on with a Cannon logo — audiences booed.
Electric Boogaloo is edited in the docu-tainment style that mixes fast dialogue bites and film clips with clever animations to punch up transitions. The showbiz docu The Kid Stays in the Picture pioneered this technique, pushing the graphics to the forefront; with all the splashy, trashy visuals of the Cannon films to draw upon, Boogaloo has no need to hype a studio that’s all flash and glam from the get-go. Viewers that know only about the up-chuck Cannon output of Chucks Norris and Bronson will be thoroughly entertained, if not outright shocked.
The key to the docu is a brief audio bite by actor Elliot Gould, who mentions that some stories about Menahem and Yoram are unwise to repeat. Electric Boogaloo stays reasonably civil, limiting its indictment overlook of Cannon’s business practices to what’s on the official record. The crazier rumors aren’t needed — the bare facts are enough to convict.
Menahem is introduced as an energetic Israeli fireball, who once made popular pictures of local interest at a breakneck pace. In a nutshell, he teamed up with his cousin Yoram, moved to America and made a bundle producing cheap exploitation. The docu touts the influential Joe (1970), which introduced Susan Sarandon and Peter Boyle and was seen by everybody. It was actually made by a previous iteration of Cannon, run by Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey. They created Cannon in 1967 and ran it until selling it to Golan and Globus in ’79. Production really ramped up immediately, as Yoram found creative ways to raise money and Menahem oversaw the production of dozens of cheap pictures. A few became monster hits (Breakin’, 1984) or started major exploitation franchises (Missing in Action, )1984). They created a star in Chuck Norris and found easy work for down- slide personalities like Charles Bronson, Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson. Menahem was so prolific with his carelessly-launched film deals that the company found itself making pictures in several countries simultaneously.
One point that Electric Boogaloo misses was that Menahem Golan was yet another acolyte of Roger Corman, when Corman went to the continent to shoot The Wild Racers. Menahem proved fantastic at getting things done cheap or for free, surely bamboozling everybody on the Formula One racing circuit. Corman singled him out for praise… and it’s unclear who was teaching who. I have a feeling that Roger was probably better at following through with handshake deals — people who worked for him might grouse about the conditions they had accepted, but few if any ever said Roger had reneged on any arrangement. If trade reports and filmmaker complaints are true, breaking promises and cutting corners appears to have been an unchanging Cannon attribute.
Mark Hartley’s to-the-point interviews cover all the outrageous details of the Cannon Group’s output — the often insanely stupid movies, the bad acting, the good ideas trashed by a relentless emphasis on sex, violence and sleaze. Mo and Yo were stretched so thin and had so many irons in the fire that there wasn’t time to make decent decisions — good movies were thrown away while expensive promotions were expended on pictures that hadn’t a chance to find an audience. Electric Boogaloo gets a lot of mileage from interviews with filmmakers and actors eager to recount the incredible level of abuse they received on the set. The reasonable, easy-going Elliott Gould finds Menahem insanely impossible, when making a movie originally titled ‘My Darling Shiksa.’
Actress after actress recounts finding out only on the set that she is expected to play scenes nude or take part in rape scenes so crude and rough that the experience feels like a rape. Main culprit actress-molester director Michael Winner died shortly before production, or Electric Boogaloo might have presented both sides of this story. The docu doesn’t really distance itself from the sleaze factor, especially when the charming actresses describing their on-set humiliations are inter-cut with the actual brutal nude scenes.
Electric Boogaloo shows how Cannon used the Cannes film festival to make their studio ‘bigger than big,’ taking over an entire hotel to hawk their wares and sign big deals with prestigious filmmakers. Yoram bought film libraries and theater chains and even an English film studio, Elstree. Instead of little movies they produced expensive pictures, almost all of which lost money. They kept that system afloat for almost four years, an incredible high wire act that necessitated selling distribution rights, home video rights, etc.. This presumably meant that, if they did score a big hit movie, they already owed every dime it might make. Interviewee Frank Yablans was in charge of MGM at this time, which was distributing Cannon product. He complains that they kept sending him junk unfit for release.
The latter sections of the docu continue with the ‘can’t believe they did that’ crazy business and artistic decisions. The tone then tilts toward the notion that something good was lost when Cannon broke up, collapsing under colossal debt and the criminal shenanigans of its receiver, Giancarlo Paretti. The place was certainly ‘fun’ in the sense that a pirate ship might be fun — plenty of interesting things are always happening, if you’re not being artistically screwed, monetarily cheated or forced to walk the plank of career doom. Lots of people got opportunities there, but except for the big stars not too many emerged with their reputations unsullied.
Electric Boogaloo moves at the pace of a fast-cut trailer. The narrative flows in an impressionistic way, with no spokesperson or narrator given the responsibility of delivering a thesis. Mark Hartley’s manipulation of interview bites expertly tells the story he wants to tell without grossly distorting anybody’s input. The sheer volume of interviews is impressive in itself. It’s fun to compare the actors with their earlier selves — almost all still look terrific. Hartley’s overall take on The Cannon Group is also fair. The folly and absurdity is not exaggerated, and he’s surely left out a lot of much stronger interview criticism. I’d love to see his not-safe-for-legal outtake reel. But, I’m not somebody who was stiffed by the company.
Amusingly, representatives of Yoram Globus made their own Cannon docu to counter Hartley’s unblinking appraisal of the movie studio equivalent of a pirate ship. I haven’t seen The Go-Go Boys (2014), so can’t comment on it. I’m not sure that Electric Boogaloo is the last word on this amazing mess of a film company, but it’s certainly an entertaining introduction to the highest-profile exploitation outfit of the 1980s.
As entertainment Electric Boogaloo can’t be beat, and as a picture of what Cannon was like it’s not too far off the mark. From my experience with the company, I’d say that it goes too light on Menahem and Yoram and some of the executives that kept their money machine going. I don’t know if Cannon’s modus operandi was a genuine pyramid scheme, but it sure quacked like one. Their splashy sales efforts at Cannes and ShoWest routinely took money from distributors who thought they were buying completed or almost-completed pictures. The docu says they were sold with posters, but by 1986 the sales tools were promo mini-trailers with scenes from the movies — except that very often the footage was bogus, because the movies didn’t exist yet.
In the trailer department we made fake promos that misled buyers into thinking the movies existed, when they might only be a treatment, a potential movie. Exciting scenes were instead ‘borrowed’ from Cannon’s newly acquired EMI video library. It was my job to cut these things — I’d concoct ninety-second mini-trailers for existing movies in the Cannon lineup (Mesmerized, 1985; Strangler vs. Strangler, 1984) but also many for proposed films that Cannon sold as if they were almost in the can. For a show about terrorists in the Sahara, my producer Liz Beckman would give me footage from The Ambassador (1984); for a proposed film about the Falklands War I cut battle footage from an EMI TV documentary.
Many of the stories I heard about the company can’t be told because they were second-hand rumors. But official accounts of their bad behavior are not hard to find. The trades had a field day slamming the company. Variety complained that when Mo and Yo found themselves in a position of power with a filmmaker, they would routinely demand to re-negotiate signed deals. A filmmaker-partner already personally committed sometimes had little choice but to accept new terms. Filmmakers like Godfrey Reggio dealt with Cannon only when they had the protection of powerful partners that it would be unwise to cross, in Reggio’s case, Francis Coppola. Sure, Menahem admired the wildcat filmmaker John Cassavetes, and perhaps did bankroll Love Streams to prove that he treated independents well. But French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder only got his Barfly made as first promised by pulling a wild stunt in Menahem’s office. Although I heard the story differently than what is reported in Electric Boogaloo, Schroeder did indeed win over Menahem by showing that he could outdo anyone for crazy behavior.
The Cannon advertising department shared space with Cannon’s feature post-production people. Mo and Yo needed their sales propaganda ‘spice’ to flow without interruption, so we trailer and promo people were always promptly paid, for which I am forever grateful. But the poor feature assistants around the corner were practically in tears, as some of them were expected to work long hours but hadn’t been paid in weeks, or months. Outside vendors were particularly vulnerable. Bo Derek talks about photos being stolen from her suitcase and used for Cannon ads without her authorization. I heard first-hand testimony from an artist who made a maquette of the proposed Charles Bronson ‘Golem,’ a statue a couple of feet tall. Having already been to the Cannon Rodeo, this artist wouldn’t hand it over or allow it to be photographed until he was paid. Yet somebody snuck a Polaroid of it, which was turned into the image for the Cannon promo ad (seen in the movie).
I didn’t arrive until 1987, when the company was already sinking. By the middle of 1988 it was all but unable to properly release even the good movies it had produced. Menahem’s deals with name talent resulted in some debacles, like Jean-Luc Godard’s insulting King Lear, which is essentially a revisit of his Contempt. Part of Godard’s intention with Contempt was to thumb his nose at producer Joseph E. Levine, the ‘vulgarian’ who expected the hot director to exploit Brigitte Bardot’s naked derrière and deliver a commercial hit. For Cannon, Godard created a quizzical ‘try and sell this, you jerk’ message movie about a crass producer. The released King Lear is an unwatchable non-movie nothing, which figuratively spells out a minimalist ‘f___ you’ to Menahem and Yoram.
But everybody remembers that Cannon turned out some really good pictures as well; between 1985 and ’88 they made deals with name filmmakers and didn’t interfere too badly. Electric Boogaloo laments the dumping of Street Smart and Runaway Train but there are a number of other excellent pictures that just disappeared, such as Andrei Konchalovsky’s superlative Shy People. Its star Barbara Hershey won Best Actress at Cannes, yet Cannon in 1987 couldn’t even afford to release it.
My personal experience with Cannon was very rewarding. Yoram Globus spent all of his time up on the 5th floor. I had contact with him only when I was summoned to explain the semi-abstract Powaqqatsi because I had gotten along well with its director Godfrey Reggio — mainly, I absorbed and could interpret some of Reggio’s new-age cinema-speak without panicking. Talk about a movie that Cannon had not the slightest idea what to do with… I sold Yoram on a central image on which to base the ad campaign. He was polite and receptive, possibly because he didn’t want to expend any effort on the issue.
We’d see movie stars come in, either to pitch ideas or perhaps to demand checks that hadn’t gotten into the mail. My experiences were almost all positive. The distribution and sales guys on the fifth floor had thick accents and were always angry and eager to scream at people, but they were all bark and no bite. I was at a curious juncture in that I was older than most of the trailer editors and had already survived my share of bad meetings with real film people. These jokers didn’t get abusive with me because I didn’t act scared. It was fun to stand calmly and give straight answers to their belligerent questions. Ad department manager Chris Dobbs brought me to screenings where I saw some of Menahem’s volatility. Big and burly, he seemed to exist on a cloud of over-emotional energy. He often shouted his thoughts as he walked. One day he would be telling anybody within earshot that the child actor David Mendenhall of his Over the Top would be a major, major star. When that dog of a movie did near-zero business its opening weekend, he was furious, cussing out the kid and calling him a total loser. Nobody ever brought children to Cannon but I did on a couple of occasions, for screenings. They always were noted for their good behavior. The day I brought my eight year-old son David, he was allowed with me into a meeting with Chuck Norris. The star was so impressed with David, he generously talked with him for a minute or so, and accepted a drawing David had made.
The Menahem I saw in the editing rooms was very nice — he and his personal editor Alain Jakubowicz (interviewed in the doc) got along famously. I once saw Menahem spot music with an editor for Hanna’s War, and it all went swimmingly. Menahem came into the advertising area only a few times. One day he appeared out of nowhere and wandered into Mark Lowrie’s video editing room when we were eating lunch. He was cheerful and friendly, and asked about the editing machine. Mark’s bulletin board was covered with off-color gag Cannon ads he’d altered, some of which were pretty rude. One was a ‘Masters of the Universe’ poster changed to read, ‘Hamsters of the Universe.’ Dolph Lundgren’s head had been replaced with that of a guinea pig. Knowing full well that the average Israeli at Cannon had little sense of humor, we froze as Menahem paused in front of the bulletin board, scratching his chin, looking right at the hamster and the other near-obscene gag cartoons, etc. His mind must have been elsewhere because he just smiled and waved as he left. Either that, or his English wasn’t very good, and he couldn’t read the caustic jokes.
That cheerfulness may have been a real exception to the rule. Because theaters were refusing to run Cannon trailers (!) our beloved boss in the film advertising department (I’ll wait for permission to use his name) was instructed to remove the Cannon logo from a trailer for Superman IV, in order to get it shown more. This happened in front of witnesses. When Menahem saw a screening of the new trailer a day or two later, he apparently forgot his earlier edict and flew into a rage and fired our boss on the spot. The fact that our boss had done a brilliant job of shaping a pack of unruly kid-editors into a functioning trailer & promo shop now meant nothing. An hour later Cannon’s security (ex- soldiers!) escorted him out of the building.
Much of Electric Boogaloo is dedicated to the fact that, although Menahem Golan loved movies, he had terrible taste in movie content and no acumen at all for what an American audience wanted. His musical abomination The Apple (1980) proves this without need for further discussion. I saw Menahem’s crazy judgment in action. Because their Breakin’ had done well, Cannon repeatedly tried to ‘scoop’ new dance crazes. Mo and Yo later dug their own graves with dueling movies promoting a fleeting phenom called The Lambada. They got into an expensive race to the premiere date that mattered only to them and was an industry joke. Three years before, they produced a movie called Salsa (1988), which is terrible but has good dance scenes courtesy of Kenny Ortega (who reserved an awful rock ‘n’ roll scene for himself). Menahem was convinced that Los Angeles had a thriving Puerto Rican community, which just isn’t so. I was present in a screening room to show him an excellent trailer cut almost overnight by a female editor whose name I can’t remember. When Menahem leaped up at the end, he said he loved the Latin music, but he couldn’t understand anybody in the film. He ordered all the voices re-dubbed. Salsa’s one chance of even SOUNDING like a real movie got flushed away.
No matter what nostalgic things people say about Cannon, most of their product was terrible dreck, terrible because Menahem and Yoram were by and large not capable filmmakers. I watched the company break-up from a window, when Menahem led his half of Cannon across San Vicente and Wilshire to an annex building that would become the home of his short-lived company 21st Century Film. We advertising editors got the best of it, as the business respected trailer makers that could make Cannon Films look good. My ticket out of the sinking ship came through a slick trick: I arranged to have my Powaqqatsi trailer promoted in Ad Week magazine. The article made me look like a hot editor to easily- impressed trailer executives, and got me a good job offer. The Cannon employees I felt most sorry for were the audio experts that spent years building the company’s terrific in-house sound mixing studio and theater, only to see it closed down when Cannon folded. They had even imported a top English mixer to head the sound department.
Perhaps worst of all, when Giancarlo Paretti took over, Cannon underwent a strange morphing evolution with Pathé, somehow buying the failing MGM. For a while in 1990 it was called MGM/Pathé. At this time MGM already owned the United Artists library, which came along with the deal. It was like handing an art museum to junk dealers. A transitional executive took it upon himself to save money by destroying an entire vault of ‘ancillary’ United Artists film and tape elements, that weren’t even fully inventoried. This may account for missing audio masters, music masters, mixing masters, foreign elements, alternate versions, deleted scenes, promotional films and who-knows-what for an entire range of UA pictures. When trying to manage and update UA movies, the later MGM restoration people I knew often had little or nothing to work with on many pictures.
That, to me, is the real legacy of Cannon.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray of Electric Boogaloo is actually on a nifty double-bill BD disc, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films paired with Machete Maidens Unleashed! The HD encoding on both is excellent and the images pop at all times. The new interviews are immaculate and the animated titles and interstitial sequences quite diverting. Film clips — a LOT of film clips — also look pristine, even for marginal releases. The show uses what look like clips from 60 Minutes as well as TV footage of TV reviewers praising Runaway Train, and practically vomiting over the crude excesses of Death Wish II and The Delta Force. The disc plays in Region A, and the case says it plays in B and C as well.
The second film Machete Maidens Unleashed! is given equal emphasis on the disc. More adventurous genre addicts and film historians will love this history of films made in the Philippines, a place where production costs were so low that exploitation filmmakers of all stripes could operate there, practically outside the law. Using the same ultra-fast cutting style Mark Hartley takes us from Eddie Romero and Cirio Santiago’s first pictures through the invasion of American filmmakers led by Roger Corman, who sent Jack Hill and Jonathan Demme there to make awful women in prison / revolution / torture / T&A epics like The Big Doll House (1971) and Black Mama, White Mama (1973). Much more gross Asian martial arts films follow as the docu sketches the corrupt years of the Marcos regime, when locals could be executed on a whim. Somebody notes that foreign filmmakers are allowed to make epics about revolutions against a fascist dictatorship, IN a fascist dictatorship. The trail of gross sex and violence movies leads back to the Corman stable of trailer makers that became directors, and eventually to the huge Philippine-shot Apocalypse Now. Producer Fred Roos notes that Francis Coppola had to deal with an army that let them use dozens of real attack helicopters, weapons that might be called away on short notice to fight rebels.
Especially good are the interviews with people we recognize from movies on Quentin Tarantino’s list of sleaze greats — Jon Davison, Gerardo de Leon, R. Lee Ermey, Steve Carver, Colleen Camp, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante, Vic Diaz, Roger Corman, Marlene Clark, Judith Brown, Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Gloria Hendry, Jack Hill, Jayne Kennedy, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Jan Merlin, Dick Miller, Chris Mitchum, Susanne Reed, Eddie Romero, Fred Roos, Dean Tavoularis, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Patrick Wayne and Celeste Yarnall. We hear the expected ‘why-did-I-take-my-clothes off’ tales but also memories of men and women being asked to film outrageously dangerous stunts without so much as a medic on the set. The show makes the Filipino movie experience seem like the Wild West, with even fewer rules. Outside spokespeople like Pete Tombs try to capture the exact zeitgeist of these pictures, but a mirthful John Landis is the one to nail it. When Landis describes something as being beyond the pale, movies so bad that ‘you don’t wanna go there,’ I believe him.
Both discs come with great extras — deleted scenes, extended interviews, etc. We hear more about the Spiderman debacle at Cannon from Ted Newsom, and see test footage of a feeble sea monster attacking a topless scuba diver for Up from the Depths (1979). A vintage excerpt allows viewers to take the ‘Oath of Green Blood’ from Eddie Romero’s ‘Blood Island’ horror movies. Plus additional trailers, galleries, commentaries, the whole nine yards.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Movies: Very Good / Excellent
Supplements: Commentaries, extended interviews, trailers, deleted scenes.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 5, 2017
Here’s Mark Helfrich on Hartley’s film:
Text © Copyright 2017 Glenn Erickson