Introducing Cannontober # 1: Electric Boogaloo
Hello! Welcome to Electic Boogaloo, the very first entry in Cannontober! It’s a month devoted to exploring the motion pictures of Israeli schlockmeisters Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the mad geniuses behind such masterpieces of the cinematic arts as The Apple and Death Wish III. It’s an idea I wanted to do ever since I learned of the impending release of a ten-film box set being released alongside Electric Boogaloo, Mark Hartley’s documentary on the rise and fall of Cannon.
But when I pitched it to various places they said it was “too nichey” and “no longer timely” and “another terrible idea from someone who needs to stop lurking by our dumpster, ambushing terrified interns with nonsensical handwritten ‘pitches’ and move on with his life.” In other words, it was the kind of self-indulgent, not terribly commercial wallow through the dumpsters of trash cinema past you can only kind of get away with if you are running your own site.
Thankfully, I happen to be doing just that so I am going to be using the most Spooktacular month of the month to write a ten-part series on all ten movies included in the big Cannon box set, beginning with the documentary, which is wonderfully entertaining if a little glib and mean-spirited.
It’s full of actors and directors and writers happy as purring cats to have an opportunity to enact a little tardy revenge on their mistreatment at the hands of two men perpetually willing to take the kinds of risk that put their employees in needless danger and compromise their creative vision in the sense of reducing it to complete horse shit. Sometimes that horse shit was dazzlingly entertaining in its lunacy, like the aforementioned The Apple or Cobra, Sylvester Stallone’s sublime masterpiece of accidental self-parody, and sometimes it was unwatchable, but throughout their 1980s heyday, Cannon made the world of b-movies infinitely crazier, more flamboyantly strange and joyously, if incoherently crowded.
Menahem Golan was the artist and visionary of the duo, the filmmaker overflowing with wild ideas and manic energy and audacity, a movie lover who loved movies the way Tommy Wiseau movies, and had a similarly unique way of expressing that affection. It is not at all coincidental that both men were foreigners and made movies that reflected a foreign-born artist’s fever-dream conception of their adopted homeland.
It’s impossible to understand Cannon outside of the context of Israel, and the hustling, audacious, entrepreneurial spirit of the Israeli people. Golan and Globus conquered Israel before they took on the world, but more specifically the United States, to the point where their seminal sex comedy Lemon Popsicle, remains the top-grossing film of all time. That’s even more embarrassing than Avatar being our top-grossing film of all time, but not by much.
The men behind such an insanely, historically over-achieving sex comedy not surprisingly came to rely on nudity and, with disturbing regularity, sexual assault, to spice up genre fare whether it fit the movie or not. Golan and Globus had an inveterate exploitation artist’s belief that a woman’s job was to be beautiful, busty, and naked and in a state of peril onscreen.
This was taken to grotesque and cartoonish extremes by Michael Winner, who directed several Death Wish sequels primarily to satiate his need to see women sexually assaulted and degraded, and to a much lesser extent, as a professional assignment. Michael Winner was known both for his rapier wit (or at least what he saw as his rapier wit) and his insistence that all movies should be rapier. To that end, he filled his movies with gratuitous sexual assault, to the point where curvaceous women having their flimsy tops ripped off by some brute came to seem like a fairly essential component of Cannon’s house style, if something so relatively specific could be applied to a pair of glorified carnies and con artists who were quite literally making most of their movies up as they went along.
Golan was a consummate improviser whose movies reflected the mad, hustling energy, shamelessness and outrageousness of the man behind them. He was an Israeli hustler making his version of American exploitation movies. Something wonderful was both lost and won in translation when this inveterate Israeli tried to make American movies. The more American and commercial and big he tried to be, the more his roots as a low-budget Israeli outsider showed.
Golan paid Sylvester Stallone a record sum to star in a fight drama for Cannon but instead of boxing and Rocky the result was the almost perversely brief, un-cinematic sport of arm wrestling (where large men grunt as if pooping before either having their arm pushed down, or pushing someone else’s arm down, after about five seconds) and Over the Top. Golan snagged the ultimate American icon—Superman and beloved original star Christopher Reeve, but the result was bargain-basement nonsense pitting the Man of Steel against Nuclear Man, clumsy late Cold War-era peacenik propaganda rendered flesh called Superman IV: the Quest for Peace that killed the formerly lucrative franchise.
And Cannon’s idea of an Oscar contender was Sahara, which is depicted as Lawrence of Arabia meets The Blue Lagoon meets The Great Race, only, you know, terrible, which according to the snark brigade here, they genuinely thought would win star Brooke Shields the first of no doubt many Academy Awards.
Electric Boogaloo takes just a little too much glee in mocking the delusions and pretensions of an inveterate vulgarian like Golan, and the bargain-basement special effects and egregiously cut corners that were as much staples of Cannon-brand cinema as large breasted women in various states of undress and muscular, laconic men with large weapons in various states of use.
The movie is a glibly enjoyable act in both schadenfreude and ironic appreciation that relentlessly focuses on the places where Cannon came up short, where its seams showed in ways that made them seem less like Roger Corman-like exploitation moguls than rank amateurs whose movies were defined in part by their exuberant awfulness.
Cannon was ferociously devoted to quantity, both in terms of making an insane number of motion pictures, particularly for a studio its size, and in making movies that were gloriously, giddily excessive, extravaganzas that combined sex and violence and music and Golan’s conception of American youth culture.
Golan was a dreamer, with the kind of big, magnetic personality that made other people believe in his dreams and, more importantly, finance those dreams as well. Electric Boogaloo continually underlines that Golan and Globus, or the Go Go Boys, as they were sometimes known, were salesmen as much, if not more, than they were filmmakers.
Cannon was able to raise funding from investors for upcoming movies on the basis of a poster and proposed stars alone. They’d start at the marketing-to-the-public stage and then work back from there to make movies inspired by the posters to the movies they were advertising, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes Golan’s hunches turned out to be dead-on. He sensed that break-dancing was ready to make the big jump from funky street subculture to blockbuster mainstream crossover success with the smash-hit breaksploitation movie Breakin’ as well as its sequel, whose infamous subtitle gives the documentary its subtitle.
He was similarly correct in his assumption that the action movie market of the 1980s was interested in the hyper-masculine antics of its stoic, uncommunicative, decidedly non-chatty “Two Chucks”—Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. The documentary is accurate in depicting Norris as a wooden non-actor who got lucky but shortchanges Bronson at the same time. No one will ever mistake Bronson for Philip Seymour Hoffman, but he had undeniable presence and was a compelling part of some great films before the Cannon era, like Once Upon a Time in the West and The Dirty Dozen.
Cannon had a formula that even at the studio’s peak of popularity and influence only worked some of the time, artistically and/or creatively. But even when the Cannon method didn’t necessarily “work” or result in movies that were “good” or even “defensible” there was a go-for-broke, oddball charm to Cannon that separated it from its equally disreputable but less enduring and entertaining peers.
Watching Electric Boogaloo got me excited for the next 9 films in this series, but it also made me frustrated by the Chuck Norris-heavy selection. How can you possibly tease a movie like Ninja: Domination, which combined martial arts action (obviously) with Flashdance and The Exorcist-style demonic possession and then not make it as easy and convenient as possible to watch this miraculous-sounding conception?
There’s so much craziness to Cannon’s story that one movie can’t possibly capture it all. I don’t want to be the guy who says, “How you gonna make a movie about Cannon and not talk about Tough Guys Don’t Dance” just to show what a bad-film snob he is, but seriously, how you gonna make a movie about Cannon and not talk about Tough Guys Don’t Dance?
Golan and Globus wanted to go big-time, to be classy, to beat the majors at their own game. And when junk bond king Michael Miliken performed an invaluable public service by raising 300 million dollars for Cannon it looked like they might have the resources to actually do that. But you can take the boy out of the carnival, but you cannot take the carnival out of the boy. It wasn’t long until Golan and Globus had split and, in a reflection of their wavering, often faulty understanding of both the market and the culture zeitgeist, made competing films about the Lambada, the notorious “Forbidden Dance” that people totally thought was going to happen and be a thing at some point.
Electric Boogaloo invites audiences to laugh at Golan and Globus but also delights in their vulgar energy, in their irrepressible huckster spirit, in their moxie. It comes to bury and to praise Golan and Globus’ oddball body of work. This seems like the perfect place to start a b-movie project destined to test my tolerance for watching and writing about Chuck Norris as well as your tolerance for reading about them, but I am never one to back down from a challenge, particularly one this custom-designed for my peculiar sensibilities. And hopefully yours as well!
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