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Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

Saturday 6 June 2015, by Ryan Ormonde

Young children are often very receptive to new ideas. In 1987 when my favourite toy was adapted into a Hollywood movie ’Masters of The Universe’ I lapped it up, even though the film played fast and loose with the He-Man story so familiar to me from the cartoons, tapes and books I made my mum buy me along with all those brightly coloured, muscly figurines. The hyper-consumerist 1980s was a strange place anyway, so I was oblivious to the fact that in watching Masters of the Universe I was enjoying a schlocky B-movie from the notoriously tacky film production studio Cannon Films. I asked for the bizarre tie-in toys, fire-breathing Saurod and portly keyholder Gwildor, without worrying that they didn’t fit in aesthetically with the others in my collection. Seeing these wonky characters pop up in the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, I realised I was already implicated in a cutthroat and exploitative enterprise that had blazed its way through the 1980s before spectacularly imploding with a catastrophic Superman sequel a couple of years shy of my adolescence.

Cannon was a riot of sex, violence, dodgy politics and Michael Winner. To describe Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus as ’mavericks’ would be an understatement. They didn’t just make up the rules as they went along; they made up plots as movies were being filmed. Having struck all-time box office gold in Israel with American Pie forerunner Lemon Popsicle (later remade nearly shot for shot as The Last American Virgin to a bemused international audience) this duo were unstoppable, churning out an obscene number of films every year, nearly all of them spectacles of fornication, gore and bad taste. Of course, all these films now fulfil our fascination with trash and nostalgia, and the lack of political correctness becomes almost palatable again when viewed from a superior, ironic position.

The titles really do speak for themselves: Dr Heckyl and Mr Hype, Hospital Massacre, Alien Contamination. If one movie deserves to be seen out of the many extraordinary clips presented here it’s The Apple, a 1980 free-love musical version of the Adam and Eve story. Another intriguing part of the Cannon tale is the appearance of highly venerated film makers attracted by the creative freedom offered by Golan and Globus: Godard, Cassavetes and Zeffirelli all made late-career films for Cannon. Zeffirelli is interviewed here claiming Otello was his best picture, so good he dared not make another. That assessment may be up for debate, but there seems to be a critical consensus with regard to Runaway Train, a forgotten classic by Konchalovsky that was tainted by the Cannon brand.

The ’80s was a time when ‘bad’ also meant ‘good’, and everything about Cannon films espouses this double meaning: bad-good acting, bad-good scripts, bad-good special effects. How things have changed. Take current release (and ‘80s reboot) Mad Max: Fury Road. This is a film with incredible - at times beautiful - art direction, rapid and flawless editing and effects: nothing ‘bad’ at all. There is no bad acting, only the absence of acting. Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult are competent physical presences: acting is apparently not required of any of them here. Their dialogue is neither camp nor funny, it’s purely functional; the rest of their bush-trekking gang are not actors but supermodels. Of course they are. Pretty much everything in Hollywood today is extraordinary, unbelievable, yet entirely bland and safe. Cannon Films reached its peak in a preposterous symbiosis between the imaginative and the exploitative, between the good-bad and the bad-good: just the kind of movies that were fodder for five year olds in 1987.

Dir: Mark Hartley,

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