Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Electric Boogaloo – The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films’ is Everything a Cinephile Doc Should Be
Don’t let Electric Boogaloo fool you: Roger Corman started it.
Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus simply improved upon the cheapo tyrant formula that came to dominate drive-in style cinema in the 60s and 70s. Technically, The Weinstein Brothers perfected the mold, taking the schlock-factory model and somehow managing to add genuine quality into the mix (a shocker, I know). But none did it quite like Golan & Globus, whose somewhat unbelievable rags to riches story was fueled by pure, maniacal love for cinema. And much like he captured the Outback mayhem that was Australian genre cinema in the 70s with Not Quite Hollywood, Mark Hartley has returned to give us The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Only by narrowing the focus of the film and making it much more about Golan & Globus as people (though the constant talking head impersonations of the brothers threaten to turn the cousins into cartoons), it gives Electric Boogaloo an intimate edge that the director’s previous cinema documentaries lacked. Frankly speaking, Mark Hartley’s third picture devoted to the niche racks at your local video store (or, more accurately in 2014: Netflix Queue) might be the best movie about movies since Ted Demme’s A Decade Under the Influence.
Unlike Machete Maidens Unleashed which, while successful in capturing the dispassionate process of exploitation filmmaking, also channeled its emotionless essence to the audience, Electric Boogaloo feels hot-blooded and humanistic. Menahem Golan was a man possessed by the imagination the silver screen contained. Unfazed by a lack of income, he charged headfirst into Israeli cinema like a bull, picture profits be damned. It wasn’t until he teamed up with his cousin, Yoram Globus, that he was given a business mind to balance out his bluntly bold approach to making a movie by any means necessary (an early story about the then-director turning an Uzi on an airplane pilot is only the tip of the madman’s iceberg of possessive drive). To wit, they were a symbiotic power couple, two independently operating sides of one brain that combined into a fully functional unit.
Together, the Israeli producers funded some of the craziest exploitation movies of the 1980s. Without them, what we’ve come to know as the American action picture would never exist, as they perfected the lone vigilante (with the scuzzy Death Wish sequels), the nu-ninja (with the Ninja and American Ninja franchises) and helped cement the “one man army” movie as a legitimate genre (Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action films, Invasion U.S.A. and The Delta Force). On top of those gonzo forays into cheapie diversion, the “Go-Go Boys” also worked with legitimate auteurs (John Cassavettes and Jean-Luc Godard) and somehow finagled their dime store knock-offs into the mainstream via MGM/United Artists.
Even for die-hard fans of the label, Hartley’s documentary will act as a healthy schlock refresher, while those unaware of Cannon’s bonkers greatness will be fool-hearted to not have a pad of paper with which to take notes. The very best pictures about cinematic time pockets double as “must see” lists, and Electric Boogaloo is no different. Much like many walked away from Not Quite Hollywood wanting to devour every single piece of Ozploitation they could get their hands on, there’s more than likely going to be a run on Cannon Films once this movie is released nationwide. However, one potential fear Electric Boogaloo fosters is that many will take to these movies as ironic love objects, only enjoyable with a a few beers or puffs of their favorite self-perscribed medicine. There is no Quentin Tarantino in Electric Booglaoo, blustering on about how almost all of these movies are undiscovered gems. If anything, many of the talking heads featured (particularly former MGM/UA head Frank Yablans) pretty much label every movie unwatchable trash (except for Lifeforce, which is called “Tobe Hooper’s Ben-Hur“*). Even the flat-out incredible Love Streams is downplayed as nothing more than a gimmick used by the brothers as a means to try to attract more credible talent to the factory-line production house.
Documentary connoisseurs will probably rip the film for its lack of formal inventiveness. This is, at the end of the day, still a “talking head” bit of non-fiction, with archival footage and clips from various Cannon Group oddities peppered in to break up the visual monotony. But when the stories told are this rousingly funny, it’s easy to overlook Hartley’s interview heavy “Behind the Music” style. If anything, Electric Boogaloo’s consistency with its predecessors is something to be admired, as it makes the case for Hartley being given the reigns to a weekly cinephile TV series, in which he chronicles some strange corner of film history with each episode. And at the end of every lesson, homework is given that you’re more than happy to complete, as novices and versed Cannon cultists alike will walk away wanting do nothing more than consume the B-Movie moguls’ many creations.
Like the great self-congratulators that they are, Golan and Globus commissioned their own Cannon Films doc as a kind of preemptive strike against Electric Boogaloo. Yet where the “Bad News Jews” trotted out a kind of “Cannon 101” with The Go-Go Boys, Hartley delivers an in-depth detailing of the rollercoaster highs and lows of the mini-studio’s history. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the lack of on-camera interviews from the cousins, but also acts as an excuse for Hartley to trot out numerous ex-stars, who use personal anecdotes as a means to verbally illustrate Cannon’s dubious business practices. Taking it on the chin the worst is superficially stuffy British director Michael Winner, who is remolded into a slave-driving maniac while on the set of the Death Wish movies. But that’s the utter beauty of Mark Hartley’s brand of tell-all delves into niche cinephilia — he leaves the guts and entrails out for you to marvel over, not be revolted by. There’s inspiration to be found in this evisceration, as Hartley’s enthusiasm for his subject, warts and all, is downright infectious.
*Which is now the only way I’ll ever refer to the film.