THOUGH I’ve not (yet) seen Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, its title has become synonymous with curdled schlock. It’s the kind of unbridled ridiculousness that warps the bounds of good taste, disregards common sense and throws rampant caution to the wind. More pertinently, it lends its name to Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, a documentary exploring the rise of the Cannon Group, spearheaded by the larger-than-life duo of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
For those familiar with Film Torments, Golan-Globus and Cannon have been a recurring feature. Responsible for bankrolling such awful epics as The Apple, Invasion U.S.A. and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Cannon were at the forefront of movie production in a Hollywood that loathed them, churning out pictures by the dozens at the height of the corporate 80s. Director Mark Hartley, maker of Not Quite Hollywood, a not dissimilar glance at Ozploitation, uses extensive, anecdotal interviews with various luminaries within the Cannon canon to frame his narrative of wild ambition and shattered dreams.
Beginning with Golan’s career in Israel and his partnership with Globus, The Wild, Untold Story charts their meteoric rise through the ranks of Hollywood (including a brief partnership with MGM) that saw them act as a high-adrenaline, nonsense-peddling alternative to the slick production values of the big studios. The duo treated film production as a conveyor belt, valuing quantity over quality, pushing dubious stars like Chuck Norris, Michael Dudikoff and Bo Derek while giving a chance to maverick directors like Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes and even Norman Mailer.
It’s as compelling and schlock-tastic as any Cannon feature, and equally hilarious. Hartley splices his interviews (among them Tobe Hooper, Bo Derek, Molly Ringwald etc) and archival footage with gut-busting clips from their films, lacing the frame with wry nostalgia and warm appreciation. Hartley’s clear affection for this particular niche shines through, even to the extent that his journalism suffers. Golan and Globus’ shadier dealings go largely unscrutinised, and their impact on the British industry is quickly skirted over (at one point they owned Elstree!), but the tone throughout is one of snarky fondness with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Until Franco Zeffirelli chimes in. Zeffirelli, esteemed Shakespearean adaptor, was allowed to direct his Otello as part of Cannon’s ploy for creative integrity. Seemingly on the verge of tears and recounting his inability to get financed elsewhere, Zeffirelli’s gratitude to Golan and Globus for his opportunity is boundless. It’s a tacit reminder, amidst an otherwise endless barrage of action, fantasy and sci-fi garbage, that Golan and Globus adored the medium of film, no matter how tactless their approach to producing may have been.
Neither were directly involved in the film’s release. (They were busy making their own version of events: The Go-Go Boys, which beat Hartley’s film to release by two months.) Golan died just before the film’s festival premiere, but Hartley reveres them all the same. They were exceptional raconteur salesmen, pitching a movie on its poster alone (and improvising a premise, star and director long before a script was ready), but they also strived to succeed in an industry that despised them, enduring their sneers and shaking the very foundations of the business.
The Wild, Untold Story encapsulates everything that made Cannon wonderful. Hartley’s editing is lightning fast, ricocheting between interviews and clips with riotous elan, deftly condensing the studio’s spirit into something wildly, gloriously tactless. It’s also far more interesting than most of the films they ever produced; it’s easy to forget, in the glow of remembered joy, that 85% of Cannon’s prolific output was utter rubbish. But much of Cannon’s virtues were held within that rubbish, within the bosom of beautiful schlock, the kind that brings people together in raucous laughter.
Their rise was unpredictable, their fall perhaps inevitable, but Hartley has ensured their legacy – present in the likes of The Expendables and Olympus Has Fallen – will be remembered fondly.