LFF: Electric Boogaloo – The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films review

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films suffers from a very conspicuous absence, creating a gaping hole in what is an otherwise entertaining and informative documentary.

The film tells the rather bizarre story of Cannon Films, and the two Israeli cousins who ran the company for an amazing stretch in the 80s, challenging the big boys in Hollywood with a great deal of tenacity and not much taste. But these two cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, choose not participate in Mark Hartley’s documentary.

Golan and Globus’ decision not to appear has resulted in the addition of an amusing title card to the film, pointing out that the pair declined Hartley’s offer before rushing a rival documentary of their own into production and beating Boogaloo to market. This is a common tactic for the cousins, who regularly scrambled a film onto cinema screens to beat a competitor, paying less regard to the quality of what they were producing that would have been ideal.

That other documentary, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, is actually rather decent though and works as an excellent companion piece to Hartley’s film, rather than a rebuttal. Both films include plenty of unflattering anecdotes about the pair, and while many of the comments in Electric Boogaloo might be a little more barbed, The Go-Go Boys doesn’t shy away from some of the cousin’s flaws at all. It also gives a lot more detail about the unsavoury people the ended up making deals with during Cannon’s hard times.  My full review of The Go-Go Boys was published here at Film Divider during the Cannes Film Festival.

One way in which Hartley and his film excel is in looking at the films themselves and using them to effectively tell a story. Through discussions of Lemon Popsicle and its American remake The Last American VirginDeath Wish sequels, The Apple, Cyborg, Ninja II: Domination, Breakdance and many others, Hartley weaves a story about Cannon’s rise and fall, and the many ways in which the cousins’ passion was infectious and misguided.

Hartley’s approach with Electric Boogaloo is very similar to his previous documentaries Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! and Machete Maidens Unleashed, both of which also took a non-linear look at a defined area of film history. He’s a great storyteller, and uses a mixture of film clips, trailers and archival footage alongside newly recorded interviews to build an entertaining digest that zips by at quite a rapid pace.

Also returning from Hartley’s previous documentaries are editors Jamie Blanks and Sara Edwards, and they’ve really mastered the art of smashing together clips and multiple interviewees in order to build a flowing, cohesive feature. There’s a fun, frivolous quality to the film, with cuts for gags that keep the momentum going but also other, more telling associations and juxtapositions.

For example, talk of Golan’s biased portrayal of the terrorists in The Delta Force is intercut with the perfect shots from the film to really bring the point home. Perhaps it could be more nuanced, but the film’s lean edit gets the job done, and allows Hartley to keep moving on, attacking topic after topic.

Some of this brutal but elegant economy does is a little more problematic. The film recurrently comes around to the idea that Golan and Globus had a hard time fitting in with different cultures once they started making films outside of Israel. There are some worthwhile insights, including a section on the Americanisation of the original, Israeli Lemon Popsicle, but Hartley might be accused of falling back on Jewish stereotypes to make broad points about the cousins’ career in shorthand.

One particularly interesting insight comes in regard of Avi Lerner’s career, and the way in which modern Hollywood might be said to be built on the Cannon model. Lerner has had a great deal of success with films that are hardly top drawer material, and which feature stars – mostly action stars – that were either once famous, or perhaps famous for another reason, such as their martial arts abilities. Like the cousins did in the eighties, Lerner – and now much of Hollywood – will use pre-sales from foreign territories, home video, VOD and so on, in order to fund the production of movies. Often, they’ll make these pre-sales deals based simply on a title, an idea, the name of an attached star or director, or even just an eye-catching poster.

Walking through the Cannes film festival market a few years ago, I spotted a terrible promotional poster for an as-then unmade film. It was called White House Taken, and had Gerard Butler billed as the star. I found out that Lerner and Millennium Films were putting this project together in direct competition to Sony Pictures’ White House Down. White House Taken would of course become Olympus Has Fallen, and Lerner managed to beat Sony onto US screens.

Globus and Golan, who sadly passed away this year, may no longer be producing films but their legacy is still, for better or worse, shaping the way that Hollywood makes movies.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films does not yet have a confirmed release date for the UK or US but we’ll keep you posted.