Published on April 9th, 2015 | by Tom May0
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films – Review
I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard the name ‘Electric Boogaloo’ before. If only as the go-to jokey insult you’d stick on to the name of some unnecessary sequel, rather than the actual bad sequel to a surprisingly successful movie about breakdancing that it originated from. I wouldn’t say it’s the most flattering title to give your film, but in the case of a documentary about Cannon Films – B-movie moguls of the ’80s and also the geniuses who first came up with that equally horrible and amazing subtitle – it actually fits. The story of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo features as little more than a footnote in Mark Hartley’s captivating documentary, just one more amusing anecdote in the rich, weird tapestry of Cannon Films that Hartley has astutely woven. But that doesn’t make it any less fitting of a name. By the end of it, chances are you’ll understand there’s just something distinctly ‘Cannon’ about it.
To be honest, I was a little worried going into the film. I was just shy of being born an ’80s child, so I hadn’t grown up with the very specific brand of shlock that Cannon Films peddled. It’s safe to say that I hadn’t seen any of those Cannon ‘greats’ that Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is wearing on its sleeve. My fear was that it’d be one of those ‘you had to be there’ things that’d go right over my head, and that it’d be a waste of two hours for anyone who didn’t remember those good old days of the 1980s. It probably didn’t help that I overheard a couple of guys having some fond, nostalgic recollections about it all in the audience before the film had started.
Luckily this isn’t the case. The nostalgic stuff is obviously there to tap into for anyone who can appreciate it, but it definitely isn’t necessary for you to know anything about Cannon’s catalogue of films or to even think particularly highly of them. Electric Boogaloo does a great job of informing its audience with a generous showing of clips from Cannon’s massive catalogue strewn throughout the documentary. Enough to paint you a clear picture of what Cannon was about, especially with these exploitation flicks being so one-note and simple to begin with, but not enough to completely spoil any of those monuments to Cannon’s excess if you ever wanted to watch them yourself. (I’m not judging.) Hartley’s love and enthusiasm for the exploitation genre is undeniable when you take into account every other documentary that he’s directed so far, not to mention trying his hand at an exploitation film of his own. This love shines through in Electric Boogaloo, but what’s more impressive is Hartley’s understanding that not everyone in the audience will necessarily share his enthusiasm. Maybe that’s why the films aren’t the true focus of Hartley’s documentary. Each of them serve only as a piece, providing context to Electric Boogaloo’s real story: Cannon Films.
Whatever else you can say about Cannon Films – and by the end of this documentary you’re probably going to want to say a lot – they were, in the very least, a movie studio. But that’s not exactly what I’ve meant every time that I’ve mentioned Cannon Films in this review so far. Many of those same people who worked as a part of Cannon to produce some of this truly awe-inspiring crap play a large part in the interviews that make up the lion’s share of the documentary, providing some much appreciated perspective ‘on the frontlines’ so to speak. But when I, and the documentary too, say Cannon, I’m really talking about two men: Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Electric Boogaloo is truly their story: a bizarre buddy comedy about two cousins who came to the US from Israel to make American films for Americans. In some ways it’s as disastrous as you might think. Golan and Globus did not make good films despite their intentions, and Hartley makes no effort to try and mislead the audience by saying otherwise. But they did make an awful lot of them, and you’re effectively encouraged to take a different perspective when looking at Cannon’s work. Quality almost begins to seem like a non-issue when you hear about Golan and Globus’ initial success. Despite their obvious shortcomings as filmmakers, the audience is invited to discover what they got right. An early idea brought up by one of the interviewees were that Gohan and Globus were ultimately very effective salesmen. And at one point in some archive footage Menahem Globus argues that what they do is born out of a love of film. The documentary runs with these ideas that in their own unconventional way Cannon was doing something different, and more importantly special. It’s hard not to hold some fondness for the Israeli cousins, if only for how they shook up and perturbed Hollywood with their antics.
But the documentary never risks slipping into being overly sentimental and saccharine about men who were very obviously controversial. There’s no messy attempts at trying to cover up Cannon’s inescapable tendency towards the sordid and shocking to draw their audiences, and it’s appreciated to not be treated like an idiot. Cannon’s penchant for bad taste is on full display and Hartley wisely doesn’t try to excuse any of it. Time is even given to several interviewees who make no bones about their negative opinion of Golan and Globus, most notably actress Marina Sirtis and the man who happened to be CEO of MGM during an apparently disastrous partnership with Cannon. Golan and Globus were often coarse and tasteless, and it’s refreshing that Hartley doesn’t try to whitewash them as otherwise.
Ultimately this documentary is about telling a story, just as the subtitle of the film suggests. There’s a compelling narrative to be told about these two men and the production studio they spearheaded into influence as well as infamy, before leading them to inevitable ruin. Hartley expertly cuts back and forth between candid talking head interviews, records of Golan and Globus’ antics, and clips from the films being discussed at a relentless pace like one long, very extended anecdote that doesn’t stop to take a breather until the very end. Such a pace kept my attention throughout, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people are left feeling a little out of breath by the end of a running time that almost hits the two hour mark. Don’t let that deter you from hearing about the wonderfully surreal careers of Golan – a man who tried to sincerely direct an orangutan into acting greatness before finally giving up and using a dwarf in a bad suit instead – and the marginally more sane Globus, who just bought most of Britain’s cinema chains on a whim for a hot minute instead.
I think there’s no greater compliment that can be paid to a documentary than to say that it takes a subject that you didn’t previously know or care about and manages to turn it into something that you feel strongly about. Chances are, one way or another, Electric Boogaloo will do just that.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is currently touring film festivals and select screenings but should be seeing some form of release later this year.
Need to consume more about this film? Check out this interview with the director conducted by our very own Greg Payne!