I have a confession to make: I never really liked the 80’s action hero stereotype. Even when I was a kid, the ultra-violent, one-liner spewing alpha males left me rolling my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I love action movies and I love action movie heroes. But there was something about the simple-minded, self-certitude of the Arnie Schwarzenegger/Chuck Norris variety that never added up for me. But I was an anomaly growing up in northern Idaho during the 80’s. I seemed to have the ability to see that there were situations concerning right and wrong that were difficult to answer if you thought about them for a moment. And thinking about right and wrong for more than a moment wasn’t really what the 80’s were all about. And most of the action, science fiction and horror movies of that time were synched to that pulse.
Upon watching Mark Hartley’s 2014 Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, a lot of what I disliked (and loved) about the films of my youth has a new perspective for me. The documentary explores the story of Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus’ invasion of the Hollywood studio system. I found the film to be an addicting blast of nostalgia I never realized I had as well as a story that is both inspiring and cautionary for indie filmmakers of today.
Electric Boogaloo doesn’t tell cannon’s story in strict chronological order. It starts at the beginning, focusing primarily on Golan’s early career, but then cannonball’s directly into the turbid waters of company’s overall output and business practices. The profile adeptly paints the picture of Golan as the energetic, if sometimes clueless dreamer pairing with the business savvy Globus to create a sort of dynamic duo.
The two cousins had already found success in their native Israel as independent filmmakers when they decided to expand their horizons by buying the Cannon Group production studio from Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey in 1979. At that point the company had a library consisting of mostly soft porn titles.
The two then applied a business model that has been mirrored by several other companies since: quantity over quality. The film shows Golan quipping that he wouldn’t know how to make a thirty million dollar movie other than to use the money to make thirty movies. This bulk-buy approach had several disadvantages, the top being rushed production killing any chances for craftsmanship and refining of the end product. Hartley demonstrates in Boogaloo how most of Cannon’s output was a mess when it came to story and the deeper aspects of character building. There simply wasn’t time for that in the fast-paced world of Cannon 25-30 film a year slate.
The general idea of this was kind of brilliant. Film is a mercurial art and business that is heavily tied to the uncertainties of mass tastes. Production companies have always struggled with how to decipher what will be a hit and what will be a flop. Even the most celebrated guru will often be wrong in a huge way. The history of film is littered with great films that were not box office successes in their day but have found new acclaim and profit with later audiences. Golan and Globus hit upon the very simple solution to this problem by significantly increasing output to improve the odds of finding those hits.
The Golan and Globus, the so-called “Go-Go Boys” lived a story that is in many ways inspirational to indie filmmakers everywhere in that they saw through the curtain of mystery and magic that the big studios wove around the industry to create a perception that they were the only gatekeepers to the art of film. They saw the reality that making money with films is, in some ways like selling any creative product. You don’t need anyone’s permission to come up with new ways find and reach an audience.
That system worked for them too. While the Cannon library was actually very diverse in genre, they found success with audiences through what became the iconic 80’s action flick. Films like Delta Force, Enter the Ninja, Death Wish II and Invasion U.S.A. tapped into America’s need to feel strong and protected during the Cold War. They reflected our penchant to carry on that conflict against the without looking too closely at our enemy or ourselves. In the actual Cold War, this was a natural reaction to the perceived stakes of nuclear annihilation. Within the fictional world of the Cannon action flick, it was mostly a product of de-emphasizing craft in favor of output. But the net effect was to add to a sort of echo chamber jingoistic violence glorification in the American psyche that reverberates even today. Cannon wasn’t the only producer of cultural artifacts to do stir this pot in the 80’s, but they were certainly worked the spoon more than most.