Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

In the 80s, while under the stewardship of Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the Cannon Films production company made dozens and dozens of movies. This included work by directors such as Franco Zeffirelli and Jean-Luc Godard, involving high prestige actors like Meryl Streep, John Gielgud, Lauren Bacall and Alec Guinness but most of their output was mid to low budget action or skin flicks like Bolero, Mata Hari, Death Wish II through to IV and Delta Force 1, 2 and 3. Trying hard to ride the zeitgeist they also made a selection of dance films, most notably Breakin’ and its rushed follow up Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. So bad was this last movie that its title has become synonymous with awful pictures and terrible sequels in particular. If people want to suggest a second instalment is unwise and misjudged they will refer to it with this subtitle, e.g. Captain Phillips 2: Electric Boogaloo. 

This documentary tells the story of Golan, Globus and Cannon and is on a computer screen very near and a cinema screen probably very far away from you right now. Films about films generally tend to concentrate on the people behind the scenes rather than what they produce but if they can’t balance this with an examination of the movies themselves then this can be frustrating, at least for cineastes like me. Life Itself, the doc about film critic Roger Ebert inevitably tipped the wrong way on this but there are others like All or Nothing, the film about 50 years of Bond, and The Story of Children and Film that get it right.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films also manages to focus nicely on both the men and the movies they made. Menahem Golan was by all accounts the absolute epitome of the megalomaniac Hollywood producer and through talking head interviews this documentary gives a lot of those accounts. Most of the interviewees are various entertaining but unrecognisable writers, directors, composers and actors who worked for the company in its heyday but there are some familiar faces in the crowd too including Bo Derek, Elliott Gould, Molly Ringwald, Richard Chamberlain, Dolph Lundgren and (the ridiculous to the sublime) Zeffirelli himself who sings the praises of Golan and says he’s the best he’s ever worked with. 

In archive film footage we also get appearances from Sylvester Stallone, Brooke Shields, Sharon Stone, Faye Dunaway, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman (one of Cannon’s most famous failures was Superman IV), Mickey Rourke and the great Hammer triumvirate Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and the recently departed Christopher Lee who all appeared together in some kind of Horror Expendables; House of the Long Shadows in 1983. Of course there is also plenty of the company’s main stars Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

It is in these film clips that the movies get showcased which is appropriate as these flicks are quite capable of speaking for themselves. In spite of or because of the edited nature of these celluloid highlights you really get a sense of how truly terrible these features were. The acting, the dialogue, the effects and the gratuitous nudity and violence are unbelievably bad but it is all highly compelling. It is like being drawn to stare at a car crash if the car were being driven by a ninja with a naked lady in the passenger seat and box of running chainsaws in the boot and if it had collided with a fibreglass spaceship and a tank. 

Since this documentary doesn’t shy away from the content of Cannon’s back catalogue it has earned a 15 certificate and to be fair, with all its clips, I think it may feature more bare breasts than any other movie. The film has also increased my sensitivity to bad dialogue and cheesiness so that’s an extra hurdle for the rest of this Summer’s blockbusters to get over in my eyes. Be warned Jurassic World, I’m now less forgiving of clićhe.

Clearly like any documentary they have omitted certain facts for the sake of a good story. Golan’s ex colleagues are forever telling of how he blindly expected his next movie to be the big one, lifting the studios finances and reputation, but there is no mention of the genuinely good films the company made like Little Dorrit, A Cry in the Dark or The Company of Wolves. Nonetheless it is hard to escape the amount of dirge these guys put out and if you love cinema and great movies then there is genuine pleasure in seeing all these bad ones. 

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