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Non-Review Review: Electric Boogaloo – The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

There is a lot of affection on display in Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

Sure, it’s the kind of affection that comes qualified with awkward laughter and wry self-aware sarcasm, but it seems like a lot of the participants in this documentary exploring the eventful life of the infamous film studio are pleasantly surprised that the ride lasted as long as it did. If there is one big recurring motif throughout the film, it is sheer wonderment at how the studio managed to continue operating – churning out questionable film after questionable film. There are commentators who seem in awe at the factory-like conditions of the studio.

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To be fair, Electric Boogaloo does afford a platform to those commentators with legitimate grievances against the studio. Writers lament the changes that their scripts went through, actors make observations about questionable choices made by directors, partners observe the difficulty of dealing with material churned out by the studio. More than one commentator offers their own crude impression of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. However, most of these observations come from a place of mild bemusement or open awe at what the studio got away with doing.

Writer and director Mark Hartley covers an impressive amount of material in his documentary, even if it suffers a bit from lack of focus. There is an incredible energy and sense of fun about the whole project – acknowledging that Golan and Globus had a tremendous influence on how the movie industry currently works, without romanticising their process. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a fascinating watch for any film fan.

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Balance seems to be the key here. Hartley gives a platform to each and every side of the debate. Although Golan and Globus declined to appear in the film themselves, the movie affords space to both critics and proponents – friends and enemies. There are those who have legitimate grievances with how the duo conducted their business – Bo Derek recalls how the pair stole personal photographs from her purse to use in publicity material. However, there are also those who will acknowledge that Golan and Globus helped to shape modern Hollywood in their own way.

The Cannon Group operated under Golan and Globus through the eighties – with an additional stretch at either end. However, given the prolific nature of the studio, that leaves an awful lot of material for the documentary to cover. Hartley opts to tackle the studio on a film-by-film basis, hitting most of the major motion pictures produced by the studio. However, there are constraints on a two-hour documentary. To pick an arbitrary example, Franco Zeffirelli’s Otello is covered while Fons Rademakers’ The Assault is glossed over.

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It is the nature of any project like this that a large part of the documentary is editing the focus down so as to cover all the big points while also conveying a sense of mood and atmosphere. The stories told in Electric Boogaloo are so compelling that the viewer almost wishes that Hartley would set up a mini-enterprise producing individual documentaries for many of the titles featured. There are lots of little tangents and issues raised by Electric Boogaloo that would almost support their own documentary features.

Certainly, the stories behind Breakin’ and Lifeforce could easily be extended out into half-hour features on their own merits. Characters like director Michael Winner are mentioned a couple of times, but seem like they would merit their own discussion or feature. The nature of the documentary means that the film only has limited time to devote to issues like Cannon’s franchising of its successes – Charles Bronson’s attitude towards the interminal Death Wish sequels or the opulence of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo or the confusion over Texas Chainsaw Massacre II.

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And, yet, Hartley captures the essence of what needs to be said. It is fascinating to hear those involved in the production of Breakin’ discuss what they see as the legacy of the project. It is heartbreaking to hear Michael Dudikoff talk about the mismanagement of his career following the launching pad of American Ninja. The stories about Golan pitching the plot of Going Bananas to Clyde the monkey from Any Which Way But Loose is a hilarious example of the sort of absurdity that seemed to be occurring on a daily basis.

However, despite all the many problems with the way that Cannon Films did business, Electric Boogaloo retains some affection for the studio. At the end, commentators argue that the Weinstein Company effectively adopted the model proposed by the Cannon Group, albeit one tempered by taste. The documentary also suggests that the legacy of those terrible eighties action movies can be seen in bigger-budget B-movies like Olympus Has Fallen. It’s hard not to wonder what Golan would do in the age of CGI.

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Electric Boogaloo is a movie that captures a lot of the confusion and absurdity around on of Hollywood’s most controversial production houses. It is recommended viewing for any film fans with an interest in eighties b-movies or the insanity of Hollywood productions.

All audience members are asked to rank films in the festival from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, here is my score: 3

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