Cannon Films—as owned and operated by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus from 1979 to 1989—was one of the most successful independent movie studios, turning out new films on what seemed like on a weekly basis. As a company, they were prolific in the amount of films they produced. Yet, they’re notoriously known primarily as purveyors of low budget schlocky exploitation films. And still, Cannon Films carries a certain reputation and, shall we say, a certain cache among cinephiles who grew up in the 1980s (which includes me). So much so that Cannon Films was recently the subject of not one but two documentaries produced in 2014: Mark Hartley’s Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films and Hilla Medalia’s The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, the latter of which screened yesterday as part of the 23rd annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival.
As subject of an inside-Hollywood documentary, there’s fewer more interesting figures than Golan and Globus. Though what seems like sheer chutzpah and an unbridled love of the movies, Golan and Globus made careers out of trying to give audiences what they wanted. Cannon Films helped define popular culture in the 1980s. Through their films, they helped popularize breakdancing (Breakin’, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo—both released the same year!), ninjas (Ninja III: The Domination, American Ninja), Chuck Norris (Delta Force, Invasion U.S.A.), Charles Bronson (the Death Wish sequels), and Jean-Cluade Van Damme (Bloodsport)—that’s a lot of things from just one company (they were also responsible for other 80s-defining products like the Sylvester Stallone-starring movies Cobra and Over the Top, and the live-action He-Man movie Masters of the Universe.)
In direct comparison, Medalia’s documentary isn’t as lively or as clip-heavy as Hartley’s, but The Go-Go Boys makes for a fine companion piece. Her film spends a more time on Golan and Globus’ pre-Cannon days and upbringing, as well as on their personal lives. It’s surprisingly stately-made considering the salacious material of Cannon Films. There is still lots of fun in The Go-Go Boys, including one terrific anecdote about a waiter-slash-aspiring actor that ends with the most perfect cutaway.
It’s safe to say that the majority of films produced by Cannon were dismissed (many rightly so) critically, and there’s an interesting scene with Golan who refuses to talk about his failures, saying he’s erased them from his life. It’s fair he wouldn’t want to drudge up sore spots in a film about his career, but it also points to his character and work ethic. Films like Over the Top and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace were higher-budgeted and high-profile flops for Cannon, though Golan never stopped to dwell or perhaps even learn from any mistakes—he just kept on making movies.
Golan and Globus are fascinating subjects, and Cannon Films has such a rich history—and is an important piece of Hollywood history—worth exploring that I wish The Go-Go Boys went a little more in-depth; at 85 minutes it just barely scratches the surface (though it’s the about the average length of a Cannon film, so that’s a nice touch). Yet, the film is certainly worth seeking out (as is the Hartley doc) for cinephiles, or even those who want to see a different side of Hollywood in a documentary, one that’s not so self-aggrandizing or congratulatory.
The Go-Go Boys screens again on Saturday, May 9 at 9 p.m. at the ROM Theatre. Details and ticket information can be found here.
And for the record, Cannon did produce a handful of legitimate and critically-acclaimed films in John Cassavetes’ Love Streams, Andrey Konchalovskiy’s Runaway Train, Robert Altman’s Fool for Love, Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear, Franco Zeffirelli’s Otello, and Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly among others.