Separated at the Studio


One of my first jobs out of high school in the late 80s was as a clerk in a mom-n-pop video rental store.  Now, The Kids Today aren't going to fully appreciate what a big deal video rental was at the time.  Cable had far fewer selections than it does now, and far, far fewer of them were any good.  You pretty much had the options of watching broadcast network TV when it was on, going to the movies, watching the same limited rotation of cable programming, or renting videos.  The video store was the introduction of viewer choice on a grand scale.  All of the options and control that video rental provided totally mitigated the hassle of hitching up the horses to leave the farm.

Video stores were the Netflix of the day -- which shouldn't come as a particular surprise when you remember where Netflix came from, but it's important to carry over the cultural significance of Netflix now and apply it to the rental shops of the 80s.  They're all but gone now, but they were important in their time.  In a video store, not only could you catch up on cinema hits in your own time, but you quickly learned about viewing options you didn't even know existed, thanks to the garish and lurid posters that socially savvy studios schlepped onto stores.  "Straight to Video" supplanted the grindhouse and drive-in theaters, and the companies knew that the poster was a MUCH larger percentage of their marketing than they were for bigger budget films.

Which is to say, I became pretty familiar with the releases from The Cannon Group/Golan-Globus Productions, because they always came with a box of posters.  By "familiar" I mean it didn't take long for me to recognize a certain pattern -- "Golan-Globus Productions" on the outside means "cheap and stupid" on the inside.

Their names have been a go-to punchline for me for 25 years now, but I've never really gotten the story on who they were, why they made so many lousy movies, and where they went.  Well, as Lawrence Kasdan wrote in his film Grand Canyon, "All of life's riddles are solved in the movies."

You just have to wait long enough, I suppose, because I just recently saw a new documentary about the rise and fall of Cannon Films and the Israeli cousins who ran it, Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus.

This film is:
Electric Boogaloo:The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - 2014
Written & Directed by Mark Hartley

This film is:
Written by Hilla Medalia & Daniel Sivan
Directed by Hilla Medalia

This documentary tells the story of two cousins from Israel who come to America to make movies.

This documentary tells the story of two cousins from Israel who go to America to make movies.

Electric Boogaloo has clear affection for its subject; film.  It follows a well-structured arc that tracks Golan & Globus from their Israeli success to their American ambition and excess and ultimately their economic downfall -- an apparent natural outcome of Golan's character and hubris.

Go-Go Boys has clear affection for its subject; Menahem Golan.  It follows a poorly structured narrative arc that tracks Golan & Globus from their Israeli success to their American ambition and excess and ultimately their economic downfall -- the apparent result of everyone's actions but their own.

While Menahem Golan's psychology and personality are clearly essential to telling the story of who he is and what he did, it is but the engine, driving the narrative about their low-budget, low-brainpower, low-brow secret of success.  In embracing the grand scale of this character, it shows how his passion for film entwined with his tone-deafness to quality, his dangerously ambitious sales techniques, and his irresponsibility with money, which made Yoram Globus such an essential co-conspirator and enabler.

While Menahem Golan's psychology and personality are clearly essential to telling the story of who he is and what he did, this film just stops there.  It eschews the stronger narrative and the celebration of film in favor of an incomplete personality profile.  It embraces the grand scale of the character, and then never lets go, failing to pull back enough to give us a fuller perspective.  The film is primarily interested in celebrating Golan... in Golan's own words, and without much of the bigger story.

Boogaloo was in production over a few years.  It is packed with interviews and film clips, and edited with a subject-appropriate energy and enthusiasm.  It does NOT have interviews with Golan or Globus beyond what file footage it pulled together.

Go-Go Boys was produced over a few months.  It has fewer interview subjects and film clips, but it has more interview content and personal photos from people closer to Golan & Globus.  It DOES have interviews with Golan & Globus, but that may not be what it needs.

As it turns out, Electric Boogaloo is a fond, but fair documentary by Mark Hartley, who has directed several documentaries about the fringes of film.  When Hartley contacted Golan and Globus for interviews, it turned out that they suddenly, and without and previous indication, were backing another documentary about them.  This would become The Go-Go boys, directed by Hilla Medalia, a documentarian primarily telling the stories of Israeli life.  The difference is significant, and while Medalia has a more highly rated list of credits, Go-Go Boys falls short of the honesty that she must use in her other works.  In classic Cannon form, it also beat Boogaloo to release by 3 weeks.

In Boogaloo, we get interviews with many of the filmmakers who worked closely with Golan & Globus, and stars of many of their films.  The range reaches from the highly botoxed Laurene Landon who sets fire to the DVD of her film (I want to say America 3000) to Franco Zeffirelli who calls Golan the best producer he ever worked with ("He left me alone.").  The films are core.

In Go-Go Boys, we get interviews with more of the Israeli filmmakers who worked with Golan & Globus and a few stars, but also their families, and most of all, we get the cousins themselves.  The picture here is an interesting one.  The more Golan talks (and you get the impression he does a lot of that), the more he reveals of himself, albeit not necessarily in the way he intends.  The relationship is core.

Both films use a quote from an old interview with Golan & Globus, although the context of each colors its meaning.  "We are unique partners, I think... more than brothers.  We forge each others signatures on checks, if you understand that.  It's the maximum where you can get to."  Both films use this as an example of their close interaction, but only Boogaloo provides the context to cast the light of caution on the signature forging.

Hartley approaches the subject as a film buff, which is apt to be the way that most viewers will be approaching the film.  He has no loyalty here to anything but the story and the celebration of movies that, admittedly, may not deserve celebration.  While overall very upbeat and fond of his subject, Hartley pulls no punches when addressing Golan's faults.  Menahem Golan is clearly a larger-than-life (and yet all-too-human) character.  He has a deep passion for movies, which one interviewee would describe as a child's love, without discernment for quality.  His focused and driven personality led him to success, but it's also what led him to failure.  He pitched posters before he had a script and took distribution payments in advance to fund his films.  His business model was based on market share; producing more movies faster and cheaper than the studio system, with quality only serving as a gimmick to bestow legitimacy.  He short-changed, deceived and harangued most of the people who worked with him.  He paid Stallone more than his asking price (sparking the $20 Million Paycheck Race in 90s Hollywood) in a desperate bid to break into top tier action.  And when his unsustainable business practices caught up with him, he made a deal with a shady Italian "businessman" to survive, that ended up costing him an empire.

Medalia approaches the subject as an Israeli who was hired by Globus Productions, which might be more interesting to the Israeli television audience for who it originally aired than it is to the casual film buff.  Her loyalty is clearly with her subjects, which is a slight advantage... and a HUGE problem.  While Medalia pulls all of her punches, I have come to question whether she had genuine affection for the subject.  While she never questions his narrative or takes him to task, she DOES, at times, appear to give Golan enough room to indict himself through his own self-centered nature.  Menahem Golan is clearly a larger-than-life (and seemingly more-than-human) character.  He has a deep passion for movies that extends back to childhood, and may be deeply convoluted with acceptance issues.  He pitched posters for movies before he had a script, but that was super-innovative and not-at-all shady and irresponsible, you guys!  Many people said mean things about his movies, but they were just jealous they don't understand immigrants and they never made 50 movies in a year.  His cheapness was just "hard work."  His business faltered due to elitist reviewers and studio system sabotage and had nothing to do with him paying Stallone $10-13 million for a movie about a truck driver winning back his son's love through the visually magnificent sport of arm wrasslin'.  Cousin Yoram was seduced away from him by the Mafia accountant.  Yoram, for his own part, is somewhat honest about having been exhausted with being Menahem's enabler, unable to keep pulling $5 million a month out of the air to support his cousin's film making habit and gross ambition.  The only time we see the cracks in Golan's story are when A) Globus offers an alternate perspective on situations, although these are often tempered from decades of habitual coddling of Golan's overbearing personality, and B) when Golan won't shut up and his excuses begin to beg the very questions he was trying to prevent.

Electric Boogaloo is structured as a narrative, telling the story of two men (but one in particular) who capitalized on their success at home to come to America, challenge Hollywood as hubristic outsiders who thought they (he) knew a better way, and meeting with the kind of poetic fate that has been found in tales of hubris for millennia.  Along the way, they (he) were responsible for a LOT of bad movies, and a few good ones, which we can now celebrate as nostalgic artifacts, as well as recognizing how their focus on serving the lowest-common-denominator would come to influence a generation of film makers.

The Go-Go Boys is structured as a character study, paying homage to two men (but one in particular) who capitalized on their success at home to GO TO America, teach Hollywood a lesson about film making, and falling victim to jealousy, conspiracy and betrayal through no fault of their (his) own, save for an unbridled passion for movies.  Along the way, they (he) were responsible for crowd-pleasing (if often misunderstood) films which underwrote their charitable work with European art house directors like Goddard & Zeffirelli.  In the end, they returned to the welcoming bosom of Israel, where all was redeemed, if not forgotten.

In the parallel universe created by the coexistence of Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films and The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, the evil universe goatee must go to...

...The Go-Go Boys.  Even in telling their own story, they can't help but muck it up with unbelievable heroes and villains.

Which is not to say that there is nothing redeeming in Go-Go Boys.  If you see only one documentary about Cannon Films, then that HAS to be Electric Boogaloo.  But once you've seen that and still think "Say, I could really go for a character study about these guys, now that I have some context," then Go-Go Boys does play an interesting counterpoint.  Don't rely on Menahem's talent for storytelling, and you just might find yourself entertained.

This is the first in a summer series of articles about Cannon Films/Golan-Globus Productions.  Having taken care of the backstory here, the rest of the series will feature specific Cannon productions, and in the interest of fun and partnership, many of them will include special guest stars!  So make like Chuck Norris and kick it with us here at Media Bliss.

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