LFF 2014: Cannon Films gets an affectionate profile in ‘Electric Boogaloo’

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Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Written and directed by Mark Hartley
Australia/USA/Israel/UK, 2014

Australian documentarian Mark Hartley crafts his third vigorous valentine to exploitation cinema, alongside Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed!, with Electric Boogaloo, an explosive trawl through the snarling ferocity of Cannon Films before its inevitable bankruptcy in the early 1990s. Whilst the former documentary in the cycle celebrated the boom in Ozploitation cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, and Maidens! took a appreciative scan of the laxly monitored Philippine film factory, this time the viewfinder shifts to the excessive and action packed oeuvre of Israeli movie moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whose 1979-founded company became an explosive production house in Hollywood during the Reagan-mandated 1980s. Much to the disgust of snooty critics and prestige-minded executives, Cannon (an apt name) forged repeated success due to their box office-incinerating brand of chaotic, cheap and politically dubious action and exploitation films, bringing the grim jaw lines of Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone to international markets.

Anyone who perused the VHS boxes of their local hire store during their misspent cinephile youth will be familiar with the grim oeuvre of Norris’ Vietnam revisions, of the scandalous tabloid fear-mongering  of the Death Wish franchise, or the musical ear for contemporary youth culture  that the studio embraced, with the odd science fiction and alien invasion atrocity thrown into the shopping cart for good measure.  The documentary spools through low-brow classics such as Lifeforce, Invasion USA, Kings Solomon’s Mines, Invaders From Mars,and dozens of clones with a respect they questionably deserve, pandering to their youth-orientated audience with shoddy production values,  copious nudity, and exhilarating violence which kept the juvenile congregation grinning throughout the lurid and colourful pyrotechnics.

Lifeforce (1985)

Lifeforce (1985)

Deploying an ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ approach that apes the Golan’s production credo, Hartley reprises the format set in the earlier two installments of this series, with Electric Boogaloo being comprised of pull-quote interviews with the movers and shakers both in front and behind the cameras, interspersed with amusing excerpts from the films and promotional trailers to punch up the tempo. The tone is defiantly more anecdote than analysis – there is little examination on the emergence of the right-wing Übermensch during the period, exemplified in the personas of Stallone, Norris and Schwarzenegger for example – but the thoroughly entertaining cantor through two decades of carnage serves as a contemporary reminder of the phase of American cinema which connects the so-called Golden Age of 1970s  to todays franchise superheroics which now form the blockbuster buttress of the industry.

Committed fans can wallow with the production histories of the Israeli sex-comedy Lemon Popsicle series and its American retread The Last American Virgin, the hip-hop dilution of both Breakin’ and Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo (the self-important recollections of which are hilarious), and the increasingly conservative action films whose parade of olive-skinned evil seem archaic in these more politically correct times. Electric Boogaloo is crucial viewing for the B-movie massive, prompting one question as the final credits roll: what movement will Hartley affectionately assault next?

– John McEntee

Visit the official website of the BFI London Film Festival.




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