MIFF Review: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

Blogged by: Review by Filmme Fatales contributor Clem Bastow 08 Aug 2014 View comments
You could never accuse Mark Hartley of a lack of enthusiasm. The Australian writer and director breathes the same air (or, perhaps, nitrous oxide) as Morgan Spurlock, injecting a rabid, fan-like quality into the ordinarily staid world of documentary filmmaking. Where Spurlock goes broad, however, Hartley zeroes in on the obscure, and his latest – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films, the final installment in a trilogy that includes Not Quite Hollywood (2008) and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) – is perhaps his most definitively “Hartley-esque” affair.
 
After all, who else would consider Cannon Films – outrageously prolific purveyors of 1980s schlock like Ninja III: The Domination and Death Wish 4 – worthy of documentary treatment? All but the most dedicated exploitation obsessive would likely prefer the Cannon catalogue, save for a few notable exceptions like Godard’s King Lear, relegated to the VHS scrap-heap of history. But this is Mark Hartley, and for him, Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ foray into Hollywood is the stuff of legend.



And the Cannon catalogue, whichever way you look at it, certainly is legendary in its prolificness; they released 17 films in 1987 alone. Golan and Globus’ approach to green-lighting is well described by one interviewee, who refers to their having “thrown spaghetti at the wall”; occasionally, they’d stumble upon a hit, like 1984’s Breakin’, or something of worth, like Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly, but they were just as busy churning out dodgy sequels and witless zeitgeist-chasing disasters crammed with violence and sex.
 
Like Hartley’s previous documentaries, Electric Boogaloo is an energetic confection, buoyed by zippy editing and more-than-occasional use of animation. It also relies on the quality of its interviewees, among them Alex “Bill & Ted” Winter – providing surprisingly erudite criticism of the Death Wish sequels – and gruff former MGM CEO Frank Yablans, who might consider a course of talking therapy, given how raw the wounds sustained during his brief but colourful collaboration with Cannon still appear to be.
 
Where Electric Boogaloo falters is in the repetitious nature of its narrative (if there is one), as the film ploughs chronologically through Cannon’s output with a relentlessness approaching Golan-Globus’ own churn-’em-out model. This means that opportunities to explore the moral, artistic and political implications of some of the studio’s efforts – for example, the carte blanche given to English director Michael Winner, whose former stars and crewmembers recall as abusive and sadistic, or the anti-Arab sentiments of Chuck Norris vehicle The Delta Force – slip by as Hartley powers on to the next amusement.



The lack of involvement by Golan and Globus themselves is solved with judicious use of prior interviews (and also, in a taught postscript, provides the film’s biggest laugh), but does mean that any broader sense of why they did it, or how it felt to never quite be accepted by the Hollywood elite, is lacking.
 
Consequently, Electric Boogaloo leaves you feeling a little like a VHS schlock-fest marathon does: a little exhausted and slightly confused, but with fond memories of that one time a ninja spat two dozen spikes straight into the face of a bad dude.
 

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