Starring- Tobe Hooper, Dolph Lundgren, Richard Chamberlain, Franco Nero, Bo Derek, Pete Walker, Alex Winter.
Cast your mind back to the 80’s and in some way or form you may remember Cannon Films. I specifically recall them from my childhood, as they used to be the owners or rather the name of our local two screen cinema, in my hometown in Southport, where I saw many films, particularly MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (which was made by Cannon and is featured in this documentary). If it wasn’t cinema chains that they were owning, or studios that they were buying, Cannon were one of the strongest and most recognisable film companies in the 80’s and their mere name or mention of it does bring up images of 80’s cinema. Going forward and after already doing two superb documentary’s on genre cinema from around the world, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, which focused on Australian exploitation cinema, and MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASED, which looked at the burgeoning genre film making in the Philippines in the 70’s, Mark Hartley is back with a new documentary looking at Cannon films.
Following the similar format of his previous documentary’s, Hartley focuses on talking head interviews interspersed with archive behind the scenes footage and clips from some of the outlandish and often crazed Cannon back catalogue, that provides a fast paced but none the less thrilling and ultimately entertaining portrayal of the two men behind Cannon films. Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, where two film loving cousins from Israel, who had a passion for cinema for an early age and already established themselves as successful producers in their native country, making the critical lauded but commercially successful teen sex comedy LEMON POPSICLE, which they would later produce an American remake under Cannon films as THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN.
Golan and Globus eventually went over to America, where they brought up grindhouse exploitation outfit Cannon films and set about an almost factory esque production line method of making films that where mostly trash and forgettable b-movie fodder. Yet there market for making movie upon movie would sometimes yield success with such a film like BREAKIN, which brought break dancing to the screen for the first time and made them a ton of money, eventually leading to the inevitable BREAKIN sequels. It also led to insane genre mish mash films such as NINJA 3: THE DOMINATION a film that combines a ninja film, possession horror and Flashdance-esque aerobic dance scenes.
Cannon also provided a place for stars both old and new to be discovered such as Charles Bronson, who starred in the DEATH WISH films and Chuck Norris, who became Cannon’s first action star through films such as MISSING IN ACTION and INVASION USA. Though with a constant output of product, and buying up Elstree Studios and the ABC cinema chain in the UK, Cannon started upping their game and wanted to make bigger budgeted films and to gain more respect. Yet this was to prove their downfall with films such as the Sylvester Stallone arm wrestling movie OVER THE TOP, Superman sequel SUPERMAN 4: THE QUEST FOR PEACE and kids cartoon live action version MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, eventually having larger budgets but bad special effects meant not recouping their costs back. Eventually Cannon would call it a day and Golan and Globus went their separate ways. Though as Hartley argues, convincingly, they left their mark on cinema and popular culture.
Hartley and his interviewees obviously show fondness for Cannon and enthusiasm, which comes over so well throughout the documentary. Yes they where ‘schlock meisters’ but Golan and Globus’s production ethic produced outlandish work, but sometimes great work. There’s even a respect for the superb RUNAWAY TRAIN, which is a brilliant action film, though with the Cannon label it sadly didn’t get the respect it deserved at the time, but it’s a film that has gained praise and is worth checking out. Though as the documentary points out Cannon also allowed critically praised independent directors such as John Cassavetes, Franco Zeffirelli and French bore Jean Luc Godard, to create their work, when no other American studio would do so. An elderly Zeffirelli pops up to comment on his respect for Golan and Globus, who produced his opera version of OTHELLO. Hartley does allow some of the critics of Cannon films to have their say and yes their views on some of the output of the two Israel’s are certainly funny, delivered in a mocking, sardonic tone.
It’s the balance of self referential humour along with the recognition of the importance of Cannon that makes the documentary highly watchable, on repeat viewings. That said Hartley, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to get Chuck Norris to contribute (though that could be due to Norris, wanting to distance himself from his violent output from the 80’s) and this would have been an excellent addition. But this is a small criticism for what is a superb documentary, that shows a constant enthusiasm for its subject matter that’s both a fun, wild ride and makes you want to root for Golan and Globus in a way (even though the outcome of the story is already set), and there workman like attitude, even if it did produce trash and some of it pretty embarrassing (a sentiment shared by MGM who handled distribution for Cannon for a period). Yes Cannon did leave there mark on cinema and pop culture.
Films such as BREAKIN exposed the world too urban music and hip hop and a new dance craze. DELTA FORCE is pretty much THE EXPENDABLES of its time (further emphasised as Boaz Davidson, who appears in this documentary, was executive producer on EXPENDABLES), Chuck Norris is still a popular action star icon and had a famous internet meme created, and films such as RUNAWAY TRAIN and even the crazy sci-fi horror mash up of LIFEFORCE have gotten the respect they deserve from both critics and genre fans alike.
If you’re a fan of genre cinema, this is a highly recommended watch and a superb addition to Hartley’s previous two film documentary’s that again show his love and recognition of some of the world’s most outlandish, often crazy but undeniably entertaining pictures. And in an ironic turn of events, as it’s mentioned at the end credits, Menahem Golan (who sadly passed away this year) and Yoram Globus beat Hartley to the post with their own documentary on Cannon films, showing that their work ethic still lives on.