Monday, April 25, 2016
Doc Watch: Electric Boogaloo - The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)
I started watching this doc thinking I'd make it maybe 15 minutes in, get bored, and move on with my life. But, really, my primary complaint about the film is that it seems like it could have run an additional 30 minutes or so, delving into more of the impact of Cannon Films on popular culture and where the movies found their audiences, and not ever felt like it was running long.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) is exactly what you see in the title. It's a doc about the rise and fall of the independent movie studio responsible for an ungodly amount of the types of movies suburban kids consumed by the truckload back in the 1980's - particularly when our folks were off doing other things and not paying much attention to what we were watching. Cannon was responsible for just a tremendous number of movies of all genres, and for a kid back in the 1980's, it was pretty typical to go rent a movie, come home, throw it in the VCR and see the Cannon logo scroll out before you.
The basic hook of the movie is that Cannon was fast, cheap and out of control. They were making movies fast and furious, producing what they assumed was crowd-pleasing stuff, leaving decorum, taste and craftsmanship behind as they raced to give us an endless supply of films loaded with violence, nudity, ridiculous plots and a way to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday night. They gave us everything from Breakin' parts 1 and 2 to The Last American Virgin to American Ninja to Bolero to Invasion USA to Masters of the Universe to Over the Top, and dozens and dozens of movies in between. If you're over the age of 35 or so, it's highly likely you raised yourself on a steady diet of their output running on cable or from the local Mom & Pop video rental shop.
The doc follows a pair of Israeli cousins who came to the U.S. after cinematic success in their native land, never bothered to learn the rules of either the Hollywood game or a sound business model, and went to work making actors like Sybil Danning a home video actioner movie star, Chuck Norris a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood, and Tobe Hooper an endless string of opportunities. The movie interviews dozens and dozens of actors and associated talents from the heyday of Cannon, from Bo Derek and Cassandra Peterson (apparently the villain in the second Allan Quartermain movie starring Richard Chamberlain - whom they also get) to the stars of American Ninja and Ninja 3: The Domination. And plenty of folks who worked behind the scenes, up to and including the former head of MGM, who briefly distributed their movies, and who has nothing kind to say.
It's all pretty unbelievable. They made so many movies you've seen.
What's kind of funny is that - as much as I wrote about how much influence Frank Miller had on comics of today - people, so did Cannon. There's a direct line between the Charles Bronson Death Wish pictures and the Punisher and all the impact The Punisher had on comics for decades to come. Certainly Cannon's insistence on Americanizing ninjas and putting them in every third movie for a while had an impact as well.
A lot of hay is made about what a bad reputation Cannon has in Hollywood, but out in the burbs in a pre-internet era, we were only barely aware of the concept of a prestige picture, and I was pretty late in high school before I started figuring out studios made particular kinds of pictures (and it really hit home in college when I realized "hey... every time I see a horror movie, it was made by Dimension..." and realized how specific it could really get). For the rest of us, we were familiar with the logos in front of movies, but I don't think it meant much to us. It's not like I processed the idea that Cannon made schlocky movies. They made movies I wanted to see with cool names like Delta Force.
After having had just read the Disney biography a while back, it's kind of funny how that, too, was a story of outsiders coming to Hollywood, constantly scrapping with banks for money, betting it all on the next big dream, tons of pictures out but somehow always still in the red. But nobody died at Cannon, the place just fell apart under its own weight. It makes the survival of the bigger studios all that more remarkable and explains much about their risk-averse productions.
Anyway, if you're around my age, I highly recommend this doc, currently streaming on Netflix. Get the kids out of the room, because they aren't shy with re-showing some of the nudity in those older films, and the language is about what you might remember from those movies - but, man, it's a fun ride to see what those guys were doing and trying to do.
Electric Boogaloo - The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - Official Trailer from Wild Fury In Production on Vimeo.