Film4.com Editor Michael Leader stays up past his bedtime to sample the delights of TIFF’s Midnight Madness strand…
Let me set the scene. It’s 11.15pm, I’m glugging full-fat Pepsi and my pockets are full of Hershey’s Milk Duds. The queue for the night’s Midnight Madness screening wraps around the block from the Ryerson Theatre and it’s clear from both the t-shirts on view and the sheer determination involved that this is the die-hard audience – the cult devotees who’ll gladly stay up late and wait in line for a bit of trashy genre fun. And it doesn’t get more trashy or fun than tonight’s offering: the world premiere of Mark Hartley’s documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films.
I’ll admit, I’m a tad young to have fully experienced Cannon Films’ mid-80s heyday, when Menahem Golan and Yolan Globus stamped their company logo at the head of countless action, horror and just plain uncategorisable movies. The assembled Midnight Madness gang, however, are clearly seasoned veterans, and almost bring the Ryerson’s roof down when asked to bark out their favourite Cannon joint. Lifeforce! Breakin’! Superman IV: The Quest For Peace! Death Wish 3! Missing In Action! American Ninja! Geeky pleasures, all – and don’t you dare call them ‘guilty’.
In a similar vein to Hartley’s Ozploitation deep dive Not Quite Hollywood (which received its international premiere at Midnight Madness in 2008), Electric Boogaloo is light, accessible and anecdote-heavy, turning both the Cannon Films owners and the films they made into larger-than-life characters. With perfect clip choices and impeccable comic editing, Hartley teases out the ridiculousness of some of Cannon’s craziest creations – such as Lou Ferrigno throwing a bear into space (Hercules), or the inherent absurdity of an action movie starring Sylvester Stallone centred around the sedentary sport of arm wrestling (Over The Top). The end result is a rare doc that is laugh-a-minute, loving and ludicrously entertaining.
It’s also a compelling document of a bygone era of the film industry. A cast of interviewees familiar and unknown (including Tobe Hooper, Franco Zeffirelli, Michael Dudikoff, Molly Ringwald and Elliott Gould, amongst many others) are corralled together to speak of Golan and Globus’s rise to prominence, and their method of pre-selling film ideas to foreign markets based on titles, posters and ‘name’ stars such as ‘the two Chucks’ Norris and Bronson (or Charles, to you and me).
At their peak, Cannon had upwards of 40 films a year in production, they owned cinema chains in the UK and they made movies that ranged from action schlock to auteurist arthouse (with directors including Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes and Barbet Schroeder). Some of their films even courted Oscar buzz, before reckless ambition and box office failure sunk Golan and Globus’s dream of kicking it with the majors.
You couldn’t imagine a similar group of crackpots making a similarly successful go of it in 2014, and looking at it in retrospect, Cannon’s history is almost (almost) as outlandish as the films they made. It’s the perfect Midnight Madness premiere, and in Electric Boogaloo, Hartley captures this wild, untold story with infectious enthusiasm, making it a must-see even if you’re not already a paid-up member of the Cannon cult.