Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Men Who Made the Boogaloo Electric

If you make a list of the stupidest, cheesiest, most utterly insane movies of the 1980s -- a list like this one, let's say -- you'll always wind up naming several titles produced by Cannon Films, under the guidance of the last of the B-movie kings, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They gave us most of Chuck Norris's oeuvre; many sequels to Death Wish; an arm-wrestling adventure starring Sylvester Stallone; a live-action Masters of the Universe movie; a really bad Jean-Luc Godard movie; and various movies based on '80s dance crazes including Breakin' and Breakin' 2, Electric Boogaloo. It kind of sums up the work of this team that when they split up and vowed to compete with one another, their competition took the form of competing Lambada movies.

Patrick Runkle has a whole website, cannonfilms.com, devoted to this wonderfully bizarre company. He even has a detailed and quite fascinating history of Cannon and the Golan-Globus partnership.

Cannon never exactly made a good movie (even the movies they thought were going to be good, like Franco Zeffirelli's Otello, turned out not so good), but their movies are an '80s time capsule; because Golan and Globus churned out movies so fast, they responded immediately to changing fashions in stories, clothes, music, appropriate villains... it's all there. An example is the schizophrenic politics of the Cannon movies: right-wing revenge fantasies alternated with anti-nuke fantasies (Superman IV: The Quest For Peace) and enviromental messages (Golan's Lambada movie, The Forbidden Dance, is framed as a plea to save the rainforest). This political schizophrenia was part of the '80s -- it was hardly a monolithically right-wing decade, any more than the '50s -- and it's there in Cannon films for any social historians who can stand to sit through more than one Chuck Norris movie.

Aside from the '80s cheese factor, the fun of Cannon movies is simply that they were the last true B-movies, independently and cheaply produced movies that actually played in theatres and entertained people all over the world. Now we've got the big-studio movies, and we've got the "indies," but relatively few campy low-budget movies and no wacky independent showmen like Menahem Golan.

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