If you spent any time in a video shop in the 80s and 90s, you’ll have definitely encountered a lot of films made by Cannon. Probably most famous for the 80s output of “the Two Chucks” (Bronson and Norris), the work of Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus entertained a generation and baffled many a Hollywood bigwig with their unusual business style. A very small sample – “Lifeforce” (the film starring a nude lady and Patrick Stewart); “The Last American Virgin”; “American Ninja”; “Cobra”; “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”; “Barfly”; “Alien From LA”; “Bloodsport”; “Kickboxer”; “Captain America”; and “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior”, among many many others. Chances are a few of those names will raise a smile from our readers.
Golan and Globus are two Israeli cousins who got their start in their home country and were primarily known at the time for the “Lemon Popsicle” series of movies, the spiritual predecessors of “Porky’s” and its ilk. Not high art, but they made a stack of money and gave Golan and Globus the clout to buy small studio Cannon and start making American movies for a worldwide audience.
They were never really any good, though, and that’s the important thing to bear in mind when watching this. “Lemon Popsicle” was bloody awful, and by and large their output was trashy B-movies, most of them too boring to even bother reviewing on here. They’d occasionally stumble onto a hit (Enter The Ninja), accidentally make something good, or rush-release something to capitalise on a trend (Breakin’), but by and large their output was trashy, boob-filled exploitation cinema (The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, Lady Chatterley’s Lover). Throughout this film, you’ll have the conflict of largely hating the movies Cannon put out, but also hating the people who are seemingly delighted they failed.
The huge majority of the film is talking heads, of people who worked for or with them. One gets the distinct impression former employees are enjoying this chance to stick the boot in, so everything about Cannon and the Golan/Globus team gets ripped to pieces – the way they did business, their penny-pinching ways, the way they treated actresses, the trash they turned out, and so on. Some of the criticism is no doubt true, but the fact that these people were happy enough to work for them when they were rolling in money is an issue which is, of course, never mentioned. There’s one particularly strange bit towards the end, where to show the collapse of Golan’s principles, they play a clip of him saying “what would I do with a $30 million movie? I’d feel like I was cheating people” in a split screen with the cost of their three most expensive movies – the only problem being, they cost $17, $22 and $24 million. A lot, no doubt, but it doesn’t prove their point and made me wonder what the filmmakers were trying to say.
Occasionally despite themselves, the filmmakers drop in a little mention of them being good people. They were solely interested in making movies, and didn’t have expense accounts or any of that, and despite the documentary being surprised by this, it sounds a refreshing and fine way of doing things. “Runaway Train” is given a great deal of praise while saying Golan and Globus had nothing to do with it; and their work with people like Franco Zeffirelli, John Cassavetes and Jean-Luc Godard, when Hollywood wasn’t interested in any of them, is mentioned too.
One of the talking heads was exceptionally unpleasant to Cannon, though, and he was Frank Yablans, the head of MGM studios from 1983-1985. MGM wanted cheap product to fill their cinemas, so entered into a distribution deal with Cannon which didn’t last very long. He called their product garbage, over and over again, but no-one felt like asking him “it’s not like they were churning out masterpieces before the deal, what were you expecting?” And MGM under his leadership produced “gems” like “Gymkata”, “Ice Pirates”, “Shanghai Surprise” and “Solarbabies”, so I’ve got no idea why we’re expected to take his word on movie quality remotely seriously.
Frank Yablans was fired by MGM when it was discovered that he was defrauding them, signing deals that gave him a huge bonus, not his studio, and spent the rest of his career (he died in 2014) producing “faith-based films”, Christian movies being the last refuge of the liar and charlatan. He was a rotten human being and the movie presenting his view as unchallenged truth does it a sizeable disservice.
Cannon’s collapse is inevitable and quick, in a sea of debt, when it happens, and no-one seemed terribly upset by it. It was a pretty wild ride, producing as many as 43 films in a year (the average major studio never did more than 15), and we all ought to remember the fun B-movies and exciting trash that they made, not how impossibly difficult the two of them must have been to work for. There’s a reason no-one makes documentaries about a 10-year stretch in the life of a major movie studio, because it would be boring as hell – no scenes of the two studio bosses dreaming up ideas for movies off the top of their heads, or selling posters for movies that hadn’t even been started yet.
WHAT THE DOCUMENTARY DIDN’T TELL YOU
1. Cannon won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best foreign language movie in 1986, during their “decline”.
2. Roger Ebert was extremely kind to them, saying that no-one took as many chances on fringe or risky choices as Cannon did – a long way from the uber-shlock-meisters the film wanted to portray them as.
3. The huge breakup of the two cousins that provided the ending to the movie lasted a grand total of three years, as Golan and Globus were working together again by 1993 for 21st Century Films; Golan was still directing and producing movies as late as 2008 and Globus is still producing them.
It’s films like this that make me realise I have no moral objection whatsoever to people pirating movies. The movie business is made up of cheats and liars and criminals and people who would do or say literally anything if it made them a buck; this movie, with its bottom-feeding scum looking down their noses at Cannon, a company that actually got stuck in and DID something, is a perfect illustration. We’re not supposed to break the law (in a very minor way) yet these people break every employment law under the sun, cut corners, treat women like dirt, cheat their business partners, twist copyright, and threaten people with guns.
As interesting as the story is, I got a bit bored of the snark from all the tired old white men who’d have never dared open their mouths if Cannon had still been going; or if the doc had been about one of the still-existing major studios. Every documentary I see about the movie business makes me like the movie business less and less.
Rating: thumbs in the middle
PS. Perhaps the most interesting information was that Nu Image, our friends since the early 90s and now the big-budget boys behind the Expendables movies, was started by two former Cannon executives, who learned at the knee of Golan and Globus (only Nu Image has a better business model). “Hollywood is now making Cannon movies” is the smartest thing anyone says in the entire 100 minutes.