Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
By Evan Purcell
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Back in the late 70s, two Israeli businessmen came to America, bought a studio, and made some of the strangest movies ever made. For over a decade, they churned out hundreds of films, from Death Wish sequels to sci-fi musicals to bloody, bloody ninja movies. They made that Sylvester Stallone movie about arm wrestling. They made some period film where Deanna Troi from Star Trek has a topless sword fight with Faye Dunaway. Hell, they made two movies about break dancing. Cannon Films changed cinema forever, if only by making it weirder.
And now, thanks to director Mark Hartley, we have a documentary about the epic rise and fall of this crazy, crazy studio. Hartley performed similar magic a few years ago with his Ozsploitation documentary, which is just as fun and chockful of random film clips. What makes this documentary even better, though, is that there’s a real emotional throughline to the whole thing. The film is basically about two immigrants who loved movies so much that they forced their way into the industry. Their blind enthusiasm created this studio, and it also led to its collapse. The film is consistently funny, but the last thirty minutes are surprisingly poignant, especially considering all the bazookas and boobs on display.
Perhaps the best thing about Boogaloo is the wealth of clips from dozens of deeply bizarre films. I paused the movie about 20 minutes in, just so I could get a pen and paper to write down the titles of movies that I was going to hunt down. There are some seriously random moments peppered throughout, and if you are even remotely interested in trash cinema, you will want to keep a list of the films that are included. (At the top of my to-watch list: Ninja III: The Domination. I sincerely hope it’s as bug-nuts insane as it looks.)
These almost inexplicable clips make up about half of the film. The other half is a hilarious parade of revealing interviews with actors, directors, composers, and anyone else lucky enough to survive making a Cannon movie. Some of these people are delightfully bitter. One actress shows us her only copy of the action film she starred in, and then lights it on fire.
The best interviews, though, are with the people who (like the documentary itself) are equal parts amazed and disgusted by the Cannon business model. After all, this studio duped people into buying really crappy films, often selling them before anyone knew what the films were going to be about. For an independent studio, it had a lot of admirers, a lot of bitter victims, and a lot of normal people who are just completely baffled by its success.
Like a lot of the Cannon films, Boogaloo is a real crowd-pleaser. Also like a lot of Cannon films, it has tons of explosions. Those are always fun.