Former Cannon Films co-owner Menahem Golan, the flamboyant instinct mogul who paid me a half-decent salary when I worked as a Cannon press kit writer from mid ’86 to early ’88, has died in Israel at age 85. What a character, what a personality. A large, bagel-and-cream-cheese-eating man who lived large, if not with a great deal of strategic or artistic precision.
Menahem never really embraced the Movie Catholic faith. He lived for the hustle and bustle of making and selling movies, but…well, let’s give him a friendly send-off for now. The slings and arrows will be felt soon enough when Mark Hartley‘s Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, a doc that allegedly presents an honest, no-holds-barred account of the Cannon Films heyday, has its big debut at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival.
Actually, eff the friendly send-off thing. Here’s a portion of my 2014 Cannes Film Festival review of Hilla Medalia’s The Go-Go Boys:
“A largely sympathetic, warm-hearted documentary about former Cannon honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, [this] was made to counterbalance the impact of a forthcoming, less-compassionate doc about the Israeli-born moguls from Mark Hartley. I was therefore expecting an overly fawning portrait from Medalia’s doc, which I saw last night, and it does constitute a charitable view. It looks the other way at loads of lively material that could have been used. Having worked for Cannon as a press kit writer during ’86 and ’87, I know whereof I speak.
“But as obliging portrayals go, The Go-Go Boys is a reasonably accurate and fair-minded one. It feels as if it was made by an intelligent member of Golan or Globus’s inner family — intimate, admiring and even faintly critical from time to time.
“The problem is that The Go-Go Boys won’t acknowledge the elephant in the Cannon room. The reason Menahem and Yoram made almost nothing but crap is that they loved the action and the chutzpah in their veins (winning awards, making money, signing big names, the crackling excitement of “being there”), but they never really got it. Their affection for movies was enthusiastic but primitive. An under-educated rug-merchant mentality could never really fit into a business that is also, at heart, a kind of religion.
“The best filmmakers have always operated on a devotional Catholic principle. I believe that Menahem and Yoram were never devoted enough to the faith and traditions of great, soul-stirring cinema. They never really respected the idea of wearing cinematic monk robes.
“Having worked at Cannon beginning in late ’86, throughout all of ’87 and into early ’88, I know all about that operation and the mentality behind it. There were quality exceptions here and there (which I was very grateful for), but the films were mainly schlock. Which fostered a certain atmosphere among Cannon employees. ‘Fatalism mixed with humiliation resulting in gallows humor’ is one way to describe it.
“I had a nice little office on the fourth floor. I had a desk, phone, window, chair, two filing cabinets and a styrofoam ceiling that I used to lob sharp pencils into when I was bored. But I also got to meet and work with Barbet Schroeder on Barfly, Norman Mailer on Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Herbert Ross on Dancers, Tobe Hooper and L.M. Kit Carson on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Godfrey Reggio on Powaqqatsi and Richard Franklin on Link.
“I barely spoke to Golan and Globus, and that was okay.
But I was in the building when Schroeder stood in Golan’s office and threatened to cut off his finger with an electric chainsaw if Golan didn’t greenlight Barfly. And I talked to Mickey Rourke over the phone once and managed to piss him off (but that was par for the course back then). And I became slightly chummy with former SNL alumnus Charles Rocket (who killed himself a few years ago). And at Schroeder’s insistence I rewrote the Barfly press kit about ten or twelve times (to the point I couldn’t read the sentences any longer), but I learned that relentless re-writing, if you’re tough enough to handle it, does result in a bulletproof final draft.
“I also had to write press kits for Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Assassination, The Barbarians, Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars, Masters of the Universe, Down Twisted, The Arrogant and others I’d rather not think about.
“With the exception of Runaway Train and one or two others, Cannon action flicks were always boilerplate and frequently awful. Anyone who’s ever seen Down Twisted (’87), directed by Albert Pyun, knows what I’m saying.
“Cannon Films was a very curious culture with an exploitation film attitude (i.e., movies regarded as ‘product’), but Menahem and Yoram threw a lot of money around and a lot of serious people took it for this and that reason.”