It seems like only a few months ago that I was sitting in a crowded cinema watching the world premier of Mark Hartley's reimagining of PATRICK at the Melbourne International Film Festival... and now here I am again, one year later, watching the world premier of his latest film. Tonight was night 3 of the festival (my first of many nights) and arguably one of the most anticipated screenings. The film was ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS.
My partner and I arrived earlier than most, which allowed us time to drink coffee and watch people file into the foyer. There were MIFF staff everywhere and the event looked regimentally organised. A young woman approached us and said that we would be escorted into the cinema with the VIPs ahead of everyone else. I thought to myself "wow, FakeShemp makin' good" and then realised that it was actually my partner's crutch that afforded us this opportunity. Ah huh... and so we were ushered into the cinema along with many of the production people and snagged ourselves a good seat and watched the rest of the plebs (ie people) walk in. Lots of people I knew... many of whom since last year.
6:30 arrived and Mark Hartley and his producer were introduced to offer their thanks and briefly discuss the film. You don't see many film presentations that begin with Chuck Norris jokes but that's exactly what we got. Off to a good start. The cinema lights dimmed and the film began. I have been excited about ELECTRIC BOOGALOO for a long time and have been anticipating it since it was announced several years ago. As a child of the 80s and 90s much of my cinematic education came from the Cannon films. With classic B titles like ENTER THE NINJA, THE DELTA FORCE and FIREWALKER amongst the countless gems that informed my love of alternative cinema I was as giddy as a school boy to learn more.
Now how do I describe my reaction to this new documentary. Well I did not walk away from it with the same euphoric feeling that I was hoping for. Instead I felt depressed... gutted even. Perhaps it was because it felt like my childhood was being pissed upon... yeah that's exactly what it was. Tonight the illusion was shattered and I didn't like what I was hearing. Of course I am not stupid and I know enough of the Cannon story to know what type of production company they were and I know the resentments and hostilities they received from much of Hollywood throughout the years. My problem with the film, however, was that it focused on the negative. It more or less made fun of Cannon and neglected what made them so wonderful. All of the featured guests told negative stories and ridiculed the company. There weren't many positive reflections and the nature of the doco became cynical and dismissive. The featured guests included the likes of Tobe Hooper, Richard Chamberlain, Elliot Gould and Alex Winter (amongst a heap of others) and they told fantastic stories. A particular highlight was Cannon's former music supervisor Richard Kraft who provided enough charisma and character to earn himself the most screen time.
FAKESHEMP.NET has a devoted love of Albert Pyun & his films and I was disappointed that his input into Cannon's story was mostly ignored. To my knowledge he made more films for Cannon than any other director and several of his productions are some of the company's best stories. His ill-fated SPIDERMAN film, CAPTAIN AMERICA and his involvement with MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE 2 - all ignored. The doco briefly covered the failure of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 2 but left out the whole story of Albert re-working the script and utilising the set designs and costumes to quickly make CYBORG. This is a huge part of the Cannon story with his quick thinking and ingenuity saving the company from further financial disaster. And then there was his sequel to ALIEN FROM LA which was recut and crudely spliced together with Rusty Lemorande's JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH. There's a big story in there that was only brushed upon. Perhaps all of this was omitted for creative reasons in order to speed the film along... but I felt that this made much of ELECTRIC BOOGALOO feel disjointed and clunky. Too many wonderful Cannon films were left out. There was too much focus on the cruddier titles and no discussion about the great ones.
I wonder whether or not BOOGALOO would have taken a different direction had it included some of Cannons more respected films. There are plenty that were critically successful and others that have remained relevant. Titles like: POWERQQATSI, BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER, COBRA, OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, HANNA'S WAR, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, DUET FOR ONE, FOOR FOR LOVE, SURRENDER, SHY PEOPLE, HAUNTED SUMMER and THE FOURTH WAR.
I love Mark Hartley. He's a great filmmaker and a lovely guy. But I can't help but feel that his documentary filmmaking is running out of steam. I wanted to love ELECTRIC BOOGALOO but it left me empty. Of course I am probably blinded by my love for this particular era of cinema. I know that I'm not the only one who loves these films and even after the film, during the Q&A Paul Harris (who hosted this part of the night) expressed that he felt disheartened by what he saw and suggested that the Cannon films deserve more celebration. I agree. He also pointed out that much of Hollywood's genre output these days owes gratitude to Cannon Films. Perhaps Hartley told an honest story... I'm just not sure I am ready to accept it. I wanted ELECTRIC BOOGALOO to be a celebration, not a mourning.
With all of those criticisms aside, I can still say that it was bloody marvellous to see so many of these past stars, directors and writers up on the screen again. I was also reminded of movies I had forgotten about and will now seek and find. The opening credit sequence was wonderful, albeit too short. And to lift my spirits at the very end I was shocked and excited to see my name listed in the end credits. I was NOT expecting that but because I had helped source some Albert Pyun material for the film they felt that it deserved a mention. That was very kind of them and I am chuffed.