Menahem Golan’s death in Tel Aviv last August at the age of 85 was cause for mourning, but also nostalgia. To those who remember with affection the rundown movie palaces with enormous marquees that lit up urban centers, Golan and first cousin Yoram Globus ruled the 1970s and ‘80s.
Their manically prolific and profitable filmography of explosion-laced, action-heavy escapades starred the likes of Charles Bronson (Death Wish II), Chuck Norris (The Delta Force) and even Sylvester Stallone (Over the Top). If those weren’t your kind of movies, you still kvelled at the brash and flashy Israelis who regularly beat the Americans — and Chinese and everyone else — at their own game.
Hilla Medalia’s diverting new documentary, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, presents Golan and Globus’s careers as the perfect— and perfectly flawed — combination of movie-love and shoot-from-the-hip decision-making. The documentary screens in the Washington Jewish Film Festival in a co-presentation with The Documentary Center at GWU.
Dedicated to giving audiences full value for their entertainment dollar, Golan and Globus were genre filmmakers with no messages or morals to impart. As enthusiastic, run-and-gun producers operating under the Cannon Films banner, they financed dozens of internationally accessible and instantly forgettable flicks. Every once in a while they backed a serious director like John Cassavetes (Love Streams) and Jean-Luc Godard (King Lear) but themselves lacked the talent and unique vision to qualify as artists.
This documentary, consequently, should be a nonstop hoot. What could be more fun than accompanying larger-than-life personalities making, essentially, drive-in movies on a fantasy-fulfilling journey from slo-mo Israel of the early 1960s to yachts and starlets at Cannes and sunbaked L.A. luxury?
Hollywood is called a dream factory, after all, and that’s the dream most people have.
Medalia tells Golan and Globus’ story chronologically, augmenting a vast array of film clips with interviews with her casually dressed but battle-hardened protagonists and various collaborators (Jon Voight and director Andrei Konchalovsky of Runaway Train) and admirers (Eli Roth, Cabin Fever).
However, the filmmaker, who enjoyed a big 2014 with the U.S. theatrical release of the bittersweet Arab-Israeli ballroom dance documentary Dancing in Jaffa and Web Junkie, a portrait of Internet addiction in China that premiered at Sundance, aspires to more than vicarious pleasure and hollow hagiography.
She’s frustrated by her subjects, though. Happy to revisit the glory days, Globus and Golan become circumspect or outright chilly when Medalia presses them about their failures. Whether the subject is the children in Israel they didn’t see often enough or Golan’s insatiable need to make films that overextended Cannon and led to its demise, at this point in their lives neither man wants to relive painful episodes.
Globus, who raised the money for Cannon productions by perfecting the art of the pre-sale on the strength of a poster, a title and an actor, and played the role of negotiator and diplomat, does admit that the duo were too preoccupied with their usual massive slate of projects to devote the proper attention to Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), a movie that’s still reviled in some circles.
Golan, for his part, directed 45 movies in 45 years, a feat of remarkable stamina, substantial creativity and minimal artistry. So, at the end of the day, what is Golan and Globus’ place in film history?
Here’s where an outside expert, like a film critic or historian, could contribute an objective perspective. But Medalia, with one or two exceptions, has chosen to limit herself to people who knew and worked with the Cannon chiefs.
She’d like us simply to celebrate Globus and Golan’s unquenchable enthusiasm for making movies and projecting them on big screens to eager viewers. Fair enough, but for all the bucks and laughs and tears, we sense that the competitive duo mourned never breaking into Hollywood’s inner circle.
That would be the winner’s circle of Oscar recipients, the ultimate measure of achievement and stamp of respect. Even if it was unrealistic, and unspoken, Golan and Globus failed in their goal. It’s not what you’d call a happy ending, but there it is.
The writer is a San Francisco-based film reviewer. The Go-Go Boys screens on Feb. 22 at 5 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring and on Feb. 26 at 6:15 p.m. at Abramson Family Recital Hall at American University’s Katzen Arts Center in Washington, D.C. For information on the Washington Jewish Film Festival, which runs through March 1, see www.wjff.org