Both an affectionate tribute and a cautionary tale, “The Go-Go Boys” is a solid documentary that offers, as its subtitle promises, one version of the “inside story of Cannon Films.” Israeli helmer Hilla Medalia (“Dancing in Jaffa”) charts the careers of producers — and cousins — Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, and the rise and fall of the empire they jointly built. Combining well-chosen archival material with articulate talking heads waxing nostalgic and entertainingly dishing dirt, this celebration of the two legendary showmen also encapsulates the Cannes Film Festival’s divergent impulses: selling schlock and adulating auteurs. Further fest play should segue into global broadcast.
Another version of the Cannon story, “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films,” from cult documentarian Mark Hartley (“Not Quite Hollywood,” “Machete Maidens Unleashed”), has been in the works for several years but not yet surfaced. But while Medalia’s pic might be the cinematic version of an authorized biography, made with the cooperation of both cousins, it’s no puff piece or hagiography: She asks tough questions (some of which are not answered) and doesn’t hesitate to show how the men’s devotion to their work had a deleterious effect on their families.
The Golan-Globus partnership began long before the launch of Cannon; Medalia documents its inception in Israel, where Golan, the elder by 12 years, was already working as a producer-director when he brought his first cousin Globus, a financial and marketing whiz, into the Noah Films fold in the mid-1960s. Noah Films provided a model of working (fast and cheap) that the duo brought with them to Cannon, but it also established the brash, irrepressible Golan as the out-front idea man, with the slightly deferential Globus working behind the scenes, raising the cash and paying the bills.
A whirlwind of clips highlights work from their Israel years, including the foreign-language Academy Award nominee “Sallah Shabati”; the blockbuster “Lemon Popsicle” and its sequels, Moshe Mizrahi’s “I Love You Rosa” and “The House on Chelouche Street”; and a string of forgettable action and musical titles. Some now-aged Israeli helmers and thesps share their reminiscences of the era, particularly the resourcefulness of Golan and Globus.
Deciding to pursue the American dream, the cousins bought the already established, low-budget production company Cannon Films in 1979. When recalling the challenges of those early days Stateside, Globus declares that those months of long hours, low pay and life in a tiny L.A. apartment shared with Golan were some of the best of his life.
Under the “Go-Go Boys,” Cannon produced exploitation/action fare for the ever-hungry B-movie market, making stars out of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme in the process, and established a reputation for quantity over quality. In addition to vintage film clips, Medalia includes the eye-catching ads that the cousins used to drum up presales along with notices from the trades (including this one).
Yet Golan aspired to more. He also forged deals with prestigious arthouse names such as John Cassavetes (“Love Streams”), Jean-Luc Godard (“King Lear”), Sam Shepherd (“Fool For Love”), Barbet Schroeder (“Bar Fly”) and Andrey Konchalovsky (“Runaway Train”). By 1984, with several films in the Cannes fest competition and dozens more in the market, he could say with pride that it’s “not Cannes but the Cannon Film Festival,” and that “if Taiwan wants Bronson, then they also have to take Cassavetes.”
But just a few years later, a series of bad investments and bad films led to the demise of Cannon’s over-expanded empire and the cousins’ estrangement. Medalia wisely permits a former Cannon lawyer and ex-Universal chairman Tom Pollock to provide perspective and context. After going their separate ways for a time but never duplicating their Cannon success, both men eventually returned to Israel. A friendly meeting of the two on the Cannes Classics stage to intro the documentary’s world premiere suggests that the bad blood between them has been left in the past.
Snappy cutting by Daniel Sivan, a jaunty score by Jonathan Bar Giora and savvy sound design by Aviv Aldema also go a long way toward making the pic viewer-friendly.