The rise and fall of Israels B-movie moguls

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film review

Menahem Golan’s death in Tel Aviv last August at age 85 was cause for mourning, but also nostalgia. For those who remember with affection the rundown movie palaces with enormous marquees that lit up urban centers across the country, Golan and his first cousin Yoram Globus ruled the 1970s and ’80s.

Their 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 documentary “The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films,” which will screen at four venues during the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, presents the careers of Golan and Globus as the perfect — and perfectly flawed — combination of movie love and shoot-from-the-hip decision-making.

Menahem Golan (right) and Yoram Globus in their heyday

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 they themselves lacked the talent and unique vision to qualify as artists.

“The Go-Go Boys,” 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 slow-motion 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.

However, Medalia, who enjoyed a big 2014 with the U.S. theatrical release of “Dancing in Jaffa,” the bittersweet Arab-Israeli ballroom dance documentary, and “Web Junkie,” a portrait of Internet addiction in China that premiered at Sundance (see story, 19), aspires to more than vicarious pleasure and hollow hagiography.

She tells the story chronologically, augmenting a vast array of film clips with interviews with her casually dressed but battle-hardened protagonists, along with their various collaborators (Jon Voight and director Andrei Konchalovsky of “Runaway Train”) and admirers (Eli Roth, “Cabin Fever”). But Golan and Globus frustrate her. Happy to revisit the glory days, they become circumspect or outright chilly when Medalia presses them about their failures. Whether the subject is their 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, it is evident that neither man wants to relive painful episodes at this point in their lives.

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 two were too preoccupied with their large slate of projects to devote the proper attention to “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” the 1987 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, chose to limit the scope 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 for eager viewers. Fair enough, but for all the bucks and laughs and tears, we sense that the competitive pair 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 an unrealistic goal, Golan and Globus failed to attain it. It’s not what you’d call a happy ending, but there it is.

 

“The Go-Go Boys,” 6:50 p.m. July 25 at the Castro;6:30 p.m. July 27 at CinéArts@Palo Alto; 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at the California in Berkeley; 4:20 p.m. Aug. 9 at Smith Rafael in San Rafael. In English, French and Hebrew with English subtitles. (Not rated, 89 minutes) www.sfjff.org

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. He is the curator and host of the CinemaLit film series at the Mechanics’ Institute and teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.