Cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus founded the Cannon film company. Photo: YouTube screengrab
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The Cannon Group: the most disreputable duo in cinema?

Looking back at the exploitation enterprise of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus's cinematic output.

The Cannon Group dominated cinema exhibition in Britain in the Eighties. The company, founded and run by the Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, pumped out cheapo exploitation movies at an alarming rate across the genres (sex comedies, martial arts movies, vigilante thrillers, science-fiction, costume drama), and the duo got their hands on a chain of cinemas.

But they also funded the odd respectable endeavour – Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train, Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear and John Cassavetes’s penultimate film, Love Streams. These high-calibre highpoints are not overlooked in a new documentary about Cannon, but the main focus falls on the more disreputable end of Golan and Globus’s output, as demonstrated by its title – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Even when the movies weren’t bad, they were often plain bizarre.

One interviewee puts his finger on it, likening a Cannon film to a Frankenstein’s monster of parts that should never have been bolted together. Ninja III: The Domination, about a telephone linewoman who turns into a martial arts killer after being possessed by the spirit of a dead ninja, is a good case in point, mixing as it does elements of Flashdance, The Exorcist and Enter the Dragon.

I am almost ashamed to say that I haven’t seen the film but it has now zoomed to the top of my must-see list. It is joined there by some of the other movies featured in the documentary, such as The Last American Virgin, a US remake of the Israeli sex comedy Lemon Popsicle (which Golan had produced). Including an abortion scene in a sex comedy is bold enough. Intercutting it with footage of a pizza being sliced seems defiantly peculiar.

I also wonder how I have lived this long without seeing Masters of the Universe, the movie version of the He-Man children’s series. Ropey prosthetics, polystyrene sets, crap effects. It looks so wrong it’s right.

Had I not seen it already, Death Wish 3 would also surely be on the list. This is the third instalment of the morally redundant vigilante series, which was shot in south London to keep costs down, despite still being set in New York.

Alex Winter, the Bill & Ted star who played a thug in Death Wish 3, offers some dryly disparaging remarks about the movie, including his priceless memories of seeing its star, Charles Bronson, being ferried from his trailer to the set to do one of his minimalist, low-energy takes. “It was more like watching a man golf than act,” he says.

Mark Hartley, who directed the Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood (which was similarly slanted toward the sordid and scandalous side of filmmaking), has assembled a lively collection of clips and interviews that gives the Cannon story definition and shape, without stinting on the gratuitous anecdotes.

The analysis here argues that Cannon got too big for its boots: once it ditched the bargain basement production values, and started trying to match Hollywood dollar for dollar, its days were numbered. Golan wooed Sylvester Stallone with a gargantuan paypacket for the arm-wrestling (arm-wrestling!) drama Over the Top, and launched a fourth Superman film (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) without the imagination or budget to pull it off.

Good ideas, like Breakdance – which was rushed into production in time to capitalise on the breakdancing craze – were overshadowed by poor ones like Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo, which took dancing off the streets and into a series of incongruous, Day-Glo settings. And I should know, since I paid to see it aged 13. Cannon lost sight of its raison d’être.

Hartley’s film sometimes veers into casual misogyny in sections where a bunch of braying male interviewees mock the acting talents or conduct of Sylvia Kristel (who starred in Mata Hari) or Sharon Stone (who appeared early in her career in Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold).

“She was hated on set… All the South Africans hated her… ‘Who is that bitch?’” –this is just a selection of the comments made here about Stone. Kristel, too, is viewed without a shred of gallantry: “She was addicted to cocaine; by the time she reached Budapest, she was hooked on booze.” Is a little compassion too much to ask?

It isn’t that those actors are undeserving of criticism – more that it is framed in a way that feels vindictive, and gender-oriented. No one is lining up to slight the acting talents of the male action stars featured here. Chuck Norris is no Daniel Day-Lewis. Last time I looked, Jean Claude Van Damme had nothing on De Niro.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is on release.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Anti-semitism and the left: something is rotten in the state of Labour

Labour held three separate inquiries into anti-Semitism within its ranks during the first part of 2016. A new book by Dave Rich investigates how we got to this point.

The relationship between the left and the Jews has always been a complex one – ostensibly harmonious but with an underlying unease. For decades, the left’s ideological stance against racism and intolerance made it – in Britain, at least – a natural home for Jews. Its largest party, Labour, could rely on a majority share of Britain’s Jewish vote. Yet the 19th-century German socialist August Bebel, who described anti-Semitism as “the socialism of fools”, understood that, like a tumour, it has always existed in the left-wing body politic.

It is this duality that Dave Rich seeks to explore in his impressive and important book. How, he asks, did we get to the situation in which Labour, the party whose founding principles include opposing bigotry, felt the need to hold three separate inquiries into anti-Semitism within its ranks during the first part of 2016?

For so long, the dichotomy was simple, consisting of a clash of two notions of the Jew: an oppressed figure deserving of the left’s solidarity and the perennial embodiment of socialism’s great enemy, capitalism. In the words of (the Jewish) Karl Marx:


What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money . . . Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities . . . The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew.


Whether or not Marx meant the words ironically (as many academics contend), he articulated the most prominent leftist critique of Jews of his time. However, as Britain’s former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks has argued, anti-Semitism, like any virus, must mutate to survive. Now the most significant word in the quotation above – which Marx uses figuratively – is not “money”, as he would have seen it, but “Israel”.

As Rich notes, the link between British Jews and Israel is almost inviolable. While support for Israeli policies is mixed (there is much opposition to the settlements), he records that 82 per cent of British Jews say that the country plays a central role in their identity, while 90 per cent see it as the ancestral home of the Jewish people. Set against this is his (correct) observation that: “Sympathy for the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel have become the default position for many on the left – a defining marker of what it means to be progressive.” He argues that once you discover what someone on the left thinks about Israel and Zionism, you can usually guess his or her views on terrorism, Islamist extremism, military intervention and British-American relations.

When Stalin’s show trials and bloodlust finally discredited communism, many on the left, bereft of an ideology, fell into a dull, almost perfunctory anti-Americanism, dressed up as “anti-imperialism”. Intellectually flaccid but emotionally charged, this strand of thought became – to those on the hard left who had for so long been confined to the margins – all-encompassing. The dictum “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, in effect, was adopted as its slogan. Any Middle Eastern or South American dictatorship that “stands up” to the US ipso facto is an ally, as is any Islamist hate preacher who does so. Israel, viewed as a US-backed colonial outpost, became the physical manifestation of all that was wrong with the world.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader last year, this particular leftist world-view entered the heart of the party. In 2008, Corbyn wrote of the Balfour Declaration – the UK government’s promise to British Jews of a homeland in Palestine – that it had “led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the expulsion of Palestinians . . . Britain’s history of colonial interference . . . leaves it with much to answer for.” The description of Israel as a colonialist enterprise, rather than a movement for sovereignty through national independence, and the culpability of an “imperial” Britain, encapsulate the twin impulses that drive Corbyn’s beliefs about foreign affairs.

The problem, Rich argues, is that it is just a short step from these beliefs to the ideas that Israel should not exist and that its Western supporters, who include most Jews, are racists. Combined with a resurgence of social media-charged conspiracies about Zionist wealth and power, the left has formed an anti-racist politics that is blind to anti-Semitism. Jews are privileged; they are wealthy; they cannot be victims.

Thus, “Zionist” has become not a term to describe a political position but an insult; thus, Jews, unless they denounce Israel (their “original sin”), are excluded from the left that now dominates the Labour Party. When such ideas become normalised, anything is possible. Jackie Walker, the recently suspended vice-chairwoman of the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum, can claim with sincerity that “many Jews” were the “chief financiers” of the slave trade, a modern myth and piece of bigotry popularised by the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan – a notorious anti-Semite – in a 1991 book.

By the middle of this year, as many as 20 Labour Party members had been suspended or expelled for alleged anti-Semitism. At times, Rich appears bewildered. Though he never articulates it, the question “What has happened to my party?” echoes through these pages. Is it a case of just a few bad ­apples, or is the whole barrelful rotten? The answer, Rich concludes convincingly, in this powerful work that should be read by everyone on the left, is sadly the latter. 

The Left’s Jewish Problem by Dave Rich is published by Biteback, 292pp, £12.99

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood