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 is a right-wing problem

The spiritual home of Jewish persecution is not on the left.

We have been conned into believing that anti-Semitism is now a disease of the left. In reality, it is still found mostly in racism’s historic home: on the right. But right-wingers use coded language for it.

In the 1930s, campaigners for a deal with Hitler started by arguing that Britain should not fight the “Jews’ war”. Then they got cleverer. My father was one of them, and Richard Griffiths, an expert on the far right, writes that John Beckett and others used the terms “usury”, “money power”, “alien” and “cosmopolitan” as coded references to Jews.

Today, one code is “north London metropolitan elite”. Danny Cohen, until 2015 the BBC’s director of television, was furiously attacked by newspapers for firing Jeremy Clarkson, and the Times called Cohen a “fixture of the north London metropolitan elite”. The comedian David Baddiel tweeted: “Surprised Times subclause doesn’t add, ‘and y’know: a rootless cosmopolitan of east European stock’.” Dave Cohen, the author of Horrible Histories, tweeted: “Times calls Danny Cohen ‘part of north London metropolitan elite’. We hear what you’re saying, guys.”

The tradition is that of Dornford Yates and Bulldog Drummond, memorably satirised by Alan Bennett in Forty Years On: “. . . that bunch of rootless intellectuals, alien Jews and international pederasts who call themselves the Labour Party”. Clarkson is a perfect opponent for a member of the north London metropolitan elite – a privately educated, British Bulldog Drummond figure for our age.

Another fully paid-up member of the north London metropolitan elite is Ed Miliband, and the attacks on him before the 2015 general election had an unmistakably anti-Semitic edge. Colin Holmes, the author of Anti-Semitism in British Society, points to the Daily Mail’s
attack on Miliband’s academic father, Ralph.

“The word ‘Jew’ doesn’t have to be mentioned,” says Holmes. “All you have to do is make it clear that Ralph Miliband was a refugee from Nazism, and then suggest he has no loyalty to the hand that succoured him. His allegiance was to Moscow. He was one of those rootless cosmopolitans. That theme of Jews owing no allegiance can be found throughout the history of British anti-Semitism. The depiction of Miliband drew strength from the prehistory
of such sentiments linked to Jews, treason and Bolshevism.”

So the Mail article tells us, correctly, that Ralph Miliband was an immigrant Jew who fled Nazi persecution. A couple of paragraphs further on, in case we have forgotten that he wasn’t really English, we read about “the immigrant boy whose first act in Britain was to discard his name, Adolphe, because of its associations with Hitler, and become Ralph”.

It follows Miliband to Cambridge, where he was no doubt taught by several tutors, but only one of them is mentioned: the Jewish Harold Laski, “whom some Tories considered to be a dangerous Marxist revolutionary . . . One is entitled to wonder whether Ralph Miliband’s Marxism was actually fuelled by a giant-sized social chip on his shoulder as he lived in his adoptive country.” What exactly is the purpose of the last seven words of that sentence?

Calling Ed Miliband “weird” was another code, and the argument that we should have had David Miliband, not Ed, because he looked and sounded better was a coded way of saying that he looked and sounded less Jewish.

Yet when, come the 2015 general election, I worked for the Labour candidate in my north London constituency, Finchley and Golders Green (which has a higher proportion of Jewish voters than any other), I found not anger at anti-Semitic attacks on Labour’s leader but a belief that anti-Semitism was Labour’s virus. In vain, I pointed out that we were offering not just the first Jewish prime minister since Disraeli but a Jewish MP in Sarah Sackman.

The constituency was awash with rumours – none of which have ever been substantiated – of Labour canvassers saying anti-Semitic things on the doorstep.

On voting day, I did the early morning shift at my polling station. The first words that my Conservative counterpart said to me were: “I hope you’re ashamed of the way your party has campaigned.” It turned out that the tabloid press had run a story that morning to the effect that Labour canvassers had telephoned Orthodox Jews to tell them that they should not vote for the local Tory MP, Mike Freer, because he was gay.

He is gay, but no evidence has been offered to back up  the story. I have written to Freer (still, alas, my MP), asking for chapter and verse. He has not replied.

Labour isn’t guiltless. Shami Chakrabarti’s widely attacked report last summer made that clear, and the home affairs select committee found disturbing instances. Part of the reason why Labour gets more than its fair share of the odium is the eagerness with which its warring factions use the charge of anti-Semitism to smear their rivals.

But, as no less an authority than Deborah Lipstadt, the pre-eminent historian on Holocaust denial, has said, “It has been so convenient for people to beat up on the left, but you can’t ignore what’s coming from the right.”

My foolish father started out as a left-wing Labour MP in the 1920s. But once he embraced anti-Semitism, he quickly moved to the right in all of his other opinions as well. For then, as now, the spiritual home of anti-Semitism, as with any form of racism, is on the right, not on the left.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge