This semester the UW Cinematheque will present not just one but two concurrent series dedicated to Cannon Films, the production company made (in)famous by Israeli director Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus. While the Cannon Group, Inc. history dates back to the late 1960s, most people associate Cannon Films with the sex comedies and action films produced by Golan-Globus after they took over Cannon in 1979. But much like Roger Corman, who produced the occasional prestige picture amid his drive-in fare in the 1960s, Golan-Globus did produce several critically acclaimed films.
The two series this semester reflect those distinct Cannon Films production trends. The Cannon Fodder series, co-presented at the Union South Marquee Theater by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Film Committee , will showcase well worth-watching low-budget exploitation features like Breakin’ (1984), Ninja III: The Domination (1984), Death Wish 3 (1985), and a personal favorite, Lifeforce (1985). The Cannon Canon series presented at 4070 Vilas Hall, on the other hand, will focus on auteurist features like John Cassavettes’s Love Streams (1984), Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987), and Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear (1987).
Home video and cable transformed the film industry in the 1980s, especially for low-budget genre-driven independents who could secure production budgets by pre-selling ancillary market rights. Even though I wasn’t supposed to be admitted to R-rated features until late 1986, I was certainly aware of Cannon films because they were widely available on home video and television. I was in the key demographic for Cannon: adolescent males with cable and a VCR. Not surprisingly, all of the films featured in both Cannon series this semester were released when I was in high school. Of all of the films showcased this semester, I most look forward to re-visiting Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce in a few weeks (including a review here at Madison Film Forum), because it had everything that juvenile boys wanted when renting from a video store: spaceships, alien vampires, violence, gore, action, explosions, and—dare I say it after growing up to be a sensitive 90s male—gratuitous female nudity.
A Few Surprises: Where have all the Cannons gone?
A few things surprised me about the Cannon series lineups, and the streaming availability of Cannon films.
First, I had expected to find a lot more Cannon films streaming than I did as I prepared this post. There is so much straight-to-video junk on Netflix that I assumed that Netflix would have licensed a big package of Cannon classics just to get their title numbers up. Only a few Cannon films are streaming on Netflix, and aside from some Jean-Claude Van Damme films (Bloodsport, Cyborg) Netflix doesn’t stream most of the key Cannon stars or franchises. As you examine the titles and posters below, you’ll find that most of them are on-demand rentals rather than packaged in subscriptions like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Second, Cannon films are not as ubiquitous on DVD as they were on VHS. Sure, you can find them if you’re looking for them, but they’re harder to find to rent or borrow locally than I had anticipated. I’ve included a few of titles available at Four Star Video Cooperative and Madison Public Library (but certainly not an exhaustive list) below. If you want to do your own hunting, you can find a list of films distributed by The Cannon Group at Wikipedia, which was my starting point for this post.
And finally, while both campus series showcase Cannon franchises and a key Cannon star in Charles Bronson (Death Wish 3 being an example of both), I was more than a little surprised by the absence of Chuck Norris. While Bronson’s Death Wish series provided the foundation for Cannon’s success, surely Norris’s Missing in Action franchise and other action titles maintained Cannon’s momentum through the 1980s. One reason for this Quick Picks entry, then, is to allow you to go deeper in both directions in the Cannon catalogue, the fodder and the canon.
A few titles worth mentioning:
If you can find Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987), it might make an interesting companion piece to Godard’s King Lear (on February 20), since the Lear contract signed on a napkin at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival specified that Mailer would write the script.
I remember renting Neil Jordan’s A Company of Wolves (1984) with the satisfaction of thinking that I had fooled my high school friends into renting an art house film. Its production design by Anton Furst was praised upon its release despite the film’s low budget. The producers of Batman (1989), impressed by Wolves, hired Furst to provide the look of Gotham City. He won an Academy Award for Batman, but unfortunately committed suicide in 1991.
Menahem Golan’s own The Apple (1980) often comes up on lists of cult and/or bad cinema. Back in 2011 my friend Bryan “Bernie” Jacobs and I recorded a commentary track for The Apple as an episode of a podcast named Lula’s A Pubcast. The page for that episode (#6) is currently down, so I’ve embedded the .m4a file below. At the time it was recorded, The Apple was available to stream on Netflix, but that is no longer the case as of the date of this post. If you can’t find it on DVD, you can rent it on demand at Amazon Instant Video. Simple but effective synching instructions are included at the start of the episode.
Lula’s A Pubcast #6: The Apple Commentary
Click on the movie posters without tags to take you to Netflix, Amazon, Vudu or other streaming resources based on current availability.
Links are confirmed as of the posting date. Use GoWatchIt for availability updates and for additional current streaming resources.
Local DVDs: Four Star Video Cooperative and Madison Public Library
For our Madison readers, here are some additional titles available locally for DVD rental or checkout. Some of the streaming titles above are also available on Blu-Ray and DVD; click the buttons below to search in their catalogues.