The year was 1979, and Menahem Golan (born Menahem
Globus; he took his name from the Golan Heights) and Yoram Globus, two
cousins with graying, curly hair, had just moved to the United States
and bought controlling interest (for 20 cents a share) in Cannon Films,
a foundering production company that had several minor B-movie hits in
the early seventies, most notably Joe, starring Peter Boyle.
The two had almost single-handedly revitalized the Israeli film business
in the seventies with films like 1974's Kazablan, Golan's Israeli
retelling of West Side Story, and Operation Thunderbolt,
Golan's torn-from-the-headlines story of Israel's 1976 raid on Entebbe,
both starring hunky Israeli actor Yehoram Gaon. Lemon Popsicle,
an irreverent youth comedy set in the fifties, was produced by Golan and
Globus and directed by their friend Boaz Davidson. It was a big hit in
Israel and in several territories around the world.
Operation Thunderbolt had been nominated for a Best Foreign Film
Oscar in 1977, so Americans apparently didn't know what was in store for
them when the cousins hit the States. Almost immediately, Golan and Globus
landed a distribution deal with MGM and started producing and putting out
some of the most exploitative fare ever to get a wide release.
But the movies were unique and well marketed, and on the whole made
quite a bit of money. After the early hits Death
Wish 2, Enter the
Ninja and The Last
American Virgin, in the 1981-1982
period, Cannon rapidly expanded its production slate and its aggressive
marketing and promotional campaigns. Cannon solidified its reputation with
Wish 3, and Bolero with Bo Derek,
as well as Missing In Action, The Delta Force and Invasion
U.S.A. with Chuck Norris, all produced between 1984 and 1986.
With product like this, Golanís dream to create the seventh ďmajor"
film studio seemed a little lofty. But even if Cannon was viewed only as
an independent that put out bad movies, it looked like the two cousins
from Israel were around to stay, much to the chagrin of critics. The Cannon
Group was extremely prolific, far outpacing the majors and producing almost
125 movies in 10 years. In 1986 alone, when Cannonís stock reached its
high of $45.50, they produced 43 movies!
Cannonís business model was novel for the time, and it made the company
extremely successful for a small studio. Golan was an aggressive salesman,
and he sold the rights to his films to different theatrical and video distributors
in many territories before the film was finished, and sometimes, before
it was even started. In this way, he was able to guarantee a certain amount
of income if the film could be made for a fixed amount of money.
Golan and Globus also expanded into other arenas. They bought a large
international theater chain from Lord Lew Grade, thereby guaranteeing captive
screens for Cannon movies to play on, and they also invested heavily in
the video market, buying the international video rights to several classic
film libraries, presumably in order to reap huge profits from releasing
the titles overseas.
Just when Cannonís star seemed to be rising higher,
there were rumblings that it was overextended and on the rocks. The company
had overstepped its bounds and wasted its money by producing some of the
least successful would-be big-budget blockbusters of the latter half of
the eighties. Tobe Hooper's comically overblown Lifeforce, a 1985
science-fiction flick based on the pulp novel Space Vampires,
was a $30 million investment that barely cracked $10 million in returns
when it was released in America.
It was a sign of things to come from Cannonís big productions. In 1987,
Cannon gave audiences a triple whammy of expensive, heavily promoted and
critically savaged big films: Golan's own Over The Top,
an arm wrestling movie starring Sylvester Stallone, Superman IV:
Quest For Peace, the lowest-grossing and most misguided film in the
whole series, and Masters of the Universe, a live action version
of the "He-Man" cartoon starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella.
But bad, expensive movies were only part of the Cannon Groupís troubles.
It was the eagerness of Golan, his willingness to take anything on and
his attempts to surmount any show business obstacle that really sent the
companyís finances southward. When the company needed more studio space,
Golan and Globus used Cannonís enhanced valuation to purchase the British
entertainment company EMI-Thorn, which included Elstree Studios and a huge
video library. And Cannon also bought two more international theater chains.
Globus said this in 1987 when the Cannon Group took a $25 million cash
payment from Warner Bros. in exchange for some of its video assets, in
a move designed to prop up the company: "Our only crime is that we love
cinema. You don't see us at the Polo Lounge, on the tennis court or at
parties. You see us at the office seven days a week.'' Indeed, their desire
to make movies and love of the cinema set Golan and Globus apart from other
Director Tobe Hooper, who directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre
and Poltergeist, was a Cannon regular who made Texas
Massacre 2, Invaders
From Mars and Lifeforce for
during the 1985-86 period. As he said recently in an interview with The A.V.
company to work for, actually. They made hundreds of movies. They did not
have that many hit films, but both Yoram and Menahem just loved movies.
They loved films and loved the filmmakers and really treated them well.
It seemed more, when I was there, like maybe what the old system was like.
I miss it. I miss that kind of showmanship and chance-taking."
And it was chance-taking that got Cannon into trouble. In other words,
Golan and Globus seemed to love making Masters of the Universe just
as much as one of their art movies, but the problem was that neither made
the company any money.
"Cannon art movies" is probably thought of as an oxymoron in some circles.
But although the Cannon Group is best remembered for films like Missing
In Action and Death Wish II, Golan took chances on many art
films. He always hoped to find mainstream critical success, and finally
cast off Cannonís exploitation-only image.
Cannon financed Andrei Konchalovskyís 1985 Oscar-nominated Runaway
Train, as well as Konchalovskyís 1986 drama Shy People, for
which actress Barbara Hershey won several awards, including the Cannes
Best Actress prize. Cannon also released Barbet Schroederís Oscar-nominated
and critically acclaimed Barfly, Jean-Luc Godardís version of King
Lear, and Norman Mailerís Tough Guys Donít Dance, among others.
Film critic Roger Ebert said in 1987, "No other production organization
in the world today has taken more chances with serious, marginal films
than Cannon." Ebert does admit, however, the specter of Cannonís huge-budget
failures and mid-budget exploitation pics formed the dominant perception
of the company at that point, and it continues to this day.
Cannonís yearly appearance at the Cannes film festival was a thing of
legend, especially as the eighties drew to a close. The company took out
every kind of ad in every newspaper, threw parties for the stars, and spent
millions to promote its upcoming slate of films. Golan desperately wanted
to win the Palm díOr, Cannesí highest prize, and he wanted Cannon to be
taken seriously. Ebert charts Golanís obsession with the Cannes Film Festival
in his 1987 book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: "Cannonís historical
failure to win the Palm díOr was not through a lack of effort. The company
has always been cheerfully schizo, announcing its art films with the same
gusto it uses for its exploitation product ... For years [Golan] has arrived
at Cannes with at least one film he announces as a good bet for the Palm
díOr, and every year he has been disappointed ... People wonder how the
same company could remake King Solomonís Mines and film Verdiís
in the same year."
Golanís overzealous business decisions caught up to the company in 1989,
when critics wouldnít have Cannon to kick around anymore. As the decade
of greed came to a merciful end for the beleaguered company, it faced Chapter
11 bankruptcy proceedings, as well as an investigation from the Securities
and Exchange Commission over mistakes and omissions in its financial records.
Golan left the company, and blamed Globus for the financial problems. The
two wouldnít speak to each other again until several years later.
At this point, Cannon was taken over by MGM and became Pathe Communications,
which was run by an Italian financier named Giancarlo Parretti, who would
later be charged with numerous SEC violations of his own in relation to
the Cannon deal. Globus was given the Cannon Ďimprint,í as it were, and
under his Global Pictures banner, production continued only in a limited
capacity. Golan almost immediately formed the 21st Century Film Corporation
to continue his dream.
Cannonís numerous show business hustles have become
legendary in Hollywood. It was during the 1986 Cannes film festival that
Golan signed a contract with Jean-Luc Godard to direct King Lear
on a napkin that Golan proudly displayed at the press conference announcing
the film. (Golan told the London Independent in 1997 that he was
offered $10,000 from a museum in New York for the napkin in question.)
A few years before that, Cannon had announced a film starring both former
James Bonds, Roger Moore and Sean Connery. Golan had to eat his words when
it turned out the two stars had never agreed to such a thing, although
Connery and Moore did appear in separate Cannon productions
-- Connery in the amateurish 1982 fantasy Sword of the Valiant and
Moore in the laughably dead-on-arrival 1984 thriller The Naked Face.
But no hustle was better than what happened with the Ďlambadaí movies
Cannon fell; itís quite possibly the only time in history that a family
rivalry from Israel has played out through dance fad B-movies released
in American theaters.
As the rival cousins prepped production slates with their own independent
film companies, the lambada craze swept America. The single "Lambada" by
the group Kaoma was a #1 hit, and the sensual, body-grinding dance made
its way to almost every radio station and club in the United States.
Needless to say, the lambada dance was classic Golan - Globus material.
The two had a major hit in 1984 with Breakin', which was produced
in about a month for $1 million, and collected a hefty $35 million at the
box office. They tried to do a repeat six months later with Breakin'
2: Electric Boogaloo to limited success. Likewise, Cannon's Rappin'
from 1986 and Salsa from 1988 didn't make too many waves.
But the lambada dance was white-hot and ripe for the picking. As the
craze peaked near the end of 1989, the two rival cousins went in for blood.
Globus announced Lambada for a release on May 4, 1990; he took a
and Deliver rip-off script he had sitting around and commissioned the
screenwriter to add a lambada element to it. Director Joel Silberg (the
veteran musical auteur of Breakiní and Rappiní) was put at
the helm of the quickie production.
Golan, not to be outdone, announced Lambada: The Forbidden Dance,
to be released on April 6. His film, to be directed by Greydon Clark (an
Ď80s schlock film staple, the director of It Came Without Warning
and Joysticks), would be shot and edited in a month. The screenwriters
say they came up with the premise on the way to Golanís office to pitch
Globus pushed up production on Lambada to get it out to compete
with Golanís movie.
Unfortunately for Golan, Globus beat him in registering the title "Lambada"
with the MPAA. Lambada: The Forbidden Dance had to officially drop
lambada from its title. It became The Forbidden Dance with "is Lambada"
as its tagline.
As was the norm, Golan and Globus took out ads in all the trade papers
trumpeting their quickie productions. Globus filed a complaint with the
MPAA several weeks before the films came out over the use of the word lambada
in Golanís advertising copy; the MPAA ruled that Golan did have the right
to use the word, just not in the filmís title.
Golanís film did have one big thing going for it, however. The Forbidden
Dance production secured exclusive film rights to the actual "Lambada"
single, a fact that Golan trumpeted in huge type on all of the ads and
Suddenly, in February it became clear that The Forbidden Dance
might actually be done before its original April 6th release date. Golan
announced, in a memorable two-page Variety ad on March 8th, that the film
would come out on March 16th, and said "I am proud and honored to have
had the opportunity to create the one and only original Lambada film that
truly depicts the lambada dance."
The Forbidden Dance had wrapped shooting on February 17th; Lambada,
now subtitled "Set The Night On Fire," had finished shooting on March 5th,
just days before Golanís announcement.
The two cousins had a decade of experience
in putting out bad movies quickly and cheaply. They had already learned
(like the rest of Hollywood did only recently) to edit movies while they
were still filming. In this way, both movies were practically done when
they finished shooting. So, as hard as it is to believe, Globus pushed
his post-production team even harder, and Lambada:
Set The Night on
Fire, which had finished shooting only 11 days earlier, was also ready
for a March 16th release.
On Friday, March 16, 1990, Cannon Films released Lambada, starring
J. Eddie Peck, Alfredo "Shabadoo" Quinones, and Melora Hardin. The 21st
Century Pictures Corporation released The Forbidden Dance (is Lambada),
starring Laura Herring, Jeff James and Richard Lynch.
No two wide-release 'competing' movies had ever been released on the
same day. Even when two studios are working on similar films and racing
to come out first, the marketing departments never release on the same
day (take Mission To Mars and Red Planet for a recent
because the potential box office will always be split between the
flicks. But the family rivalry of Golan and Globus prevented them
even making sound fiscal decisions.
As Golan told Premiere magazine in March 1990, right before the
movies came out: ''I'm already doing the sequel, Lambada 2: The Forbidden
Quest. We have also created 'How to Lambada, ' an instructional videotape.
All our company, the whole 21st Century Film production company, is now
busy with one thing -- lambada.''
Perhaps this wasnít the wisest business priority for 21st
Century. Amid a firestorm of critical disapproval, Globus won a pyrrhic
victory; Lambada - Set The Night On Fire grossed $2 million in 1,117
theaters, while The Forbidden Dance scared up a measly $720,000
in 637 theaters.
The two lambada movies are cinematic marvels: The
most amazing aspect of both is that they exist at all. Most films take
more than a year to plan and execute. These movies took two months from
start to finish. And they represent everything lovable and endearing about
The Forbidden Dance is the more satisfying film of the two. Greydon
Clark crafted a masterful international tale of corporate greed, environmental
destruction, and lambada. The film tells the story of Nissa (Herring),
a princess from a Brazilian tribe whose land is being threatened by an
evil corporation. With no money, Nissa travels to the United States to
find a way to save her land.
Thankfully, Nissa has one marketable skill -- lambada.
She dances in a Los Angeles club and wins the attention of Greg, a rich
Hollywood playboy played by Jeff James. Nissa and Greg endeavor to win
a "National Lambada Contest" during which Nissa can speak on national television
and inform the American people about the plight of her tribe.
Of course, the evil corporate goons, one of whom is memorably portrayed
by Cannon regular Richard Lynch, conspire to stop Nissa and Greg from winning
the contest. No prizes for guessing the ending, although Clark does give
us a touching freeze-frame at the end of the film telling us that "this
movie is dedicated to the preservation of the rain forest." Maybe they
Lambada: Set The Night On Fire, on the other hand, is a more
standard Cannon Stand and Deliver rip-off movie, with a few lambada
elements thrown in for good measure. Hunky soap opera staple J. Eddie Peck
plays Kevin Laird, mild-mannered Beverly Hills high school teacher by day,
East L.A. lambada dancer by night.
He takes some of the kids who dance at the lambada club and starts teaching
them math. They have a rather predictable face-off with the snooty Beverly
Hills teenagers at the end of the film, followed by a "lambada-off" where
everyone joins together on the dance floor.
The most exciting part is when Peck tearfully explains at the end that
he was born with the name Carlos Gutierrez, and he wanted to use education
to help some of his fellow Hispanics get out of the barrio. Apparently,
knowing how to lambada is also a big help in this regard, at least in early
Golanís and Globusí successful B-movies have a level of hipness to them
that transcends all conventional notions of cinematic quality. Cult movies
come and go, but films like Death Wish 3 and The Forbidden Dance
are forever; they exist as an affront to art cinema and critics, but also
as an affront to the big studio film, as it manages to take chances that
most pictures wouldnít.
Audiences and reviewers get lost in the obvious critiques of these films
without seeing this internal beauty. Cannon films have an ambition that
far surpasses most other films of the day. By achieving some of that ambition,
and leaving the rest to the fertile, thrill-soaked (and often Reaganite,
right-wing fantastical) imagination of the 1980ís, these films have become
for some a very precious cultural document of the time.
The 21st Century Film Corporation and
Global Pictures didnít last very long. Although both companies put out
some notable products other than the lambada films -- Albert Pyunís Captain
America was an almost universally derided 21st Century release,
and Global Picturesí American Cyborg Steel Warrior was a thin Cyborg
rip-off that was the last film to play theatrically under the Cannon banner
-- it was clear that the Cannon Groupís fall had left them both quite damaged.
The two reconciled, appropriately, at the 1992 Cannes film festival.
They hadnít spoken since 1989. Globus told Daily Variety, "Golan
came to my table and started to talk, so I talked to him. We are cousins,
we are family. We have not made friends exactly, and I never really fell
out with him. I wish Mr. Golan all the best from my heart. We went our
separate ways because we had separate points of view."
Even though they could perhaps sell some B-movies overseas and turn
a small profit, the days of 1,300-screen releases of Sylvester Stallone
flicks were way in the past.
But the Cannon story doesnít end with these withered production companies.
After a few years of minimal bottom-basement product for other independent,
direct-to-video companies, the two cousins descended back into Hollywood
in December 1997 to run First Miracle pictures -- together.
Globus said as a guest of CNNís Showbiz Today in early 1998,
"We divorced us after making between us almost 300 movies and after nine
years we agreed both together we're stronger, wiser and we can serve the
On the same program, Golan announced Speedway Junkie, a film
he and Globus were making, would star Daryl Hannah and be produced by "Van
Gast [sic], the director of ĎGood Will Hunting.í" The host helpfully pointed
out that the name is "Gus Van Sant."
Among the other titles on the First Miracle slate was the $3 million
Call, directed by Martin Guigui, with Dom DeLuise in talks to star.
The company also was interested in acquiring another film by Guigui called
Wedding Band, made for less than $1 million and starring singer
Debbie Gibson in a comedy about a wacky Jewish wedding.
Before any First Miracle product appeared, Golan and Globus quickly
left to form yet another company, a subsidiary of First Miracle called
Magic Entertainment. Magic announced some higher-profile projects, none
of which have been released, and Globus left the company in early 1999.
After putting out three unsuccessful movies, including Speedway Junkie,
the First Miracle deal fell apart, and Golan was fired from the company
amidst charges of fraud and breach of contract filed in the New York Superior
Court by First Miracleís owners.
Globus returned to Israel; Golan, unfazed, continued -- even during
the 1998-1999 tumult at First Miracle -- to churn out low-budget fare on
several fronts. He directed Armstrong, a low-grade thriller filmed
in eastern Europe and produced by Nu Image, an company run by Israelis
making direct-to-video movies.
Golan also gave auteur theory a kick in the pants by writing and directing
Versace Murder, starring Franco Nero as the late fashion designer and
Steven Bauer as the FBI agent trying to track down Andrew Cunanan.
Versace Murder generated a significant amount of press during filming
due to its subject matter, but barely got a release in any English-speaking
territory upon its completion due to its inaccuracy and general shoddiness.
It is currently available to hardcore Golan fans as an import VCD from
Golan showed up with yet another production company in late 1999, and
the familiar pattern of overhyped, non-released product has followed him.
Film World Inc. made waves at Cannes in May 2000 with the announcement
of Elian: The Gonzales-boy Story [sic]. Not only was Elianís last
name misspelled on the announcement, the poster featured a recreation of
the famous Ďhouse raidí photo -- this time, the FBI agentís rifle is pointed
directly at Elianís head.
Golan claimed the movie was filming "in a secret location," and that
it would be "ready for delivery in September," but the film has yet to
appear. Golan also announced at Cannes that he had signed actress Sean
Young to a three-picture deal, starting with a drama called The Wooden
Dish, to co-star Martin Landau.
Film Worldís slate also included Crime and Punishment, Golanís
adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel shot for 21st Century Films in the
mid-nineties starring Crispin Glover and John Hurt, Kumite, a "marshal-art
[sic]" film starring Olivier Gruner, and Death Game, a thriller
to star Michael Dudikoff. (Dudikoff was the star of Cannonís American
Ninja series launched in 1985.)
In December 2000, Film World Inc. underwent a corporate "re-organization"
which resulted in it getting out of the film business. It became SulphCo,
a company devoted to producing environmentally friendly petrochemical products.
Investors were apparently not convinced of the potential of the film division.
Without missing a beat, Golanís film company became New Cannon Incorporated,
with a shiny new version of the Cannon logo and the same old production
slate. Golanís partner in this company is young Israeli filmmaker Evgeny
At the beginning of May 2001, Afineevsky talked to me about one of New Cannon's
"It is basically the same concept as Death Wish, which Menahem
produced [sic] with Charlie Bronson," Afineevsky said from New Cannonís
L.A. office. "It is with much smaller names, but good actors like Joe Lara,
who played Tarzan on TV, Billy Drago and Richard Lynch, all of whom Menahem
has been working with many times before." Menahem actually didn't produce
Wish, only its sequels, and Dudikoff is no longer in the cast.
Of Kumite, Afineevsky says, "It is the same concept as Bloodsport,
the first movie Menahem made with Jean-Claude Van Damme."
Reflecting on the legacy of the Cannon name, Afineevsky said, "We are
doing a remodeling and reconstruction of the old [Cannon] stuff, with new
beautiful stories of our time. Menahem wants to use the same concepts of
low-budget movies with great stories and slowly rebuild Cannon to make
it New Cannon."
Globus has formed another production company as well; itís called Frontline
Entertainment, and it has an ambitious slate that sounds some classic Cannon
themes. Treasures of the Red Sea, to be directed by Dan Wolman,
has a synopsis which reads, "When a young boy discovers the ancient crown
belonging to the Queen of Sheba, then loses it, he's in for the adventure
of a lifetime." Other films include the Hebrew-language Time of Favor
(Hahesder), which is about an Israeli army officer falsely accused
of planting a bomb in a mosque, and M.I.A.: Rescue At All Costs,
in which a Gulf War veteran returns to the Middle East to rescue a kidnapped
friend in a high stakes ransom deal.
Globus has also produced Lemon Popsicle: The Party Goes On, the
eighth sequel to 1979ís Lemon Popsicle, which promises to show "how
things really were growing up in the sixties." In true Cannon fashion,
Party Goes On is currently the subject of a lawsuit in Israel from
original Lemon Popsicle director Boaz Davidson, who claims to own
the rights to the series.
Globusí movies are being released primarily to a chain of theaters he
owns in Israel; Afineevsky promises that one of New Cannonís titles, most
likely Death Game, will play in theaters internationally this fall. Of
New Cannonís dometic theatrical chances, Afineevsky said, "If we make a
good movie, you never know. Menahem is talking to people; I am talking
to people. He has done it before, and you never know what can happen."
The only lesson to glean from the hundreds of movies Golan
and Globus have made --most now forgotten and unavailable -- is that
these two producers remain undaunted by short shooting schedules, weak
production values and shoddy scripts. In fact, Golan and Globus have
become like B-movie superheroes themselves; as long as funding exists
for bad exploitation films to be made in the world, they will not rest.
UPDATE: New Cannon Inc. has become New Generation Films.