Daily | Menahem Golan, 1929 – 2014

Menahem Golan

Menahem Golan

“The filmmaker behind the Death Wish sequels and such 1970s and ’80s Cannon Group actioners as The Delta Force the Lou Ferrigno-led Hercules died [yesterday] in Jaffa, Israel,” reports Deadline. “Menahem Golan was 85.”

“Though visibly unwell, Golan traveled to Cannes in May to attend the premiere of Hilla Medalia’s documentary, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, together with Yoram Globus, his partner in the film company,” notes Dana Kessler at Tablet. “The film, screened as part of the prestigious Cannes Classics, documented the rise and fall of the cousins’ trashy but extremely successful Hollywood venture. The Hollywood Reporter described the duo as ‘the last of the brash, shameless, old-school, ingratiatingly crass pirates to streak across the cinematic firmament before the advent of the suits and bean counters’—and indeed they were.”

“Unlike the sanctioned version, The Go-Go Boys, which was made with the full cooperation of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the second documentary this year to examine their rise and fall, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, doesn’t pull its punches,” wrote David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter just about a week ago. “A zippy chronicle of the Israeli cousins’ decade at play in the Hollywood sandbox, the documentary makes no bones about them bringing way more chutzpah than taste to their astonishingly prolific output. But even the gripes of collaborators whose careers were tarnished by the Golan-Globus touch can’t dim the film’s abiding affection for the nonpareil schlockmeisters.”

“If Golan had done nothing but produce exploitation films, he would have earned his place in the cinematic pantheon in the eyes of many film fans, but what made him truly unique was the way that he was equally determined to produce and distribute films that would play in arthouses as well as grindhouses,” writes Peter Sobczynski at “At the same time that he was grinding out one film after another with Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris, he was producing films for John Cassavetes (Love Streams), Andrei Konchalovsky (Maria’s Lovers and Runaway Train), Robert Altman (Fool For Love) and Franco Zeffirelli (Otello). In 1987 alone, he released Kochalovsky’s family drama Shy People, Barbet Schroeder’s exuberant Charles Bukowski saga Barfly, Norman Mailer‘s outrageous adaptation of his own pulp fiction pastiche Tough Guys Don’t Dance and, most bizarrely of all, a film version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, which was to have been written by Mailer (therein lies a long story) but which was directed by Jean-Luc Godard and which featured a cast including the likes of Burgess Meredith, Molly Ringwald, Julie Delpy and, in the role of the Fool, none other than Woody Allen.”

David Caspi in the Hollywood Reporter: “Born Menahem Globus to Polish immigrants on May 31, 1929, in the Northern Israeli city of Tiberias, he changed his surname for patriotic reasons to the Hebrew name of Golan upon serving in the Israeli Air Force during the country’s 1948 War of Independence. After finishing years of filmmaking studies at the Old Vic School, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and New York University, he returned to Israeli and directed for the stage. In the early 1960s, Golan started working for cult film producer Roger Corman on The Young Racers, which led to his own 1963 directorial debut of Israeli film El Dorado…. In 1977, Golan directed Operation Thunderbolt, based on the previous year’s real event of the Israeli raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda, a movie that was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language Film and led the way for the cousins to try and conquer Hollywood.”

“For a decade Golan dominated the market portion of the Cannes Film Festival, booking hundreds of pages a day in trade papers and hoping to win acclaim for his films,” writes Richard Natale in Variety. “In his 1987 book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, Roger Ebert wrote, ‘Cannon’s historical failure to win the Palme d’Or 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.’ By increasing the pics’ budgets, they also increased their risk, and met a fate similar to that of other international concerns such as Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar’s Carolco, which tried to crash mainstream Hollywood only to crash and burn.”

In 2010, the Locarno Film Festival presented its Best Independent Producer Award, the Premio Raimondo Rezzonico, to Golan and Christoph Huber nabbed the occasion to interview him for Cinema Scope. “When Golan says, ‘I am a born storyteller,’ he means it,” notes Huber, arguing that Golan’s “grand theme is self-realization.”

Update, 8/11: Anita Gates in the New York Times: “Mr. Golan produced more than 200 films, directed more than 40 and wrote almost as many (often under the name Joseph Goldman), including works as serious as a 2002 production of Crime and Punishment, with John Hurt and Vanessa Redgrave, and as exploitative as The Versace Murder (1998), filmed less than four months after the fashion designer Gianni Versace’s death…. To say that Mr. Golan discovered [Jean-Claude] Van Damme, when he was a Belgian kickboxer who had appeared only in tiny parts in a handful of films, is to give Mr. Van Damme too little credit. As he has told the story, he spotted Mr. Golan outside a restaurant in Beverly Hills, Calif., and leapt into action, executing a karate kick above the filmmaker’s head. Mr. Golan promptly gave him his first starring role, in Bloodsport (1988), about a potentially deadly martial arts tournament. Mr. Van Damme was paid $25,000, and the film earned almost $12 million in the United States alone.”

Updates, 8/16: “Golan began as a director and his sympathies tended to fall on the side of the artist,” writes Variety‘s Scott Foundas. “‘He could never bring himself to fire a director,’ said Globus during an onstage conversation with Golan in 2010 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where I had co-programmed (with Film Comment editor Gavin Smith) a tribute series titled the Cannon Films Canon…. Most of that retrospective tilted toward Cannon’s artier fare… But we did make room for one late-night screening of Golan’s exuberantly terrible futuristic rock musical The Apple (1980), now a so-bad-its-irresistible cult classic. Presenting the film to an enthusiastic crowd, Golan recalled the crippling depression he felt after the film’s disastrous world premiere at the Montreal Film Festival, and his joy at seeing it belatedly embraced (albeit for reasons other than those originally intended).”

For more on The Apple, see Dan Piepenbring‘s entry for the Paris Review.

“Other studios had more money and bigger stars in the 1980s, but no one had more moxie, Israeli-grade chutzpah, or Electric Boogaloo than Cannon,” writes Nathan Rabin at the Dissolve. “Golan was a man of his times, specifically the 1980s, but the times are increasingly tilting in a Golan-friendly direction. The go-for-broke, shameless spirit of Cannon at its wackiest and most tackily inspired finds expression in the excitement over proud schlock like The Expendables and Hobo with a Shotgun, as well as a slew of bad-movie podcasts where the dregs of cinema are celebrated for their exquisite awfulness and unintentional entertainment value. The individual elements and stars of Cannon’s oeuvre are totally ’80s, but Golan’s carny-showman instinct to put butts in seats by any means necessary—preferably through some combination of sex, violence, showmanship, and crazy gimmicks—remains timeless.”

“Golan-Globus made a specialty of ‘pre-selling’ their films, based on their promised ‘exploitable elements,’ to cable TV and home video companies and film distributors, well before even making the movies,” writes Phil Dyess-Nugent at the AV Club. “Budgets were kept so low that most of the films scarcely had to perform at the box office to make a profit. In a 1983 Film Comment article that hailed Golan and Globus as ‘New Hollywood’s kings of the cheapies,’ Roger Corman, for whom Golan had once worked as an assistant, called him ‘a master of the pre-sell on the international market.'”

Criterion Cast points us to a terrific interview with Golan conducted by Oren Shai in 2008.

Update, 8/24: “A true outlier in the Golan corpus, The Apple has gradually eclipsed even his 1977 Operation Thunderbolt, a raid-on-Entebbe actioner fairly throbbing with Israeli patriotism, in popularity,” writes Nick Pinkerton for Film Comment. “I’m not here to riff on a dead horse, but to inquire into what The Apple suggests about Golan’s relationship to film art, and what its cult reputation says about the terms in which we ourselves think and talk about culture today.”

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