Mark Hartley | 102 mins | TV (HD) | 16:9 | Australia, USA, Israel & UK / English | 18 / R
The director of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary on Ozploitation movies that I bought on DVD at some point and haven’t got round to watching (and which shares a “The Wild, Untold Story of __” subtitle), turns his attention to a similar kind of thing from a different continent: the output of Cannon Films, the studio renowned for producing a slew of cheap but surprisingly successful B-level genre movies throughout the ’80s.
My main takeaway from the film was a massive list of films I now want to see: Inga, Joe, The Apple, House of the Long Shadows (a PG horror movie!), The Last American Virgin, The Wicked Lady, Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Sahara, Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, Bolero, Invasion U.S.A., Lifeforce… Even though the talking heads in the documentary keep saying how awful all of these movies are, the film makes them look awesome. I mean, not “award-winning” awesome, or even “genre classic” awesome, but like magnificently trashy fun.
As a film, Electric Boogaloo is relentlessly, insanely fast-paced to begin with, and though it does settle a smidge, it still rockets along, which keeps things engrossing and very watchable. There’s an excellent array of talking heads — not many you’ll’ve heard of (unless you’re a Cannon aficionado, perhaps), but they were there, they lived it, and they have first-rate insights into the craziness. Craziness like the story of the competing Lambada movies, which ended up being released on the exact same day. I mean, you’d think one Lambada movie would be more than enough, but two, competing… If you wrote it in a fiction, the audience would laugh at the ridiculous contrivance of it, but it happened. Elsewhere, there’s a chunk where they just slag off Michael Winner for a bit (awesome), and director Franco Zeffirelli describes them as the best producers he ever worked with and the only ones he ever liked. Like I say, you couldn’t make it up.
Documentaries can be hard films to assess from a “film criticism” perspective — you can get lost down lots of blind alleys about the merits of archive footage or talking heads or reconstructions or structure or whatever other variables there are. Some reviews of this film have done that, which I find a little inexplicable because I thought it was very well put together. Plus, generally speaking, if you’ve got a good story and you’ve told it well, I’m satisfied, and I think most viewers are too. This viewpoint means assessing the quality of a documentary becomes more concerned with the subject matter than the documentarian’s skill as a filmmaker, but unless you’re a student of the documentary as a genre, that story (and if it’s told effectively, rather than the issue of if its telling is effective) is all that really matters.
Which is a really roundabout, film-theory-ish way of saying that Electric Boogaloo has a bizarrely fascinating story to tell, and does so in an immensely entertaining manner. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually a lot better than the films it’s about.