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Electric Boogaloo: Destroying Film Academia

Funny, informative, and balls-out crazy, Mark Hartley’s new documentary on Cannon Films—the guys behind the 'Breakin' movies and Chuck Norris, is exactly what film history should be like.
October 8, 2014, 11:28pm

When Martin Scorsese released his 2001 documentary series My Voyage To Italy, it was a hell of an eye-opener. One of cinema’s greatest ever filmmakers talking about his love for Italian cinema with unpretentious passion and genuine excitement. Those of us used to the dullness of academia, of po-faced film critics who say “juxtaposition” a lot, and arthouse enthusiasts who wielded their knowledge of foreign film like a weapon at the less-educated masses, were shocked. Here was someone whose enthusiasm was so contagious, you came out of My Voyage To Italy feeling as if you were the biggest fan of Italian cinema, even if you’d never seen any.

That’s how all film documentaries should work. Hell, that’s how all education should work, but we’ll limit our scope for the purposes of this article. Scorsese never tut-tutted you for not already being an expert; he said “Hey, you like film? You gotta check this out. I love it, you’ll love it.”

In many ways, Scorsese was the first real film nerd director. Almost as well known for his love of film as his own films, he was followed by counter-culture legend John Waters, who rose to fame with his first film Pink Flamingos. During his promotional tour of the film, Waters saw Eraserhead, the first film from a young director named David Lynch, and instead of promoting his own film, Waters spent his time with reporters talking about how great Eraserhead was.

The 1990s belonged to Quentin Tarantino. His films, which were a mixtape of references and dialogue from the films that had influenced him, were almost like cinematic lectures in and of themselves. He pays homage to film movements and sub-genres by making films that are as good as he remembers the originals being. He takes a certain type of film, and condenses all the best examples into the ultimate form of the genre, the pinnacle. This is harder than it sounds. If you think it’s easy to simply crib from the past and come out with something worthwhile, I direct you to RZA’s well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful The Man With the Iron Fists. Simply loving a genre doesn’t mean you know how to execute it.

Tarantino’s love of cinema was all-encompassing. When he came to Australia, he shocked journalists with a checklist of his favourite Australian films, directors, writers and stars. In a country that seems embarrassed by its own heritage, nobody had even heard of the people and works that Tarantino was citing. As a result, two careers were launched: thanks to QT announcing his love of John Jarratt, Greg McLean got funding for Wolf Creek, and a horror classic was born. The other project to benefit from this press conference was Not Quite Hollywood.

If you’ve never seen Not Quite Hollywood, drop what you’re doing and go get the DVD now. Writer/director Mark Hartley had been frustrated and bemused by the fact that Australian film textbooks all raved about the Australian New Wave movement that spawned critically-acclaimed films such as My Brilliant Career, Walkabout and Gallipoli, but failed to mention genre gems such as Dead-End Drive-In, Turkey Shoot or The Man From Hong Kong. It was like a whole swathe of our cultural history had been erased, and the only other person who seemed to know about it was the newly-minted king of American indie cinema.

Tarantino appeared in Not Quite Hollywood, coining the term “Aussie-sploitation”, which Hartley adapted to the far-more-succinct “Ozploitation”, now a fully-recognised film movement with a Wikipedia page and everything. Like Tarantino’s films, Not Quite Hollywood was even more entertaining than the films it was celebrating. It was like a music video, condensing a ton of information into a movie that was more exciting, more thrilling than anything Hollywood released that year. The style thumbed its nose to archaic textbooks and academia. Film is supposed to be fun, goddamn it.

Hartley followed it up with Machete Maidens Unleashed, a documentary about the insane Filipino film industry of the ’70s and ’80s. Like NQH, it took a subject most of us would have been unfamiliar with, and plunged into it head-first with another exciting, hilarious exploration of the behind-the-scenes tales that were, more often than not, more incredible than the resulting films.

As of 2014, the trilogy is complete. Mark Hartley’s latest film, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films takes us into the unbelievable story of The Cannon Group, the premier producer of low and medium budget films. Cannon produced the Death Wish sequels, American Ninja, Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Cobra, King Solomon’s Mines, Masters of the Universe, and is almost entirely responsible for the career of Chuck Norris. They chased fame, success and the zeitgeist, and it’s safe to say that there’s no one out there now who compares to their bombastic, unapologetic approach.

Electric Boogaloo may be the funniest film of the year. As with Hartley’s previous films, the juxtaposition (yes, I said it) of film clips with interviews is an artform now perfected, and the supreme deployment of a key piece of information at just the right time is what makes this such a triumph.

Funny, informative, and balls-out crazy. This is exactly what film history should be like.

Electric Boogaloo is currently out in select cinemas, and will be released on DVD on October 30.

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