Scalarama, the UK-wide celebration of repertory cinema, is in full swing this month. Doing their part to bring rarely-seen, challenging, and sometimes just downright weird cinema to the masses are the Badlands Collective. Their manifesto is simple: "We’re a group of film curators in London dedicated to putting on great events." Their contribution to Scalarama lives up to that promise, as for the month of September, the Collective will be running several double bill specials honouring that paragon of cinematic 'quality' - The Cannon Group.
Yes that's right, the very same studio set up by Menhem Golan and Yoarm Globus in Israel in 1979 that tried to barge its way into Hollywood by way of Chuck Norris's fists and Michael Dudikoff's ninja skills. The breeding ground for such politically correct, thought-provoking classics as Invasion USA and Missing in Action. Cannon's films are beloved now for how they provide regular infusions of nostalgia and guilty pleasure vibes to those of a certain generation. But the Badlands crew are taking a different approach here with their programming. Instead of digging up the sleaze, the schlock and the hustlers, their focus is on celebrating the adventurousness, invention and independence. Yes, it turns out Cannon coughed up a few gems amidst all the garbage.
At a time when safe superhero movies dominate the box office, the Badlands guys clearly feel it is illuminating to look back at how Cannon, so often a shorthand for crassness, actually produced some films that, even if perhaps not worthy of the term 'classic' , as least showcase something of a reckless spirit of experimentation and risk taking in the exploitation and genre field. Thus, in glorious 35mm, the Collective have lined up Barfly, 52-Pickup, Runaway Train, Shy People, Superman IV and Street Smart. None of these quite fit into the image that usually springs up when you see that unmistakable C logo, but they showcase the weirdly poloarzied nature of the Cannon head honchos - chasing the mega bucks while courting the occasional person of real talent from time to time. Follow the links to see more about the films.
This writer could not resist the call to see a different side of Cannon, and caught the Barfly/52-Pick-up double at the Prince Charles Cinema. It is worth pointing out that each screening is not only introduced by the programmers so as to give you some background, but you get a neat takeaway brochure giving you concise history of Cannon and details of each film in the season.
Director: Barbet Schroeder, 1987
Both Barfly and 52 Pick-Up were partnerships with major hard-boiled fiction authors. In Barfly, Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway star in what is an autobiographical Charles Bukowski tale. Being about Bukowski, that means lots of boozing and brawling in the gutter. Rourke plays Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke), a destitute but seemingly quite happy alcoholic who lives in a rundown apartment and works menial jobs when he can find them.
Despite looking like utter crap and having a bizarre way of speaking that rivals even Tom Hardy at his best, Rourke's character is strangely serene about his life. He is a drunk, and likes it just fine. He has no ambitions for money or status, even handing dollar bills back when he feels he doesn't deserve or need them. When he meets fellow drinker and danger-seeker Wanda (Dunaway), the two outsiders hit it off, and much drinking, fighting and aimless talking ensues. The film ambles along on its own offbeat direction in a way that is quite admirable, and it sports a nice grittily luminous pallour for its saloon settings thanks to the Kino Flo lighting from DP Robby Muller. A film that doesn't ask its losers to apologise or fit in.
Director: John Frankenheimer, 1986
52 Pick-Up is a seedy potboiler thriller from the mind of writer Elmore Leonard (Jackie Brown), paired up with director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate). Add to this Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret and, lo, you have a quality Cannon thriller. Scheider plays a wealthy businessman drawn into the seedy world of bribery and vice when he is blackmailed by a group of colourful thugs, who have caught him in flagrante with a young model half his age. Things get dark and nasty pretty quickly. Noir and action sleaze collide to great effect, so well in fact that Leonard was known to praise it as the favourite of his adapted works for film.
For details of the other Cannon screenings that the Badlands Collective are running, see their website for details.