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November 14, 2015

Denver Film Festival: Golan: A Farewell to Mr Cinema

golan poster.jpg

Christopher Sykes - 2015
Christopher Sykes Productions

There seems to have been some kind of numeric coincidence at work. Christopher Sykes' documentary is his third about filmmaker Menahem Golan. As for the subject himself, this follows the two documentaries about Golan's company, Cannon Films. Sykes follows Golan during what turned out to be the last couple of years of Golan's life. Living in Jaffa, Israel, Golan is still trying hoping to make another movie, and still dreaming about winning an Oscar. And for those who might snicker at the thought, Golan's early production, Sallah, from 1964, was a Foreign Language Film nominee.

Sykes provides off screen narration, occasionally letting film clips, often with the actors Golan is still hoping to work with, provide some commentary. Even with several setbacks to his health, Golan could only be stopped by his death, which came at age 85.

Golan provides a personal tour of the exterior of the long defunct movie theater where he first developed his love of film, his childhood home where he had his personal cinema, as well as walks though his neighborhood where he was still loved for his Israeli films. There are also photographs of Golan in his younger days, clips from several films he directed, as well as excerpts from Sykes' previous documentaries on Golan.

I haven't seen the documentary by Golan's cousin, and former business partner, Yoram Globus, The Go-Go Boys, but I did see Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Some of the same information is repeated, about the millions paid for Sylvester Stallone to star in the underwhelming Over the Top, and how Cannon also produced several films by some very idiosyncratic filmmakers, and pretty much gave them a free hand. Neither film mentions how the premature announcement of filming Elmore Leonard's La Brava backfired as presumed star Dustin Hoffman had not signed a contract, or how Leonard took this fiasco as the basis for his novel, Get Shorty.

The Cannon films have been receiving renewed attention, and I make no apologies for my affection for Lifeforce and Breakin' II: Electric Boogaloo. It did occur to me that Golan's own work as a director is probably in need of reevaluation. Out of forty-six films that Menahem Golan had directed, I've seen only three. Delta Force is at the bottom of that particular deck, but on the other hand, but where else are you going to see Lee Marvin and R.W. Fassbinder superstar Hanna Schygulla in the same film? I feel affection for Lepke because it's a movie about a legendary Jewish gangster that didn't dance around that aspect of Louis Buchalter's life, and, hey, I like Tony Curtis. The Magician of Lublin maybe unintentionally be the film that is most representative of Golan. Based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, starring Alan Arkin, Valerie Perrine and Shelley Winters, this is the prestige film that misses its mark. That Menahem Golan had ambitions to make at least one great film can not be disputed.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 14, 2015 08:34 PM