Camp David

CAMP DAVID JANUARY 2008: CANNON-BURY TALE

By • Jan 20th, 2008 • Pages: 1 2 3

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CANNON-BURY TALE
“Hollywood Thou art {Jenny} Craven”

Once upon a time in a make-believe land that time forgot (try 1980’s Hollywood)
there existed a film company that brazenly dreamt without guilt or shame of riches and fame as the seventh major studio in a self conscious tinsel town that was only just aware of six. This ambitious company had already reinvented itself once without the butterfly effect.

The company’s new moguls now made it their top priority to make the pilgrimage every year amidst much media fanfare to the French Rivera, lusting openly for the highly sought after prize – The PALM d’OR – awarded at the legendary Cannes film festival. (think of it as a modern equivalent of a literary pilgrimage to Canterbury, in a far less lofty, yet seemingly enlightened ritual of show business – the naming of the best in Cinema by your peers or the media).

These men spared no expense in throwing the company money around at the festival; they took out lavish ads for films being made or about to be made. (Even films that they were “thinking about” making in the near future were given ads and poster art). The parties at the Carleton Hotel for Stallone, Faye Dunaway or Sharon Stone were legendary, even by Cannes standards of dolce vita. At the end of the day it is still the money that talks, and the boys seemed to have plenty of that to go around, so for the moment the go go boys were the golden boys, with the Mediterranean sun as their spotlight and a Hollywood complex for a stage.

This force of nature, known throughout the then-current entertainment industry as THE CANNON FILM GROUP, was being obsessively ruled by a pair of cheerfully schizoid moguls – Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus – nicknamed the “the Go Go boys”. They were cousins who came into this wildly cinematic version of Chaucer from Israel with both their curly heads high in the clouds dreaming of those hundred-million-dollar three- picture deals and, of course, THE MOVIES

These go go boys lived and breathed movies in much the same obsessive manner that the self-styled moguls of old Hollywood did, and that made them charming to the locals and, more importantly, to the press. I had already become very aware of THE CANNON FILM GROUP and their shenanigans, thanks to my friend Martine Beswicke. Martine had been cast as the infamous “Happy Hooker” when Cannon picked up the franchise with their latest installment, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES HOLLYWOOD. Martine signed on for an R rated film and quickly found herself in what amounted to a soft-core sex film. As soon as she would leave the set the producers would bring in girls from the porn industry to do simulated sex scenes that would certainly give the film an X certificate and compromise Martine’s reputation, which at the time was that of one of the James Bond girls, as well as her fame as a Hammer Horror Queen. She had to stand her ground with these sleaze merchants and make them honor their original agreement.

The film did little or nothing for Martine’s career or the reputation of the CANNON GROUP who already had most of the Hollywood insiders’ tongues wagging about this renegade film company that had just made 23 films in one year, some of them not that bad considering the lack of taste or discrimination the company was becoming known for.

They produced critical favorites like RUNAWAY TRAIN and BARFLY, as well as the Cassevetes “art” film LOVE STREAMS. This open-check-book approach also attracted directors like Roman Polanski, John Huston, and even the iconic darling of the French new wave, Godard, to their banner, allowing a truly eclectic series of films to be made that would never have seen the light of day in today’s film market.

Of course now, in the light of the new century, when THE CANNON FILM GROUP legacy is avidly discussed by film buffs that were not even born when the catalogue was new, thanks in part to their films being available on home video and DVD, it is usually the action flicks that are synonymous with the company’s reputation. After all they brought Charles Bronson’s DEATH WISH franchise out of moth balls, and gave Sly Stallone the world’s first arm wrestling father and son bonding flick, OVER THE TOP, the title of which sums up Sly’s star performance in the production as well. Stallone was at the time paid an outrageous salary for this turkey, which also signaled to most Hollywood insiders the starting point of the long downward slide of the CANNON GROUP into bankruptcy by the end of the decade.

They created new action stars like Michael Dudikoff, Chuck Norris and the “muscles from Brussels” himself, the decidedly short but altogether hunky Jean Claude Van Damme (who, as the legend goes, was discovered by Menahem Golan one afternoon when the then out-of-work actor, who was moonlighting as a pizza delivery boy, brought a pizza up to the executive office and then waited for Golan to leave his office whereupon Jean Claude risked all to deliver more than a pizza – he placed a karate kick right over the mogul’s head without touching so much as a hair. This bit of showmanship so impressed Golan that he placed Jean Claude under contract and the rest, as they say, is history). The offices of THE CANNON FILM GROUP were never boring; you could always count on at least one screaming match between talent and their producers before lunch. All the staff basically hated the people they had to work for, making for a colorful environment to say the least. I will never forget walking off the elevator on the floor where the executive offices were located, only to see two Israeli guards, both armed with machine guns, standing on either side of the door leading into their offices. This was one reason I was glad not to have ever had to work within the building itself. The good news being no incident was ever reported during the time the company was there.

Now my working connection to this infamous company arrived in the guise of the British screenwriter Michael Armstrong, who lived with me during this timeline, introducing me in turn to a producer he worked with at CANNON named Jenny Craven. These two eccentric personalities both arrived in Hollywood from the UK. My further recollections of Mike can be found in the ‘Marked by the Devil’ chapter in this collection. Every one of the personalities I would meet during this period came to remind me of the equally colorful characters one would encounter in the slightly more classical world of Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES. Jenny would be the “Wife of Bath” who, instead of being an authority on marriage, would concentrate on her prowess of as a film producer instead.

Jenny Craven can best be described as a comfortably neurotic woman with a terrific sense of survival that was constantly being undermined by being let down by those upon whom she had come to depend both personally and professionally. I would fall into both these categories in about 12 month’s time, but I am getting slightly ahead of myself

Both Jenny and Michael had enjoyed a working relationship with CANNON FILMS in the UK, Mike as a screenwriter on HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS [1981] and Jenny as one of the producers of Mike’s film as well as the1985 Agatha Christie adaptation ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE. It is a known fact that once you begin to work in this industry behind the camera it is almost impossible to give up the notion that this is where you belong, and your mind cannot cope with anything less. Sadly, both Jenny and especially Mike had to suffer their time in the thankless purgatory of development Hell until friends and family of the suffering duo finally broke through the “I am just one deal away from major mega success” -induced coma to the reality of just getting on with your life and leaving Hollywood forever.

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