By Chuck Stephens Shreveport, Louisiana-born experimental filmmaker Will Hindle (1929–1987) did two tours in the Army during the ’50s, More →
By Christoph Huber
“All created things are mutable, and thus they have the potentiality either to improve or to turn toward evil.”—John of Damascus (opening quote of The Versace Murder, 1998)
Certainly the world would be much poorer without Menahem Golan. Especially the world of film. How to do justice to a man whose office is adorned with both a certificate from the International Arm Wrestling Council, commending the auteur of Over the Top (1987) that reads “In appreciation of your valued support for the sport of arm-wrestling,” and the famous napkin on which Golan and Jean-Luc Godard signed a million-dollar-contract for King Lear (1987) during their 1985 lunch meeting in a Cannes restaurant? Personally, I’d rather make a bid for the arm-wrestling certificate, but in a 1997 interview Golan claimed he turned down a $10,000 offer from MoMA for the napkin. These items represent, in a nutshell, the legend of Menahem Golan, cinema-obsessed producer-director-writer-huckster, most (in)famous for his decade-long reign—with cousin and partner Yoram Globus—over The Cannon Group, Inc., an enterprise that in many ways defined the cinema of the ‘80s, down to the metallic sheen of their logo, which all by itself managed to draw boos during the latter part of the Golan-Globus tenure. From 1979 to 1989 they produced more than 120 films, ruthlessly and enthusiastically pursuing their American Dream of turning a renegade independent outfit into the seventh Hollywood major with an aggressive pre-sales policy and an insanely prolific schedule for cheap mass production, centring on trashy exploitation fare, with which Cannon Films was—and likely, if not altogether fairly, still is—inevitably associated.
But like cherries on top, there is also a string of prestige productions by world-class filmmakers, most famously Love Streams (1984), the last great film by John Cassavetes, which won Berlin’s Golden Bear, even if the Golan-Globus dream of a Palme d’Or never materialized. Their legendary Cannes appearances were not just for hawking yet-unmade projects on the market, abetted by huge ads in the dailies; they were regular competition contributors. Andrei Konchalovski, who—starting with the wonderful WWII fallout romance Maria’s Lovers (1984)—had the longest Cannon auteur run with four fabulous features, was a contender twice, with Runaway Train (1986) and Shy People (1987). He competed against more of Cannon’s own: Robert Altman’s Fool for Love (1985), Franco Zeffirelli’s Otello (1986), and Barfly (1987) by Barbet Schroeder, whose appropriately amazing Golan experience pivots around how he threatened to cut off his fingers one by one with a chainsaw to get the production going. On the other hand, Tobe Hooper, also on record for repeated Cannon collaborations—despite the expensive flop of his first outing, the sci-fi vampire extravaganza Lifeforce (1985)—claimed that “Cannon was really a good company to work for,” since “both Yoram and Menahem loved the movies and the filmmakers and really treated them well. It seemed more, when I was there, like maybe what the old system was like. I miss that kind of showmanship and risk-taking.” Indeed, the Cannon tactic of making many low-budget films was the reverse strategy of the ever-escalating big studio plan to narrow production in favour of fewer and fewer expensive tent-pole blockbusters, and Golan achieved a breakthrough when he managed to renegotiate contracts after the Directors Guild of America tried to shut down the production of his charming Elliott Gould comedy Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984). Arguing that it was unfair that a film costing a million dollars got the same union terms as a $50 million major production, he managed to draw up the “Cannon contract,” allowing for different terms and salaries on films under three million.
The same year Cannon had its first smash hit with the cheaply made breakdance item Breakin’ (1984), a success they tried to reproduce with every new dance fad (Salsa, Lambada, etc.) Similarly, they followed formulas—the distinction between rip-off and re-imagination becomes meaningless in this line of thinking—for the majority of their output, whether that meant hiring the softcore success combo of Just Jaeckin and Sylvia Kristel for a D. H. Lawrence-inspired flesh-fest (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1981), making at least half-a-dozen martial-arts-tinged exploitation cheapies with the word Ninja in the title, or retooling recent action trends around their biggest money-spinner Chuck Norris, having him go Rambo with uncommon valour in the Missing in Action films, or defy the red dawn in Invasion U.S.A. (1985). Surely the recognizability helped to facilitate the business model of securing advance sales to different distributors and video companies in many territories, guaranteeing cash flow and a profit if the film was kept under a certain budget. But the shameless appropriation of current fads also makes the Cannon legacy a peculiar X-ray of the Reagan years. So another major draw was Charles Bronson, reactivated for vigilante duty in Death Wish sequels and similar outings, allowing permanent late-career employment for much-maligned craftsmen like Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson. In an especially curious instance of Cannon mangling, the latter’s Robert Mitchum vehicle The Ambassador (1984), which transposed a Detroit-set Elmore Leonard novel to Golan’s homeland, was given a Los Angeles porn-industry reboot in John Frankenheimer’s not entirely faithful, but still pretty remarkable Leonard screen transposition 52 Pick-Up (1986).
Roger Ebert’s oft-quoted Cannes memoir insight that “No other production organization in the world today has taken more chances with serious, marginal films than Cannon” looks a bit curious in retrospect, as the film world has changed and the festival circuit has become its own kind of niche market. Back then it must have been something different for an independent, late-night-cable trendsetting company to gorge on prestigious names: a paradox played on by Godard, when he cleverly opens King Lear with (an unwittingly taped) Golan ranting in a phone conversation about how concerned his company is about loss of prestige and (buyer) confidence, since the long-announced English Godard feature has yet to materialize. Not that Golan was too happy when it finally did (and frankly, even though its flop contributed much more to the downfall of Cannon, I prefer Cannon’s other 1987 God[d]ard, Gary’s colourful, toy-line inspired fantasy Masters of the Universe. By the power of Grayskull!). The downside of the situation was experienced by Anthony Harvey, whose last cinematic feature Grace Quigley (1984) turned out to be a disaster, and whose screenwriter A. Martin Zweiback fought a long battle with the hostile Cannon brass to rescue the usable footage and reedit it into The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley.
Still, apart from the already mentioned, other “artistic” brand names on the Golan resume are such diverse cases as Jason Miller (his only directorial outing, 1982’s That Championship Season), Curtis Harrington (1985’s Mata Hari, played by Kristel), Israeli compatriots Moshe Mizrahi (War and Love, 1985) and Michal Bat-Adam (The Lover, 1985), Jack Smight (Number One With a Bullet, 1987), Jerry Schatzberg (the excellent Street Smart, 1987), Norman Mailer (who after falling out with Godard on his Cannon project, ended up directing Tough Guys Guy Don’t Dance for them the same year), Godfrey Reggio (Powaqqatsi, 1988), Dusan Makavejev (Manifesto, 1988), and even Fons Rademakers, who returned for The Rosegarden (1989) after winning the Foreign Language Oscar with The Assault (1986). Serious, yes, but hardly marginal—then again, not just those categorizations seem shaky in the light of Golan’s own directorial career, which was often summarily ridiculed, despite supposing to compete in a midway-cancelled Cannes with Tevye and his Seven Daughters (1968) and securing a Foreign Language Oscar nomination for the Entebbe action film Operation Thunderbolt (1978).
That the Golan legend and his public image have overshadowed what’s actually there is how he wants it. Fascinated by cinema and its myths, he has been busily spinning his own, as evidenced by the interview below, given on the occasion of his richly deserved Golden Leopard in Locarno, which includes insupportable claims like Maria’s Lovers being about Vietnam or Dementia 13 (1963) being a colour movie—even the numbers of Bronson and Norris productions seem off. But it spices up the anecdotes into which he likes to segue regardless of the questions. When Golan says, “I am a born storyteller,” he means it. After all, even his name is mythic—taken, allegedly for patriotic reasons, from the Golan heights (he was also born a Globus, in 1929 in what was then known as the British Mandate for Palestine). Accordingly, his work as a director is fuelled by a passion for the power of popular cinema, and the title of his ridiculously entertaining Sylvester Stallone classic Over the Top applies. Sure, he has made his share of godawful films, like The Versace Murder (1998, which doesn’t seem to bother with a sound mix), yet claims its trashy tale is a cautionary warning about the TV culture “we’re addicted to,” although it fits perfectly in its margins. In grand old style, Golan claims to have no interest in peddling a message, but shows consistent interest in certain themes: the classic Israeli Bourekas film topos of difference between ethnic cultures is given an enjoyable spin in his musical Kazablan (1974), where the worlds of Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews collide, while donkeys graze and a paean to state-building is performed (“Demo-, Demo-, Democracy!”); it’s transposed to a Jewish-Christian New York setting in the sweet romantic comedy of separation Over the Brooklyn Bridge. An intriguing, politically tinged penchant for ripped-from-the-headlines hostage scenarios ranges from Operation Thunderbolt to the best Norris film, The Delta Force (1986), which plays almost like a remake of the earlier film, segueing into superior default Chuck mode. Lima: Breaking the Silence (1998), audaciously glorifies the “terrorists,” while Billy Drago sneeringly represents murderous military intervention from the good ol’ USA. In one of many religious Golan moments, a priest absolves the leader of the hostage-takers for “everything you have done—or are going to do,” while giving him the rosary. There is always an innate sense for functional mise en scène, but as the threadbare spy saga The Uranium Conspiracy (1978) shows, even make-ends-meet cobbling can easily veer off into faux-opulence, and hilarious scenes of Salzburg guards give way to a genuinely exciting 15-minute chase before we’re back to that Austrian axiom of trash Herbert Fux wielding a submachine gun, and declaring with a heavy accent: “I will empty sis in yuhr stohmach! Scheiße! Ze next time I wohn’t miss yuh!” Similarly, Enter the Ninja (1981), though successfully inaugurating a Cannon craze—“You want Ninja? I give you Ninja!”—is downhill from the vaguely Shaw-style credit sequence, where the director’s credit is augmented with a knockout kick. Afterwards all that enlivens the proceedings is Zachi Noy, the cult actor of the Golan-produced Lemon Popsicle hit series, chewing scenery as “The Hook” (which he mercilessly sinks into balls and such), clearly on the way to his current career apex as a donkey performer in children’s theatre.
On the other hand, Golan constantly strives for energizing the movies, though only a few, like The Delta Force, sustain the tension. But when it works and he goes for the grand operatic gesture, it’s killer: Klaus Kinski contracting pretzel-like when he’s shot in Operation Thunderbolt; the miraculous jump from the balcony in Golan’s mysteriously underrated Isaac Bashevis Singer adaptation The Magician of Lublin (1979); or, in Over the Top, the Jasper Johns-worthy shot of a contender bellowing taunts in front of his truck cabin in the midst of a parade of bearded muscled fatsos, bad ‘80s hairdo female arm wrestlers, scantily clad number girls, and Stallone turning his cap (as if anticipating his classic line “Hip-hop is never a mistake” in his advice book Sly Moves). You feel the passion for cinema and (its) power that drives Golan even through the bad choices, as when he turned down Arnold Schwarzenegger (and advised him to change his name: “Not a name for a movie star!”) or went over the top with Cannon, whose crazy expansion in cinema chains and production—49 films alone in 1986, as many as he and Globus had produced previously in Israel—dubious deals, and bad luck (huge losses in 1987 with Masters of the Universe, Over the Top, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), ended in a bankruptcy investigation. (They never got to make Spider-Man, for which they held the rights.) Nothing exemplifies this madness like that singularity of cinema, The Apple (1980), Golan’s demented science-fiction musical—“It was ahead of its time,” he claims—whose cocaine psychedelics produce a design riot (red liquids in triangular glasses, brain-freezing colours, a succession of show-stopping song-and-dance), while serving up gleeful inanity at a rollicking pace, even as it clearly is a heartfelt biblical parable. It is also a work of visionary bad taste that leaves you blind, though afterwards it’s hard to say whether your eyes just popped out or if you gouged them out in impulsive self-defense. The mad passion has continued, most hilariously in the battle of Lambada movies (recounted on various websites) the cousins had after their falling out over the Cannon disaster. Golan went on, and has been mostly working as a director in Israel, with films like Return from India (2002), which, despite often looking TV-ish, fits within an auteurist approach: his grand theme is self-realization. When, at the end of the Western-inflected Over the Top, Stallone’s truck drives down the road towards towering mountains, it’s like Golan’s Monument Valley.
Cinema Scope: You became involved with movies as a child back in your Israeli hometown of Tiberias, when one of your first jobs was as a subtitle-turner.
Menahem Golan: At that time the subtitles were not on the film, but projected on the side. So you needed someone to turn the wheel. And already as a child I wanted to see every movie, but my father didn’t give me the money to go to the cinema three or four times a week. So I made a deal with the projectionist that I would turn the film subtitles for free, as long as I could see the movie. But it often happened that I got so caught up in the film that I forgot to turn the wheel. And the whole cinema would start yelling: “Menahem! Menahem! Subtitles!!!”
We had just one washing room in our building, and in it there was a machine to dry the sheets: you would put the sheets in between two wheels and they would turn and press out the water. It was like a projector, so I adapted this machine for films. I took books from my mother—she had a huge library of Polish books—and cut out the pictures and put them together, inventing a story to the pictures.
Scope: So that was actually your first movie!
Golan: Yes. At school I told the other children that every Shabbat they could come and see my movie for a penny. But the first Saturday nobody came. So the next week I said: I will pay you a penny if you come. And they all came! It was a full house. That was my first lesson: if you want an audience, you have to give them something.
Scope: But first you started out in theatre. After being discharged from the Israeli Army in the ‘40s, you became one of the country’s foremost stage directors.
Golan: Yes, I started out in that field when I was only 22, directing adaptations of American musicals and the like. Shortly after I became 30, I moved to America with my family, so I could study at the film school in New York. After one year there, I wrote Roger Corman a letter, because I had heard that he wanted to shoot a picture in Europe.
Scope: The Young Racers (1963).
Golan: Yes, and I wanted to join him. So he wrote back: “If you are in the Hotel Palace in Monte Carlo on the 6th of June and you bring a car, you can be my driver!” Together with my wife I flew from New York to Paris, I bought a little car and we drove down. When I arrived on the 6th, Corman accepted and I was really happy. Then, on the first weekend, Roger realized that for the first shot we would need a wreath for an awards ceremony scene. So at the crew meeting this assistant—actually it was Francis Ford Coppola!—said, “Where do we get the wreath? It’s Saturday night and we need it by Sunday morning.” So Corman asked, “Who can get this by 7:00 a.m. tomorrow?” And I said I’d do it. He gave me $100 and I started to look for a flower shop, But it was 7:00 p.m., so they were all closed already. I desperately searched, staring into the windows, when a police car came by. The police were obviously thinking I was planning to rob the shop, and seemed ready to arrest me. I tried to explain to them in half-French, half-English that I needed a wreath for a film. Then they took me to the police station and looked up the address of the shop owner, who lived somewhere in the mountains; he came out of his house in his pyjamas! But he agreed to do it, and so the police took us both back to his shop, where we proceeded to work all night on the wreath. At 7:00 a.m. I was back on the set with the wreath. And Roger said, “How did you do it?” I replied, “I don’t know!” But he called everybody and said, “Look at this boy. He is going to be a producer.” Because to be a producer you must get everything you can, you understand?
Scope: So, another lesson learned.
Golan: Yes. And I was very proud. When we had dinner together, with Coppola and all the others, I told Roger, “I want to make my first movie.” And he said, “What’s it about?” I answered, “Do you know Theodor Herzl? In his book The Old New Land he says that when the people of Israel have a thief, a cop, and a whore, then there will be a country. So I will make a film about a cop, a thief and a whore!” We immediately made a deal: Roger bought the rights for the whole world except Israel for $30,000. Actually, back then, I had no idea what a budget was. But anyway, Coppola said immediately, “Roger, are you crazy? You’re doing a film in Hebrew? In black and white? I will make you a colour film in English for that money!” So Coppola stole my film! When Roger asked, “But Menahem has a story, do you have a script?” Coppola admitted that he hadn’t yet. “But tomorrow morning I will!” And he wrote the whole night through in the hotel; he was in a room near mine, and I heard him typing all night. And really, the next morning he presented a script. Coppola was a genius writer, that was what made him big—he got his first Oscar as a scriptwriter for Patton (1970). When we went to Ireland to shoot the racing scenes, he went across the river and made a deal with the studio, and it became Coppola’s first movie, Dementia 13 (1963).
Scope: But your movie also got made, back in Israel, as El Dorado (1963).
Golan: I got back there without the money, but I met an immigrant from Australia, Mordechai Navon. He was in the schmatte business, and he wanted to start a film studio. So when I told him my story, he agreed—but I wouldn’t get a salary, only a high percentage of the film’s gross. Then I discovered Topol as a star for the film. And when it came out—at the time in Israel there were less than 2 million people—it sold 800,000 tickets. It was huge! And after that, I did film after film.
Scope: El Dorado could be described as Israeli noir. Your influences were American and European, right?
Golan: Yes, I always liked American films. But I loved even more Italian neorealism.
Scope: I hear Pietro Germi’s Seduced and Abandoned (1964) is one of your all-time favourites.
Golan: Yes, a great film. Actually I took his star Saro Urzi for my next film, Fortuna (1966).
Scope: By then you had also produced Ephraim Kishon’s Sallah Shabati (1964), which was a giant success and very influential. Later, such entertainments with socio-cultural backgrounds became known as Bourekas movies. Up into the ‘70s as a producer-director, you were one of the kings of this Israeli phenomenon, with films like the musical Kazablan (1974), which was picked up by MGM.
Golan: Yes, every film of mine sold a million tickets. Actually, in some cities we sold even twice the number of citizens! For Kazablan, we had invited MGM’s head of distribution to the premiere in Israel, where I gave him a seat near our president and myself. And in the middle of the screening he said, “I’m gonna buy this film.” So we did the deal right there! He gave us $500,000 for the world rights. And I had done the film two times, and also was already preparing an English version. To re-edit it, I came to the US, where I met a nice Jewish man, Mr. Plitt. He said, “I own the best chain of cinemas in California and I want to show Kazablan, but MGM won’t give it to me—they have a deal with another chain. Do you know how much money I donate to Israel?” Since MGM wouldn’t budge, I said, “Mr. Plitt, if you like my film, let’s just do another, here in America.” And that’s how I ended up making Lepke (1975). Plitt asked if I had a story, preferably about Americans. I replied, “Not now, but maybe tomorrow.” So I went to a bookshop and in an encyclopedia of American crime I found a Jewish gangster, Louis Buchalter, who ran the company Murder, Inc. If you pay money, they kill: that’s his job. And he was from Brooklyn. When I asked Mr. Plitt what he thought, he wasn’t sure if people would want to see a Jewish killer. But I just replied: “They are paying to watch an Italian killer, so why not a Jewish killer? Lepke, Al Capone—it’s all the same!” So he gave me $300,000 for his chain and said, “The rest of the world is yours.” Immediately I phoned my cousin Yoran, who was still in Israel: “Come! We are now going to make American movies!” So we got offices in the Selznick studios, and I cast Tony Curtis. You know, I still have another part for him, in a script called The Wooden Dish. He wants to act again, even though he must be close to 90. Myself, I’m 81 now. How old was Hitchcock when he made his last film?
Scope: That was Family Plot (1976), Hitchcock was about to turn 77 when it came out. So you’re already going longer than Hitchcock!
Golan: I always say: if you don’t work, you die. Right now I am preparing a film about the Holocaust, based on a novella by Aharon Appelfeld, which is called Badenheim. It’s the name of a town in the Alps—a town of the imagination; it is not a real town. In the book, Appelfeld really tackled the problem of the Holocaust, which is not what Spielberg did, or that Italian did, or Polanski. It’s about the Jews who were skeptics, who did not believe in the possibility of all of this happening. In Badenheim, there is a festival, like here in Locarno, only it’s a festival of music. There’s Dr. Pappenheim, the impresario, who has organized this festival for 20 years. Most of the visitors are Jews from Vienna, who come to play cards, to fuck women, to enjoy the summer. Then, suddenly, the town begins to close down: nobody can enter or leave. There is just one train waiting in the station. Still, there are no soldiers or policemen, only the “cleaners” in the street. They mark every building with Jews in them “Jude”—it’s the beginning of Nazism. A young girl from Italy comes through the mountains to see her mother, who attends the festival every year. The girl wants to save her; she has heard that Hitler is going for the Jews and the gypsies. Her uncle has sent ship tickets for them to join him in New York. But the mother doesn’t believe it. Nobody does. There is a big meeting, they all argue, and the impresario says, “Not now! Let me finish my festival first! Why are you making such a fuss! Who will kill us? We’re millions!” But the Nazis are closing in, and suicides are starting, because that’s the only way to escape from Hitler getting you into the camp. So it becomes like a pressure cooker. The film ends with the train leaving for Poland, with all the Jews aboard, the impresario, everybody. On the day after the festival. They all go to the train, all dressed up in their tuxedos, carrying valises, walking quietly. It will be a very different film about the Holocaust, called The Badenheim Festival.
Scope: It is interesting that although you often claim you do not make films with messages, you keep returning to political topics: for instance Operation Thunderbolt, The Delta Force, and Lima: Breaking the Silence are all inspired by contemporary events.
Golan: I am inspired by the world around me, but at the core I am just a storyteller. Still, the Badenheim project is based on personal experience. In 1938, my father tried to bring his father out of Poland. Grandfather was very rich, he had a very big wood factory in Rypin near Danzig. About 50 members of our family lived there. Father had written him a letter: I have a house for you in Tiberius, you must come, etc. But nothing. So my father went to Poland, a minute before the war, to convince my grandfather to leave. Instead he heard, “So what is it with these Palestine people? The Arabs shoot you. But in Europe, this is culture. What should happen here? You are crazy, it is you who should come over here!” Finally, my father returned, with what was probably the last train, the last ship before the war broke out. Grandpa and his whole family ended up in Auschwitz. So basically, this idea has been with me for many years. And then Appelfeld wrote the book about it, about how the Jews went like sheep, in lines. If they would have revolted like those partisans, maybe not six million might have died, but only one million. I want to start shooting the film in November, and right after Locarno I am going to Prague to scout for locations.
Scope: So you will shoot in the Czech Republic?
Golan: Yes, in Karlovy Vary and Prague. Because we need architecture that can still look believable for the year 1939. And today they are giving an incentive of 20 percent—like Hungary! So if I don’t get the right price I need for my budget, I will go to Hungary. But I have a co-producer in Czechoslovakia, also from England, French, Austrians, a woman from Italy: we will all bring our money together. And afterwards I will probably go to Australia, I’ve been invited there to do a film with Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Scope: Fantastic! You discovered him, right?
Golan: Yes, he had his first big hits with me: Bloodsport (1988) and Cyborg (1989). I had been to a French restaurant in Los Angeles with my wife. Our waiter was Van Damme. We ordered turtle soup and this good-looking French guy approaches us with a bowl in each hand. “Monsieur Golan?” he asked. When I said, “Oui,” he kicked above my head with his leg, without the soup bowls moving an inch! When I asked him to repeat that, he did. So I said, “Come to my office tomorrow morning!” Because of drugs and stuff, he has been down for a while, but now he’s going up again. We’re talking about shooting somewhere in the east, with Australian co-producers, an action film about industrial espionage, Stone Origin.
Scope: Apart from Van Damme, quite a few vintage figures of ‘80s action had their first successes with you, from Michael Dudikoff to Sho Kosugi…
Golan: But also Sharon Stone in the Quatermain films! And of course I did 12 movies with Charles Bronson, like the Death Wish series, and 16 movies with Chuck Norris, who became rich!
Scope: In the great The Delta Force, you combined Norris with the great Lee Marvin, in his last role. What was he like?
Golan: Ah, just wonderful. What a man—really a mensch. He was sitting near the camera all the time; he always brought beer and gave it to the crew. He truly loved movies and moviemaking. But unfortunately the drinking did him in. I think it was too much alcohol. We had another project at Cannon, Pinocchio: The Robot, in which he should have played Geppetto. Tobe Hopper was slated to direct.
Scope: Hooper was one of the directors with whom you worked repeatedly in the ‘80s. And of course Andrei Konchalovski, who made a remarkable string of masterpieces for Cannon—Maria’s Lovers, Runaway Train, Duet for One, and Shy People.
Golan: When I was at Cannes, a friend of ours, a lawyer, brought Andrei upstairs and said, “This man was at the festival with Siberiade (1979). He now wants to do a film in America.” I asked him whether he had a story. And he said yes, it was about a guy from Yugoslavia who fought in the war and was in prison. When he came back, he could not fuck his girl. So I told him, “Don’t tell me about a Yugoslavian, tell me about an American. And what is the nearest war? Vietnam! So same thing, he was in prison in Vietnam, he comes back, he can’t fuck his girl. Now go down, have a coffee, and think about it.” Ten minutes later Andrei came back and said, “OK, I have a new story!” And I was like, “Now you’re talking! With that you can come to America.” And so it became Maria’s Lovers, which was a big success. Also the following ones. But when Andrei went back to make films in Russia again, it was really downhill. Actually, I offered him to direct The Badenheim Festival! But he refused: he said there already have been Spielberg, La bella vita or what’s it called, and Polanski, who got the Oscar, so he was afraid to do it. Anyway, Konchalovski, he is one of the great directors I brought to Cannon, because I admire and envy them: people like John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Franco Zeffirelli, or Barbet Schroeder. You know, with Cassavetes I would have loved to do a second film, but he was just too sick. He was already ill when he made Love Streams, which by the way was two hours long when he screened it to me for the first time. I suggested he should take out half an hour, since it seemed quite wonderful, but also a bit boring at that length. He agreed, but when he showed me the new cut, it was half an hour longer! Still, Cassavetes opined: “Didn’t it look shorter to you?” In the end, we won the Golden Bear with it.
Scope: Usually, your career is remembered for the slew of cheap action movies as opposed to the prestigious art films you also produced. In retrospect it is quite striking how the films you directed, notably in the action genre, have an emotional quality and down-to-earth approach that is the opposite of the high-concept sterility of similarly action-oriented contemporary blockbusters.
Golan: When people ask me, “What is for you movies?” For me movies is to live twice. When I sit in the cinema I forget my life, I am in the story of the film. That’s another life. I say that only cinema can give this to human beings. That is why E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) is for me the best: because Spielberg says we are lonely, I want to phone somebody. There must be somebody there, and that became E.T. It is a brilliant idea. And basically I feel the same. Film is not just art, like music or paintings, it is life.