The Cannon Film Guide is a series of books by Austin Trunick and the first time that the movies of that vulnerable studio have been given the deep dive treatment that they so richly deserve. The Cannon Film Guide Volume I covered 1981 to 1984 while the new — and absolutely titanic in size and scope — The Cannon Film GuideVolume II is all about 1985 to 1987 and has sixty Cannon movies, more than forty new interviews and 300 images across 1,000 pages.
You can — and should — get both books from Bear Manor Media by clicking the links. You can also find Austin on Twitter for daily blasts of Cannon facts.
I had the tremendous opportunity to talk with Austin about all things Cannon. Instead of coming up with a big list of questions, I thought it would be more entertaining — and a better read — to share the stream of consciousness fun when two people obsessed with Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus and their studio.
B&S About Movies: When you talk to people serious about serious movies, they often scoff at Cannon. Yet they made Runaway Train, Barfly, Love Streams…
Austin Trunick: Oh, absolutely. A lot of those influential, big-name guys wanted to work with them again. John Cassavetes briefly explored doing another movie with them, a follow-up to Love Streams. Even Robert Altman, he was developing Ready to Wear for Cannon for a while in late 1985. Those guys must have liked working with them.
B&S: Outside of the scandals we learned about later, people used to always talk about what a great studio Miramax was. But as Dimension, they were horrific to work with for so many genre filmmakers.
Austin: I mean, you’ll also find people who didn’t enjoy their time with Cannon and had a different experience.
B&S: How did you get started writing The Cannon Film Guide?
Austin: I did a lot of movie stuff for magazines. The main place was Under the Radar magazine. Right around the time my daughter was born — she’s going to be seven — I wanted a project that I could work on by myself, on my own, with my own guidance. That was really where this project started. It was something I could do on the side. Eventually, it ate up more and more of my time. A little bit here, a little bit there, and it became what I’m working on most of the time.
It was really born out of wanting my own project and Cannon was something that I loved and grew up with. You know as well as I do that the stories behind their movies are often as crazy as what was actually on screen. I wanted to get into those stories and find out everything that I could.
B&S: I think you picked the right time because there’s a danger of so many of these people being gone soon.
Austin: We’re at a crucial time. Especially when you’re looking at the early 80s, many of these actors and filmmakers are getting old. Many of these films, b-movies in particular, still aren’t getting the historical or critical looks that they deserve. And if someone doesn’t start doing those interviews, we run the risk of losing a lot of the people who have information and stories that we’ll want to hear.
One of the people I was most excited to talk to for the second book was James Karen – sadly, he passed away a few months after we did the interview. He’s someone who I was really thankful I got to talk to, and that I got to hear his stories.
We’re talking about movies that were made more than 40 years ago. Some of these people are in their 80s or older, and unfortunately could go at any time. It’s good to get their stories where we can. There are people that I sadly just missed out on, where I exchanged emails back and forth and it just didn’t work out. One in particular that was heartbreaking was Yehuda Efroni. He was in so many Cannon movies, a character actor that just pops up everywhere. I had finally found a way to contact him and I’d emailed. Then I heard back that he had passed away. It wasn’t even on IMDb or anything like that yet, it wasn’t really public. They’re just like oh, he passed away a while ago.
B&S: He’s so important to Cannon. He’s like the secret word, when he shows up, you go nuts.
Austin: I’m pretty sure he’s in more Cannon productions than any other actor by a huge margin.
B&S: He’d worked with Goram and Globus all the way back to Escape to the Sun, Operation Thunderbolt and The Uranium Conspiracy.
Austin: I think he was just someone that was close to Menahem, and they always brought him back.
B&S: What starts your love of Cannon? When was the first time you remember the logo before a movie? I’m not sure with Cannon, but I can remember the Orion Pictures opening or Vestron Video and I thought to myself, “This is going to be good because I like other movies with this logo.”
Austin: I definitely saw so many Cannon movies before I realized that they were all linked by one company. My first exposure to some of these movies was going to the video store with my father, when I was probably too young to be watching Chuck Norris movies. As I got a little older, I started renting lots of ninja movies with my friends after school. Then I realized when I would see the Cannon logo, “Oh, they make the Sho Kosugi movies. They’re the same people. They made American Ninja.”
Cannon was very good about putting their logo really prominently on their video boxes. Also, they had that large logo at the beginning of their later movies, and that spectacular music you hear when the film starts up. You could clearly see their logo on the spines or the fronts of the tapes, especially if it was Cannon Video or one of the big MGM boxes.
I think I really started to notice Cannon when I got a bit older and started to rent movies on my own. I would seek out Cannon movies when I started buying and collecting tapes at the end of the 90s — everyone was clearing them out to make way for DVDs – and that’s when I started to say, “Let’s collect these labels. They look cool on a shelf. Thematically, they tie together.” But it was a few years of watching Cannon movies before I started to realize that they all came from the same place.
In the next part of this interview, Austin gets into how Cannon influenced everything we know about ninjas, as well as what Charles Bronson meant to Cannon and exactly why the studio failed when they had a can’t lose plan.