Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 4

In part four of my discussion with The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II author Austin Trunick, we’ll get into the tall tales of Cannon.

B&S About Movies: Is there any truth to the story that Menahem Golan thought Spider-Man should have eight arms?

Austin Trunick: Yeah, when Menahem originally bought Spider-Man, he supposedly thought that it was like a Teen Wolf-style movie and a story about a teenager who transforms into a horrifying spider monster. Which is very funny. But that story may not even be true. Nothing exists beyond people saying that. But I don’t think that it was ever part of a synopsis or in any sort of script.

I think they convinced him really quick like, “Hey, if you’re going to meet with these Marvel executives don’t, you gotta know that this guy’s not a big giant hairy, terrifying spider.”

B&S: But when it comes to stories about the Go-Go Boys, I believe every one. I can be skeptical and still believe every single one.

Austin: Menahem Golan — especially later in his life — he was very big on his own mythmaking.

He would embellish stories and it’s funny because for every story there is, you wonder if the story is being embellished a little bit. And then sometimes you hear the actual story and it’s so much crazier! What I’m trying to do with these books is get to the realest version of the story, the closest version to the truth.

The biggest stories are the ones Menahem told! He repeated the story over and over and over again, through interviews and different profiles, about how he discovered Jean Claude Van Damme. And it’s always the story that he went out to a French restaurant and Van Damme was a waiter and brought out a bowl of soup for him and kicked the high kick over Menahem’s head without spilling the soup. He repeated that story so many times and I wanted to get the real Menahem meeting story from Van Damme himself.

B&S: I’ve even heard the detail that it was turtle soup.

Austin: Never mind that Van Damme had already been like an extra in Breakin’ and he went into the Cannon offices every day for like several years. When Bloodsport came out,  everybody wants to know where this new young action star came from and Menahem cooks up the soup story.

B&S: That’s why I love Cannon. It’s ballyhoo. It’s Chuck Norris reading Reader’s Digest and coming up with Invasion U.S.A.

Austin: Like the Barfly story that Menahem kept telling. Barbet Schroeder came into the office with a saw and was going to cut his fingers off if he didn’t get to make it. Menahem wasn’t even there at the time! He was off making Over the Top.

B&S: I think there’s a tie between Cannon and pro wrestling. Most wrestlers end up believing their character so much they become that character and can’t stop embellishing stories.

Austin: That’s a great way to describe them. It totally fits.

B&S: Menahem is very much like Stan Lee, too.

Austin: But there’s something to these B movie guys, they really have to grow larger. And then their legend grows larger and larger as time moves on. And part of that’s their own like sort of self-mythologizing, but I think people just continue telling these stories. I love to believe all of these stories.

B&S: Why is Tough Guys Don’t Dance so fascinating?

Austin: When I started the first book, that’s one of the ones that I wasn’t as familiar with. I was probably not familiar with other than the title. And it’s one that I just sort of discovered during my time researching Cannon that I grew to love it more and more. It’s the one I’ve probably watched the most in the last three years.

I talked about it on The Cannon Canon, but I also took a few trips left to Provincetown to search out the shooting locations. I got to interview Wings Hauser and John Bedford Lloyd for it. This is funny, but my wife also enjoys this movie, and she loves the Michael Dudikoff movies. She’ll watch some other ones with me now and then but for the most part, a lot of Cannon viewings for the books are just me on my own.

B&S: She didn’t want to watch Private Popsicle?

Austin: She’s watched Tough Guys Don’t Dance multiple times now and has gone to the location so that’s fun.

B&S: I think the only Cannon movie my wife likes is The Apple.

Austin: It gets better every time you watch it. Not too long ago, I got the 12-inch extended disco mix of “Coming.” So if you want to have more disco drum beats and have it be like several minutes longer, that’s something that you can bring into your life.

B&S: Why do you think — outside of a few exceptions — Cannon avoided the slasher craze?

Austin: There was a lot of competition there. And they tended to make action movies where they didn’t have as much competition. There was no shortage of low budget horror and I think it was harder for them to resell a horror movie and compete for that shelf space.

B&S: So they could put out weirder stuff instead, like Body and Soul.

Austin: Leon Isaac Kennedy! He had a lot of appreciation for Cannon. That movie has Muhammad Ali, who is probably one of the most famous people at the time on the entire planet. He’s in this small low budget boxing drama for Cannon, which was incredible. I mean, Leon Kennedy was able to just basically to call in a favor. He was just friends with Muhammad Ali, which is awesome.

B&S: I want more Cannon stuff to come out on blu ray and be reconsidered.

Austin: I want Vinegar Syndrome to release Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime). It hasn’t gotten any sort of official US release. It’s available in Europe, but here it’s near impossible to see. When I watched that, the copy I was working from for the book was a VHS rip onto a DVD with Greek subtitles that I ordered from like an English bootleg site. You couldn’t find it, right?

B&S: I watched it on a Russian bootleg site with someone screaming Russian dialogue over the actual movie. (laughs) That’s the only way to watch a movie.

Austin: It’s by Lina Wertmüller, a critically acclaimed director but also she wrote some great Italian movies, genre movies. It has Harvey Keitel playing a drug smuggler. Angela Molina is in it and there’s a mysterious killer. It’s very giallo, but someone is stalking and murdering drug dealers and leaving as their calling card — a heroin syringe jammed in the crotch. And it’s a wild movie and it’s a Golan Globus production and has never been released in the U.S.

Vinegar Syndrome or even Fun City should be all over that movie.

There are so many that are kind of languishing right now and haven’t had any sort of release. I don’t know the rights situation for Godard’s King Lear which is a movie that I like talking about it more than watching it. And you would think that somebody, if not Criterion, would have at least put out something. Maybe it had an MGM release in the U.S. on DVD but I even feel like that was like a region one bootleg or something in all regions from somewhere else.

Scorpion/Code Red has put out some stuff, though.

Can I pitch you on one of my ultimate releases?

If they’re not already working on it, one of these labels should be working on it. America 3000 is a weird, weird movie but it hasn’t had a release with its original soundtrack. Not even on VHS. Shout! Factory released it on a four-pack but it’s the wrong soundtrack. David Engelbach had actually gone and did an entirely different soundtrack, the voiceover was different, much less pronounced and the music cues were all different.

That’s what was in theaters, so there are theoretically film prints with the correct audio. But every version that’s been on streaming or DVD has the wrong music and dialogue on it.

B&S: Kino Lorber has been releasing lots of Bronson stuff like Murphy’s Law, a hangout movie of two people who should never hang out.

Austin: I’ve seen the script and like at the last minute, they changed the dialogue from just basic profanity to whatever language is in that film. I mean, Kathleen Wilhoite says language that is just as vulgar, but much more surreal and goofy and nonsensical.

In the final part of this interview, Austin talks about his least favorite Cannon film and we wrap things up.

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