It's hard for me to think of Menahem Golan without conjuring up the smell of sea air, the scent of jasmine blossom, and the unmistakable aroma of good old-fashioned bullshit.
For around ten years, Golan, who just passed away at the age of 85, was the undisputed Lord of the Cannes Film Festival market (not to be confused with the illustrious festival taking place at the same time)
An extraordinary fellow, large of girth and ego, he produced, distributed and sometimes directed OK action pictures, a few ambitious personal movies, a handful of "interesting" art house pictures with great directors like John Cassavetes and Jean-Luc Godard (but maybe not on their best days), and a massive amount of schlock - a term he embraced. "Schlock is entertainment for the masses," he once told me proudly. "It's fantasy. Storytelling without challenging the mind too much."
Perhaps summed up succinctly by the title of one of his not-entirely-unwatchable productions from the 80s - LIFEFORCE - Menahem was everything you may ever have read about him - an unstoppable bundle of Jewish energy and chutzpah. "Doubt" was clearly not a word in his vocabulary - but neither was "lavish", I suspect, given the appalling production values of most of his Cannon Group movies.
I first met him at the Cannes Film Festival in the late '70s, when I was a young reporter for the trade paper Screen International. The paper was the only game in town in those days, and consequently made a great deal of money from advertising revenue during the festival. And most of that advertising revenue seemed to come from Golan and his cousin, Yoram Globus, known universally as "The Go-Go Boys".
As the festival progressed, the strength required to pick up one of the Cannes Daily editions reached Herculean levels, so loaded was the paper with adverts for THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES HOLLYWOOD, NINJA 3: THE DOMINATION, PRIVATE POPSICLE, and DR HECKYL AND MR HYPE (I'm not making these up, really).
Of course, speaking of Hercules, the Cannon Group also ventured into the area of mythic heroes. Aside from Hercules himself (portrayed, naturally, by The Rock of his day, Lou Ferrigno), and a hilariously cheap Captain America movie, Menahem also inflicted SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE on the world, a film so lacking in production values that it can only be explained by the entire production team being enfeebled by kryptonite and unable to get to the bank to draw down the already tiny budget.
Good (rare), bad (usually) or indifferent (one or two), the films weren't the point for us journalists. The rules of the game were about something else at the film market in Cannes: who, out of the many disreputable, loud characters blowing smoke up their own and our collective arses was going to give us the most memorable quotes; and, who, bluntly, was coming up with the most advertising dough. As one of my colleagues who would leave Fleet Street for an extremely well-paid jaunt to the South of France each May once commented to me: "The British press can never be bought - but we can be hired for two weeks".
And so it was that, as the adverts rolled in, super-sizing each daily edition of the paper, so too did the headlines on the front-page multiply, as we breathlessly recounted the latest exciting news about the Go-Go Boys, whether it was them famously signing a deal for a movie with Godard on a Carlton Hotel napkin, or announcing that Norman Mailer was to make his (thankfully long-forgotten) debut as a director, or much more regularly, to announce to a tense, waiting world that Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme were back for the long-awaited latest addition to the series ---------- (add the words ACTION or SPORT or FORCE or BLOOD, and you'll be in the right area).
Of course, alongside the terrible stuff, some decent films also got made, like Fred Schepisi's A CRY IN THE DARK, Altman's FOOL FOR LOVE, and Konchalovsky's Oscar-nominated RUNAWAY TRAIN. When you make over 200 movies, at least a few of them stand a chance of being all right.
But, even though I genuinely believe that Menahem loved movies, despite producing so many wretched ones, the fun to be had as a journalist was not in watching his films, but in watching this tough, driven Israeli at work, wheeling and dealing his way down the Croisette, a savvy mix of charm, bluster, anger and hard-nosed persuasion.
Which Menahem was going to stride into your office on any given day in Cannes? The one complaining angrily about his front page story not appearing on the day it was promised? The one threatening to withdraw all his advertising for the remainder of the festival because someone had lost track of which number should appear after the word NINJA in a headline? Or the one who, when accidentally captioned as a dog because of two pictures being mixed up, simply barked at the shaking hack who'd made the mistake.
Whichever one it was, Menahem WAS the story, not his movies, and his seemingly unstoppable reign only came to an end when, his company laden with debt and visibly crumbling in front of the industry's eyes, he fell out with his cousin and they went their separate ways, neither of them achieving anything like the same level of success with their subsequent ventures.
I personally will remember him for one of the 45 films he directed. Not his ambitious, thoroughly decent if ultimately slightly dull adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's THE MAGICIAN OF LUBLIN, starring Alan Arkin.
No, I will remember and salute Menahem for attempting another Herculean task, this time setting out to make Norman Wisdom "swing" in the almost hallucinatory "What's Good For The Goose" from 1969.
The idea for that really must come from a man without "doubt" in his vocabulary. RIP, Mr Golan. We miss characters like you in today's much blander business.Suggest a correction