It’s time for the 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and this year the festival extends for a full two weeks in venues throughout the greater Bay Area, including Berkeley. Screenings at Landmark’s California Theatre run from Friday, July 31 through Thursday, Aug. 6 and offer a wide variety of viewing choices catering to all tastes — but particularly noteworthy are the festival’s documentary selections, which include two hugely enjoyable films and another that, though flawed, offers important perspectives on a critical issue.
First up is The Go Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, screening at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug.2. For anyone who spent much time watching Showtime and Cinemax during the 1990s — or attending matinees at downmarket movie houses — the Cannon name will trigger happy memories of youth misspent.
Founded by the Palestinian-born Menachem Golan and his younger cousin Yoram Globus in the late 1960s, Cannon came to exemplify everything that makes cinema a guilty pleasure. Chock full of explosions, gunplay, breasts, and ‘actors’ such as Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Michael Dudikoff, Cannon films were aimed squarely at the teenage crowd — and for a while connected in a very big way.
The Go Go Boys is a love poem to Golan and Globus, who turned a tiny Israeli film company into an international mega-studio in just a few short years. Alas, their success didn’t last, and the film also charts Cannon’s turn of the century crash and burn after a long series of bad decisions and even worse films. Maudlin conclusion aside, though, it’s tons of fun — especially if the words Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo mean something to you.
Next on the slate (at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6) is Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky’s The Zionist Idea, a magisterial if overly ambitious examination of the titular ideology. Despite clocking in at two and a half hours, there’s more material here than one film can hope to treat adequately.
More a history of modern Israel than a history of Zionism, The Zionist Idea spends too much time on the country’s post-independence wars and too little discussing such important figures as Theodor Herzl, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and Chaim Weizmann. It also sidesteps important issues, such as Zionism’s relationship to late Victorian imperialism and the contradictions of a democracy where some citizens are more equal than others.
Featuring interviews with historians, settlers, Jewish and Palestinian activists and intellectuals, and others, The Zionist Idea is a worthy and sometimes brave effort. Whether it will satisfy supporters of the Jewish State and/or supporters of an independent Palestine, however, is questionable.
Stick around until 8:30 p.m.on Aug.6 and you’ll be in for a real treat. Danny Says tells the story of legendary press agent and sometime major label talent scout Danny Fields, who was in on the ground floor with groups such as The Velvet Underground, The Doors, The MC5, The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, and The Ramones. In addition to lots of great music, the film also features the delightful presence of Fields himself, a man blessed with a self-deprecating dry wit and tons of great stories.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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