Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Damme Words: The Untold, In-Depth, Outrageously True Story of Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment

About ten years ago I was going through Peter Weller's filmography and came across underrated classic Shakedown. Co-starring Sam Elliott, the New York set thriller follows a lawyer and his high school buddy turned cop as they fight crooked police officers and powerful drug dealers. Writer-director James Glickenhaus and company created an atmospheric, entertaining and exciting 97 minutes that has infinite rewatchability. Shot on the grimy streets of NYC and boasting impressively practical stunts, the film oozes authenticity. Press and interviews on Glickenhaus always seemed a little light, he was from a well off family and liked expensive cars, made a series of flicks like The Exterminator, The Soldier with Ken Wahl, The Protector with Jackie Chan and McBain with Christopher Walken among others before seemingly retiring from the film business.

Thanks to action movie aficionado david j. moore, I discovered an entire treasure trove devoted to Glickenhaus, his business partner Alan Shapiro and their adventures in the film business during the go-go, foreign sales, film market, VHS, genre fueled 80's and 90's. Marco Siedelmann, Nadia Bruce-Rawlings and Stephen A. Roberts pull together the people who made it happen and lived through the era to provide a time capsule and first hand account of a revolutionary time. Through a series of interviews long and short (where did Joseph Zito have to run to?) along with photos of posters, actors, parties and legal documents, we're taken back to the time when you could make a movie for a certain price as long as the poster looked good. You hear from producers, lawyers, assistants, financiers (lending is better than investing) and actors who mainly reminisce about the familial feeling and overall fun the company had. Long hours were a no brainer but staff were provided gym memberships to keep in shape and pulled in to help out wherever necessary.

I didn't realize Shapiro-Glickenhaus touched so many films whether by financing, distributing or producing. The team rented a space above Hollywood Boulevard to watch people line up for Dolph Lundgren's big budget Red Scorpion but instead saw everyone going to Pet Cemetery instead. While not a box office smash, the film's initial VHS orders topped 100,000 copies at $50-$60 a pop! Smaller fare like Maniac Cop and Frankenhooker would live on as action and horror were the fare everyone in the states and around the world wanted to buy. There's a funny story about how a certain film had to have at least one boob, not even a pair, every 7 minutes. With the exploding VHS market and global demand for product, Shapiro-Glickenhaus became a key player at The American Film Market and Cannes, always throwing big and attention grabbing parties. If a film needed a name to attract more buyers, someone like Danny Aiello would show up for a day and collect 50 grand.

There's detours to the 90's direct to video golden age with interviews from the likes of Jalal Merhi and Cynthia Rothrock, making movies to take advantage of Canadian tax breaks and the like. Merhi recounts a screening where everyone started to leave early, not because they didn't like it but because they wanted to buy the rights immediately. As for Shakedown, it's painted as the company's shot at the big time as Universal had come in to distribute. Needing a product to release by a specific date, the $10 million film was semi-rushed but was a big success for the company. Surprisingly, Sam Elliott gets a couple of mentions for being not the nicest guy around.

The book is full of photos but with no captions there isn't a lot of context. You kind of glean what you need to from the following interview. Since the book is purely interviews, topics come and go and I wish there was a little more focus on each title than we're provided. But for anyone who grew up on 80's and 90's action or horror flicks, is a fan of Cannon, Carolco or Nu-Image, this book is for you.





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