Monday, March 16, 2015

Newsploitation: Lambada The Forbidden Box Office

Sorry for the lack of updates, but I’ve been working on a top secret project (“You call that work,” I can hear Tom say).  I promised the boss man I would get a review up soon and not rely on my lazy “box office birthday” posts that I’ve somehow grown to enjoy doing.  Anyway, I thumb my nose at authority so here is another B.O.B. and it is celebrating one of the oddest dueling releases in movie history.

One of our favorite documentaries that we got to see last year was ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS (2014).  Naturally, it was filled with wild and untold stories from folks sucked into the crazy orbit of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.  While some of them are jaw-dropping and others larger than life, I think the one that made me laugh the most was what happened when the Go-Go boys split up in the late ‘80s. Not only was it acrimonious, but the cousins soon became competition for each other and decided they were going to both make a film about Lambada, a dance crazy that wasn’t exactly sweeping the United States

The Lambada dance apparently originated in Brazil, but didn’t become known worldwide until the release of the song “Lambada” by the French group Kaoma in 1989.  Believe it or not, there is a convoluted history to the song as this version was a mix of several Carnivale songs from the 1980s.  Lawsuits got filed, but the song still performed worldwide and became a huge hit, hitting number one in places like Germany, Italy, and France.  Of course, it had little impact in the good ol’ US of A where it stalled at no. 46 on the Billboard Top 100.  We were much too sophisticated during that time period, preferring to let Milli Vanilli’s “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” and Prince’s “Batdance” top the charts.  That didn’t stop the entertainment industry from pushing it on these shores.  Because my mind remembers useless things, I can still recall the Academy Awards where some lady introduced a Lambada performance and said something like, “This dance will be to the 1990s what breakdancing was to the 1980s.”  My young self was not impressed.

Either way, the Cannon guys were going to jump on that hype train with the assumption that if something was big worldwide, it would be a big movie hit worldwide. After all, they’d witnessed success with the BREAKIN’ films.  It appears Cannon hit first as it was declared in Variety on December 6, 1989: “LAMBADA THE MOVIE will begin production Dec. 15, marking the first film produced by Cannon Pictures since the new management of the company took over this past summer.” Globus was still with Cannon, while Golan had left and gone to run 21st Century.  No less than a week later it was announced that a rival project was coming from Golan in the form of LAMBADA! THE FORBIDDEN DANCE.  According to production logs, the first one indeed went into production on December 15, 1989 while the second effort went into production on January 16, 1990.

Regardless of being a month behind, Golan was aiming to beat his former company to the market.  So it ends with no greater irony that both films ended up coming out on the same day – March 16, 1990.  One of the great stories in ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is how they even had dueling premieres in Hollywood.  It was all for naught though as Americans weren’t about to embrace “the forbidden dance.”  LAMBADA THE MOVIE just came out as LAMBADA via Warner Bros. and opened in eighth place with just over $2 million in box office receipts from 1,117 theaters.  LAMBADA! THE FORBIDDEN DANCE came out as THE FORBIDDEN DANCE via Columbia and didn’t even crack the top ten, earning just $720,864 in 637 theaters. I like to imagine there were lots of family fights that weekend on which one to see.  Anyway, a perfectly madcap ending for such a bizarre ‘80s success story as Cannon.  Perhaps the biggest loser in all of this was Robert Schnitzer of the Stallone reworking of REBEL/A MAN CALLED RAINBOW fame.  He has announced a spoof titled LAMBADAMY: THE OPERATION in 1990 via Walter Manley Productions and it never got made.  Damn, I totally would have watched that.  

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