Although you may not think you know the name the Cannon Film Group is responsible for some cult classic movies including Chuck Norris’s The Delta Force, Sylvester Stallone’s arm wrestling epic Over the Top, the He-Man movie Masters of the Universe and Tobe Hooper’s extra terrestrial take on the Dracula legend Lifeforce.
One of the most instrumental filmmakers associated with Cannon is Sam Firstenberg and his amazing autobiography Stories From The Trenches: Adventures in making High Octane Hollywood Movies written by Firstenberg and Marco Siedelmann details the glory days of the company during the 1980’s when their output was at its height.
Recognised as one Cannon’s most important in-house directors during their outrageously successful heyday of the 80’s the journey of this interview collection starts even before he made his way to direct box office hits just like NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, BREAKIN’ II: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, and AMERICAN NINJA, amongst others.
Opening with a dedication page as well as a salute to the filmmakers who “gave everything they had and spilled their guts in the trenches of the home video boom era” the exhaustive table of contents details Firstenberg career in title form with section headings such Tougher than the Rest: King of Sequels , Glory Days: The Golden Age of Cannon and Racing in the Street: The Rise of Nu Image all of which really help sum up his life which is detailed in depth through the 750 plus pages of this master work.
The conversations in the book shed light on his origins and influences, including childhood memories, private biographical chapters, his years as a film student in Los Angeles, and his early work as an assistant director and technician for people like Menahem Golan, Charles Band, Ephraim Kishon, Boaz Davidson, and many more. The interviews are not chronological, but focus on every career-step, just as well as on every single movie Firstenberg ever directed until his retirement in 2002.
His memories about all the projects he was involved in are packed with adventurous stories about ninjas and breakdancers, about directing action entertainment in exotic countries, and about working with numerous movie stars, among them Michael Dudikoff, Eric Roberts, John-Rhys Davies, Hulk Hogan, Grace Jones, Nick Cassavetes, Zachi Noy, Richard Roundtree, Steve James, Sho Kosugi, and many more.
After the contents there is a picture of Firstenberg from 2015 celebrating his 65th birthday skydiving alongside a quote from Sylvester Stallone which says “I believe any success in life is made by going into an area with a blind, furious optimism” words it seems sum up Firstenberg’s ethos extremely well.
The introduction by Firstenberg himself discusses the origins of the book and his skepticism on the project as a whole which, thanks to co-author Marco Siedelmann, gradually turned into pure passion for the project. As it says the film is as much about his life as the dilemma of every low budget movie maker whose laborious quest is to make good, compelling, exciting and captivating entertainment with very little money to work with something Firstenberg became an expert in.
Before the book kicks off in full there is also a fantastic fan boy foreword by Oliver Nöding and then we plunge straight into the first part Working on a Dream: The Early Years. Reading as a series of immensely informative interviews we get a brilliant back and forth between Marco Siedelmann and Sam Firstenberg packed with perfect questions and entertaining answers with the first chapters discussing his family and his childhood as well as what drove him to become a film maker.
The main interviews are cut up with 20 plus anecdotes from Firstenberg and a cornucopia of posters and pictures that bring the words to life and give a real insight into the movie world. With more than 1400 pictures, most of them never published before there are stills, behind the scenes shots, press pics and personal photographs and the images in the book are sensational truly enhancing the readers experience.
There are also mini biographies of key figures in Firstenberg’s story and more than 50 interviews with people in the film industry that worked with Firstenberg and on his films including Michael Dudikoff, Tadashi Yamashita, Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones, Lucinda Dickey, Bryan Genesse, Steve Lambert, Keith Vitali, Jordan Bennett, BJ Davis and more.
More importantly we also get extensive dives into the movies Firstenberg made including legendary action flicks REVENGE OF THE NINJA and American Samurai as well as my personal favourite CYBORG COP, a film my friends an I were obsessed with at school.
Stories From The Trenches is about the early film industry in Israel, the Hollywood star system and the no longer existing mid-budget movies, it is also about the home video boom, about the ascension and the decline of Cannon and discusses the rules and traditions of the industry. Other topics are the practical way a film was put together in that era, the technical changes through the years, the different film market situation compared to nowadays – and last, but not least, it’s an inside story about the early years of Nu Image and how Avi Lerner’s companies Nu Image and Millennium continued the spirit of Cannon, but under different circumstances and times.
Straight from the glory days of the the legendary Cannon Film Group Stories From The Trenches is a ripping read and anyone picking this book up should get ready for the one of the most action packed, most candid, and most explosive career-spanning interview books in cinematic history.
A mandatory read for all action fans, Cannon movie lovers, and simply everybody who’s interested in the history of the genre you can order Stories From The Trenches: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies from Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg HERE You can also read the rest of our 100 Pages of Horror by clicking the HERE.