PARIS -- "Golan and Globus are merely bankers who believe they are true film producers. They are just ill-mannered sharks," says French film director Jean-Luc Godard in his Paris office. According to the iconoclastic "Nouvelle Vague" filmmaker, Cannon Films' handling of his "King Lear" movie is a good example of what caused Cannon to crash.
And yet at the May 1985 Cannes Film Festival Golan, Globus and Godard had amicably signed "King Lear's" much publicized contract on a table napkin. The $1 million movie based on Shakespeare's tragedy was scheduled for 1986, but to this day "King Lear" has not been released in France. "It's not being shown because it's just a bad film. Godard made a bad improvisation of Shakespeare. He took Cannon for a ride," claims Menahem Golan.
"King Lear" has been shown recently in the United States. "Seventy percent of American critics liked the movie," Godard says. "It's just that Cannon doesn't know how to market this type of film."
The movie contract said Cannon would send regular payments. "The four checks Cannon sent me from May to December '85 all bounced," says Godard, "I wrote, phoned and telexed them. Nothing. I flew 20 times to New York. Finally our dates were set back. Cannon wasn't doing its job as a producer."
But Menahem Golan claims, "Godard took money out of the film's budget." Godard contends, "In 1985 you got 10 francs for $1. But by 1986 my budget was down by half."
Godard says there was much money thrown away and he blames Cannon. Writer Norman Mailer and his daughter Kate were to play King Lear and daughter Cordelia, "a two-week contract for $250,000," Godard says. "Mailer was also getting $100,000 for a script based on the play." According to Golan, Godard "threw Mailer's script away." But Godard replies, "Everybody knew I wasn't going to use this script for my movie." Godard says: "Mailer then claimed people would imagine an incestuous relationship between him and his daughter and he left the movie.
"Just a pretext," adds Godard, "Mailer loves money. Besides, he wanted Cannon's backing for his 'Tough Guys Don't Dance' film. Once he got it he left my movie with $350,000 in his pocket and his movie contract. And there was still no King Lear."
"King Lear's" difficulties didn't stop here. "I paid the Actor's Studio $60,000 to shoot on location," Godard says. "The Studio eventually withdrew from the movie but never gave the money back." In need of money, Godard says he then sold his 10 percent share on "King Lear" and his rights to France.
Finally Burgess Meredith, Molly Ringwald, Peter Sellars and Woody Allen played in the movie. "But," says Godard, "here I was bringing in big names to Cannon but then Cannon drafted contracts agreeing not to mention Ringwald's and Allen's names on the film or on the film's publicity. I didn't understand a thing." Godard adds: "Cannon buys anything indiscriminately. It's as if you stop over at the Louvre and you'd say, 'Give me one Rembrandt, a da Vinci,' etc."
Shot in Switzerland and New York, "King Lear" was at last shown at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival. But "Lear's" misfortunes were not yet over. Producer Golan says, "There's nothing on the screen to be seen. Godard didn't show us his rushes. He's not Godard anymore. He spat into the hand that fed him."
Jean-Luc Godard doesn't understand Cannon's reaction. "Golan and Globus are just nasty kids. After Cannes they insisted on using my version. Golan telexed me saying: 'Cannon always intended a Godard film ... your final cut is holy to me.' Cousin Globus approved it. They should have stuck to the Chuck Norris films."
Godard is not surprised Cannon's financial trouble can be traced to Italian Giancarlo Parretti's purchase of the company. "When they started making money they wanted to be up there with the majors. I told them to beware, the majors don't like others getting too close."
Parretti, Cannon's new owner and CEO, is not acquainted with "King Lear's" vicissitudes, he says. "Who is this Godard? If something happened with this Godard I'm sure Golan and Globus were right. These are technicalities I don't know about."
Godard concludes: "It's a shame my film hasn't come out in France yet. I like Golan and Globus all right. A pity they didn't remain just gangsters. They wanted to become noblemen. It's like Al Capone deciding to wear tuxedos."