For some reason, Amazon Video have acquired a package of streaming rights which include the complete American films of Iranian film-maker Amir Shervan. A director in his home country since the late 60s, Shervan moved to the US after the revolution of 1979 and latterly became a director of low-budget action films. These have developed a sizeable cult following due to recent DVD releases, and their further dissemination in HD on streaming platforms will surely only increase their notoriety.
Shervan’s films are appalling. His direction is slapdash and his editing incompetent. Even the bare minimum requirements of a feature film such as scene continuity and synchronous dialogue and sound effects are casually dispensed with. The dialogue is terrible and borderline offensive when it handles race or gender. They’re also a lot of fun to certain kinds of modern audiences, as examples of a kind of kitsch and campy 80s aesthetic. Even though they do share certain similarities with late 80s action movies, the films they more closely resemble are the modern works which seek to emulate the look and feel of “bad” 80s action cinema – Kung Fury (2015) and the films made the “Astron-6” collective, such as Manborg and Father’s Day (both 2011).
Given that such retro-cinema efforts are designed to parody a genre, rather than individual films for the most part, it’s curious that one film-maker so embodied the tropes and foibles which became the hooks on which future homages were hung. If we’re looking for reasons beyond the limitations of budget (for example, Shervan doesn’t shoot at night – no lighting; doesn’t record sync sound – no equipment), we may be tempted to assign credit for these qualities to cultural differences. As a middle-eastern emigree with apparently limited English, Shervan may have had difficulty working with cast and crew, but also in understanding the demands of contemporary US action cinema. Shervan’s films are extremely reductive – they feature a dumb lunk battling racial stereotypes, killing them all and remaining bafflingly attractive to a collection of blonde, Playboy-esque female characters. While Shervan can’t afford stunts or spfx his films are extremely violent and his cop heroes display a casual disregard of life and law which would have made Dirty Harry gag.
In Electric Boogaloo (2014), Mark Hartley’s excellent documentary on the rise and demise of the Cannon film group, the point is made on several occasions that the Israeli duo of Golan and Globus continually misjudged the audience. Despite initially thriving in a market set afloat by demand in the early days of home video, these Hollywood outsiders misread the appeal, approach and market for genre cinema – leading to expensive decisions such as paying Stallone $13m to appear in a film about arm-wrestling. There’s something implicitly racist in these kinds of accusations – that foreigners are incapable of understanding the cultural works and practises of indigent film-makers. However, perhaps it’s instead the case – as Clive James has claimed – that foreigners can better read foreign cultures. The likes of Cannon and Shervan just took at face-value the ridiculous excesses of US action cinema. Their crime was to replicate it without any of the hypocritical neutering of the hard ages of racism, sexism and jingoism demanded by Hollywood, the MPAA and, ultimately, audiences. Shervan’s further crime was that he, unlike Golan and Globus, couldn’t afford explosions.