By: John M Jerva
Book Review: Stories From The Trenches: Adventures In Making High-Octane Hollywood Movies With Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg!
Author: Marco Siedelmann
Get ready for the one of the most action packed, most candid, and most explosive career-spanning interview books in cinematic history! Straight from the glory days of the the legendary Cannon Film Group comes STORIES FROM THE TRENCHES: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies from Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg!
The Review: Before I get into the review for the book Stories From The Trenches, let me just proceed what I’m going to say by stating that I was born in December of 1972. Now at first that doesn’t seem like an explosive detail but for this review it is very important because with that fact, it means that when the awesome films of Cannon started coming out in the 80’s, I was already in double digits when it came to my age so I was able to fully enjoy all the chaos that came with these films and the men who were behind it in filmmakers Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus. These two gentleman were off the wall with the way they made movies and to learn just how off the wall they were makes that time of my life even more special. These guys were larger than life and it shows in their product.
I believe my very first foray into the adrenalized world of Cannon Films was the spectacular 1984 back to “Nam epic Missing In Action which stars martial arts and action icon Chuck Norris. When the film was released, I was 11 years old and I thank God that my parents aloud me to start watching these types of films back then because as soon as I saw Norris pop out of the water blasting away with an M-60 machine gun, I was hooked for life. I couldn’t get enough of those films and I ate it up every chance I got.
Now there was a day back then, when I first laid eyes on the quintessential Ninja film Revenge Of The Ninja starring the awesome Sho Kosugi where my love for Ninja films came to pass and that film was directed by the man of the hour Sam Firstenberg. Now, of course, at the time I was unfamiliar with the man but that quickly changed with each film of his that I saw. Lets go down the line of the action drenched titles he helmed in the 80’s alone. There was Ninja III: The Domination, American Ninja 1, 2 and Avenging Force with my main man Michael Dudikoff and Riverbend with the late, great Steve James. These are the films that shaped my love for action and I owe it all to Sam.
Firstenberg was a trailblazer and is one of the first directors I discovered who could shoot action and shoot it the right way. Firstenberg pretty much set the standard for action cinema and he paved the way for all the great directors that are currently killing it in the industry today. Every time I talk to them, they mention Sam and what he brought to the table.
Now lets talk about the book Stories From the Trenches. The book is a passion project for author Marco Siedelmann who spent years putting the book together and with a successful crowd funding campaign, he was able to make it a reality. In short, this book was made for me because it is basically my wonderful childhood busting out of every page. It’s a massive 755 page stroll down memeory action lane and it contains priceless, and I do mean PRICELESS, stories and photos that you cannot get anywhere else. The photos alone are worth the price of the book as Firstenberg has broken open his own personal treasure trove of pics that you won’t see anywhere else. I’m not gonna lie. The reason why my review is coming out later than others is because it took me a while to read it and that was a good thing because I was chewing up everything it had to offer.
To learn so many great stories about the movies I love from the people who lived it is nothing short of a miracle. I pretty much don’t read as much as I used too nowadays because I don’t have the time but let me tell you that this is one book I soaked up.
Stories From the Trenches covers all the bases, from Sam’s humble beginnings, to his start in the movie industry and, of course, his foray into Cannon Films. It also covers the years after Cannon in the 90’s and ushers in timeless info about Nu Image which pretty much was the 90’s version of Cannon and it is great that they came around because then we had even more wonderful carnage to enjoy long after Cannon faded away. It also gave us more time with Mr. Firstenberg and more films of his for us to enjoy until the end of time.
The book is locked and loaded with incredible and in-depth interviews from everyone and anyone who lived and breathed action at the time and it leaves nothing out good and bad about that period of time. It’s got awesome chats with some of my most favorite action stars including Michael Dudikoff, Keith Vitali, Tadashi Yamashita, and Bryan Genesse. There are even interviews with actress Judie Aronson who co-starred with Dudikoff in American Ninja and also Larry Poindexter who was featured in the sequel American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. I was floored to see that there was even a chat with Jordan Bennett and Lucinda Dickey from Ninja III: The Domination. Hearing what they had to say really brought a behind the scenes authenticity to the book that is unrivaled. Siedelmann also speaks to the men behind the camera like producer Gideon Amir and editor Michael J. Duthie. There is even an older interview with the late, great Steve James done by Bey Logan that was published in Impact Magazine that was a true pleasure to read. The list goes on and it is probably the most comprehensive book on the subject hands down when it comes to first hand accounts.
To hear all these people talk about the films that I grew up with is amazing and I will definitely break the book out again in the future just to indulge myself time and time again. Unfortunately, we don’t have an interview with the great David Bradley who starred in some of Sam’s glorious 90’s action gems like American Samurai, Cyborg Cop and Cyborg Soldier but I understand as he has pretty much said goodbye to that time of his life and has been living quietly ever since. It would have been awesome to hear him talk about those films but it doesn’t take away the enjoyment that you will get from it.
Another great aspect of the book is that you can pretty much read it out of order and revisit the parts you like best as it is essentially one huge collection of interviews. I skipped around myself while reading it and tackled the ones that interested me the most first which was great. Siedelmann has put together one of the greatest books ever about a time in action cinema history when all bets were off and it showed in the finished product on screen.
Readers also get an in-depth look at some of Firstenberg’s older films like Delta Force 3 and Operation Delta Force which are two personal favorites of mine. I remeber when these films first came out and it is nothing short of fantastic to hear anecdotes from the time they were made.
To sum it all up, Stories From The Trenches is a mammoth love letter to the heyday of 80’s and 90’s action cinema and they clearly don’t make them like they used to. Sure we get great movies today but there will always be something special about these pictures that only fans that lived it will truly understand. You just had to see it first hand to really appreciate what they had to offer and this book is a high-octane companion piece to them. I’m even going to revisit the films and afterwards, read about them again when the film is fresh in my mind. Sam Firstenberg is a pioneer of the time and his movies will always stand the test of time. He crushed it back then and when you talk action cinema greatness, his name will have to be included. Job well done. This is essential reading and a must have for any serious action cinema buff!
Check out my two exclusive interviews with Sam Firstenberg where we talk candidly about the films and the era. I never thought that I would get the opportunity to interview the man that brought so much joy to my life all those years ago and even to this day. Thank you Sam for all the wonderful memories.
VERDICT: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS!
ACTION-FLIX APPROVED AND ESSENTIAL!
You can order your copy of Stories From The Trenches from Amazon.com now!
Check out these classic trailers from some of Sam’s best below!