DIRECTED BY: Menahem Golan
FEATURING: Vladek Sheybal, Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour
PLOT: An innocent pair of Canadian folk singers/lovers split up when the female falls under the spell of a Mephistophelean pop music promoter in this “futuristic” (set in 1994) musical fantasy.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: How do you solve a problem like The Apple? This science-fictiony musical satire/religious allegory is an obvious attempt to cash in on the camp credibility of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but with the disco sensibility and glittery production values of Xanadu (also made in 1980). The results are spectacularly uneven: the bizarre costuming, choreography, and psychedelic production numbers are actually pretty good in their deliberate excess, the songs range from annoying to quite hummable, and the rushed, out-of-nowhere messianic ending is an unforgettable cinematic disaster. With RHPS already taking up a spot on the List in the “fantastical outré musical” category, I’m not sure that this similar (but less entertaining) movie is worthy of making it on the first ballot. It’s more of a second tier midnight movie; but I wouldn’t rule The Apple out altogether.
COMMENTS: The Apple pulls you in many different directions: you’re never quite sure whether to tap your toes, roll your eyes, drop your jaw, or bring up your lunch. The plot, which mixes old MGM backstage musical themes with the Faustian corruption of show-biz innocents and a touch of dystopian literature, is familiar and easy to follow; it’s the production numbers that strangify things. The easiest way to simulate the insanity of The Apple is to take a track-by-track guided tour of the film.
“BIM’S on the Way.” (Representative lyric: “there ain’t no shame…”). A full scale glam rock concert anthem, complete with dozens of backup singers, flashing multicolored lights, a disco ball, and a sheep-like chanting audience armed with green glowsticks, as two pop stars in sequined skullcaps screech out a propaganda ode to their corporate sponsor (B.I.M. stands for “Boogaloo International Music,” the name of the villain’s consortium). It’s 1994′s “Worldvision Song Competition” to determine the pop anthem that will serve as the theme song for the New World Order. Back in the control room, Mr. Boogaloo and his transvestite entourage are monitoring the audiences pulse rate and other key biorhythms. They are thrilled with the results, until the next song…
“Love, the Universal Melody.” (Representative lyric: “United by our love, we’re all children of the universal family…”) Moose Jaw, Canada troubadours Alfie (think Donnie Osmond) and Bibi (looking eerily like a “Partridge Family” era Susan Dey) get on stage with their scaled-down guitars and blue jeans and sing a sticky-sweet song that’s the musical and nutritional equivalent of Rice Krispie treats marinated in maple syrup. Fortunately, Mr. Boogaloo senses the audience’s distress (that’s our distress, not the movie audience’s: they dig the pabulum) and plays a tape of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” over the speakers so the brown shirt music fans turn on them.
“You’re Made for Me.” (Representative lyric: “You’re made for me/Created for me/And I am your king…”) At a party at Mr. Boogaloo’s, evil BIMstar Dandi (think Rod Stewart) dazzles Bibi with his perfectly feathered hair, gives her a pill, and serenades her with this 1950s style doo-wop number while a chorus-line who would have been kicked out of the Official Ziggy Stardust Drag Queen Fan Club for dressing too flamboyantly dance in the background. When Alfie catches Bibi making out with Dandi, he breaks up the party, but the duo is still invited to sign a contract with BIM, leading to…
“Life is Show Business in 1994.” (Representative lyric: “Like the bleary eyed baboon/To an organ grinder’s tune/Mankind screamies for whatever kind of dreamies we might treat them to…”) Waiting for an appointment with Mr. Boogaloo, Bibi and Alfie watch “Ballet 2000″ (a clown-heavy troupe that’s a shockingly prophetic prefiguration of Cirque du Soleil) rehearse in the BIM building foyer. Mr. Boogaloo and his femmiest assistant, Shake, take the lead in singing this electronified cabaret number.
“The Apple.” (Representative lyric: “It’s a natural natural natural desire/Meet an actual actual actual vampire…”) This is The Apple‘s knockout centerpiece, and there’s no denying it’s filled with infernal energy. When Bibi signs a contract with Mr. Boogaloo, a recalcitrant Alfie hallucinates that she’s Eve in Hell (?) being tempted with a fatal apple by Dandi (wearing a sequined speedo) while a team of damned dancers prance about (including Napoleon, a two-faced man, and of course, an actual actual actual vampire) to a rather catchy R&B tune. Possibly the weirdest song and dance number ever put onscreen; this one may well have been choreographed by Busby Berkeley’s zombie.
“A Master.” (Representative lyric: “Cultivate a need/Grab them by their greed…”). This is another musical snippet that’s quite well done, and the lyrics aren’t even an embarrassment this time. Mr. Boogaloo suavely slides his way through a self-congratulatory calypso-tinged number, with sweet harmonies. It doesn’t add anything to the story, but it gives Vladek Sheybal, the film’s only acting asset, another moment in the sun and might just be the movie’s best song.
“Speed.” (“America, your red, white, and blues/Are in our blood; we’re strung out on you…”) After two fairly good musical numbers, The Apple shows us its rotten core with this satirical, motorcycle-themed abomination. Bibi becomes an unlikely BIM star singing this ironic and annoying tribute to life in the fast lane that sounds like it might have actually been written during a coke jag. The black leather backup dancers look like they came off the set of Scorpio Rising, only made up with gobs of silver eyeliner so that they look gay.
“Where Has It Gone?” (Representative lyrics: “I walk through a world of deceit and decay full of faces with sad frightened eyes…”) Out in the real world, a down-and-out Alfie is trying to sell another earnest, Donovan-esque folky love song. He can’t understand why no music executives are interested: is it because the sinister BIM corporation controls the airwaves, or because he no longer has a hot chick standing next to him to distract us from the actual music?
“BIM’s On the Way (reprise).” BIM has tricked the government into signing a contract mandating an hour of aerobic exercise per day, to be done the tune of their “big hit.” Comic relief comes in the form of dancing nuns, firefighters letting a building burn down while they twirl and do high kicks, and an open-heart surgery patient trying to comply with the exercise requirement from the operating table.
“Alfie.” (Representative lyric: “Should I go on living for the memory of your love, or should I end it all?”). Dressed as a dominatrix (complete with studded dog collar), Bibi looks out over a rainstorm from her opulent balcony and longs for the lost love of her simple lunkhead ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile, a bloodied Alfie, whose been beaten up for not wearing a BIMmark (long story), leans out if his crummy tenement window and sings a similar lament, while the same rain falls!
“Come for Me.” (Representative lyric: “I’m coming, coming for you…”) Alfie goes to a BIM party to try to talk Mr. Boogaloo into releasing Bibi from her contract, but Dandi’s female equivalent, Pandi (think Donna Summer), slips a hallucinogenic aphrodisiac into his drink. Boogalow sprouts a single gold lamé horn on his forehead, and high as a kite Alfie sees BIM’s usual entourage of harlequins, leather freaks and cross-dressing weirdos in quadruplicate as Pandi leads the staggering folksinger to the bedroom. Drug abuse aside, it’s the extreme subtlety with which the seduction is handled (Pandi sings, “Make it harder and harder and faster and faster and when you think you can’t keep it up/I’ll take you deeper and deeper and tighter and tighter and drain every drop of your love” while a dozen couples in their underwear dry-hump on a sea of beds) that makes it work. It may be the dirtiest PG-rated sequence ever filmed. The funky song is catchy, but it’s not catching; however much you may be tempted, you don’t need to get yourself checked for an STD after watching this scene.
“Something’s Happened to Me.” (Representative lyric: “I thought that I had died and then I looked into the light and I found me.”) Impressed by Alfie’s devotion to Bibi, Pandi decides to help Bibi escape BIM, then sings this redemption song. The suspicion is that the producers did not want the audience to go home remembering actress Grace Kennedy merely as the slut of “Come for Me.” They needn’t have worried about people remembering her.
“Child of Love.” (Representative lyric: “Shine on me, child of love.”) Alfie and Bibi escape to a cave occupied by a band of hippies, led by a baritone dressed like Gandalf the Grey with a wicked looking dagger stashed under his jerkin. The tune is a mercifully short, mercifully sitar-free hippie chant; it serves as a sort of a common-law wedding song for Alfie and Bibi.
That’s the end of the musical numbers, but not quite the end of The Apple. The movie suddenly realizes it’s spent one hundred fifteen minutes singing and dancing and has only five minutes left to wrap up the plot. So, the screenplay does what any good script would do in this situation: it has God come down from the heavens in a glowing muscle car to lead Alfie and Bibi and the hippies to paradise. Queue up “The Apple,” and roll credits.
The Apple is one of those movies that could only have come out of the swinging, anything-goes psychedelic 1960s; and yet, impossibly, it was made in 1980. It tries to be deliberately outrageous and ridiculous, yet its absurdities are frequently accidental; it becomes a spectacle of camp devouring itself. That makes the question of whether The Apple is a good or a bad movie irrelevant. You can call it one of the worst musicals ever made, or praise it as one of the greatest unintentional comedies; no one’s going to get much traction from either argument, because The Apple is so singular and prophetic, we’re only just now taking the first baby steps towards devising a new critical vocabulary capable of discussing it.
Or, maybe The Apple‘s just rotten.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The peculiar genius of The Apple is that every time it appears that the film cannot get any crazier, it ratchets up the weirdness to almost indescribable levels. It belongs to the curious subset of movies so all-consumingly druggy and surreal that they make audiences feel baked out of their minds even when they’re stone-cold sober.”–Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club (“My Year of Flops” series)
(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Tony,” who called it “one of the worst, and possibly the weirdest movies of the 80′s.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)