Cannon Films Fires an Early Shot Through This Most Fantastically Baffling Musical
DIRECTED BY MENAHEM GOLAN/1980
STREET DATE: JUNE 27, 2017/KINO LORBER
It’s theologically unknown just how many movies have made the Almighty roll His eyes. But only one movie has done so to the point of not only garnering such a reaction, but to go ahead and include it at its own climactic moment. When God, or in this case, “Mr. Topps”, drives in from On High to clean up the mess of the previous 88 minutes, his eye-roll is just short of audible. Take it from the veteran actor responsible for the brief moment of cast/audience solidarity, Joss Ackland – we don’t bite this apple. It’s The Apple that truly bites. But, it’s just so fascinated/captivated/losing its mind… The Apple is many things – too many things! – but boring is never one of them.
A notoriously chintzy rock musical set in far-flung future year of Nineteen-hundred and Ninety-Four, the music business has taken over every aspect of society. In an ugly metropolis of office lobbies, concert sound stages and corporate offices, a most bizarre Satan runs everything. His name? Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal), a man of wealth if not taste. But what’s so puzzling, then, is the nature of his game. (Also puzzling: the entire rest of this movie.)
For example, a major part of Boogalow’s endgame is issuing shiny prismatic sticker triangles for the populace to wear on their foreheads. They’re called BIMs, a much-used proprietary phrase that one can presume was better detailed in a non-existent prequel. BIMs are then mandatory – and surprisingly fashion-forward in this weird world. It’s the mark of the Beast by way of a third grade girl. It’s true, the Hobby Lobby scrapbooking section is entirely complicit in enabling this particular New World Order.
Captive, closely monitored audiences are made to watch live rock n’ roll performances, most of which involve high end choreography and the best space-glam outfits and glitter makeup future-money could buy. If heart rates are kept at a certain level, and the audience perpetually pacified, the Powers That Be Powerful are happy. It’s got overblown androgynous decadent flair and a serious laser light show courtesy of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s garage sale. The crowd eats it up.
Then, out come our heroes Alfie and Bibi (George Gilmour and Catherine Mary Stewart) in their – gasp! – blue jeans and tunics to perform their out-of-step folky tune that would’ve given Donnie & Marie a run for their money, in terms of being vanilla. The crowd first revolts because it’s different. But then, wait…! They’re liking it! What to be done, what to be done, Mr. Boogalow??
Buy off their souls in the name of rock n’ roll, that’s what. Hey, it worked for Paul Williams in The Phantom of the Paradise, it can work here, too. Alfie won’t have it, but Bibi naively will. Before they know it, they’re part of the film’s best, looniest and most memorable musical performance sequence of it’s many original songs (all written by Iris Recht and George S. Clinton) (Not THAT George Clinton!) and dances, the title number, “The Apple” – a crazed rush of pre-MTV Hell, sung by a Roger Daltrey-esque Allan Love in a sequined speedo, and nothing else. (The film is the rare fruit that regularly clads its male characters far more scantily than its females). Bibi is offered an official oversized apple. And what then? Why, she’ll be hypnotized and she’ll be demonized and she’ll be paralyzed so she’ll be victimized! She’ll meet an actual actual actual vampire!
Before the living end can arrive, Alfie must face off against the scourge of late rent and being part of the prolonged musical number “Coming” with the lovely and talented Grace Kennedy. In an age when inappropriate content popping up in a PG-rated movie wasn’t so unusual, the steamed-up sexually oozy-schmoozy “Coming” nevertheless stands out. And it does go on… Just when it seems spent, it cuts to a vision of male and female dancers simulating you-know-what amid a roomful of beds and, just off frame, an industrial strength fog machine. Lack of nudity aside, the song leaves so little to the imagination, all that’s missing is a Masters & Johnson report.
So then… How, how, how did such a movie come about?? To answer that, we must turn back the clock…
Before any of us were born, someone partook of an apple that they shouldn’t have, and it was all downhill from there. So the old story goes.
Today, in this hyper-managed and ever-forward age of manufactured myth and culture, it is assumed that any story that predates one’s own birth is irrelevant. It’s our natural, natural, natural desire!
Which goes to show, in 1980, how progressively ahead of the curve Menahem Golan was. Ignoring history as to not repeat it wasn’t quite de rigueur the way it is today.
Like Eve, he too would be unable to resist the allure of the apple. Not that her story wasn’t one he was interested in telling via this very ill-fated and now-infamous cinematic endeavor.
Not yet the industry big cheese behind Cannon Films and their bewildering freight train of Reagan era shlock, Golan was, at this point, merely a cinema-addled Wizard of Ugh; a more modern Ed Wood with a glint of production value and a whole lot of silver metallic fabric. It adorns office walls, door frames, and even people’s clothes throughout The Apple.
He bit it, alright. The story goes that he darn near let the poor reception to The Apple kill him. Instead, though, he reincarnated as an uber-producer, avalanching theaters and video rental shelves with all the Chuck Norris, Bo Derek, latter days Charles Bronson that they could handle. The Cannon output was a bloody fruit cocktail we’re only now beginning to contextualize; a horny horn o’ plenty for adolescent boys the world over. It would be his own personal New Jerusalem returning from the sky following career Armageddon – an empire of luan, gaffer’s tape, gasoline, thin plots, occasional break dancing, pyrotechnics and ta-tas.
But before the many Death Wishes that would come, it was all about love, man. And how better to deliver a universal message of peace, acceptance and communal living than through an incompressible gaudy musical movie? The kind of thing that only the era of Heaven’s Gate and the Village People could deliver?
As far as melding moralizing and iconography of the Biblical variety with intentionally provocative salaciousness, one could equate Golan’s approach in The Apple to that of Cecil B. DeMille. Except, that Golan forgoes historical posturing and characterization entirely in favor of the broadly thematic; in this case, the temptation of Eve in Genesis and the end-times visions of Revelation. In this altogether misguided bid for the Israeli born Golan to appeal to the American marketplace, he ping pongs from either end of the Bible paying no heed to the rest. It’s the Alpha, Omega and apple pie, Amen.
And now, The Apple has dropped on Blu-Ray… and there’s nothing we can do about it! It’s myriad star filter effects and chintz do look great in this 2016 HD master, a gift for those who’ve been waiting to celebrate their affection for this jaw dropper. On the audio commentary track, film historian Nathaniel Thompson talks about a longer, alternate version of The Apple which he’s familiar. Alas, (thankfully?) this is merely the shorter version. Fellow commentary participant Catherine Mary Stewart is fantastic company, contributing somewhat MST3K level observations and recollections of this, her very first moviemaking experience.
The personable and outgoing Stewart is all over the disc, also turning up in her own forty-five plus minute video featurette detailing her Apple experience, and her subsequent career. Also, there’s a trailer – with a few quick glimpses of scenes from that longer cut of the film! The disc menu itself is kind of lacking, as it simply lists each bonus feature along with “Play Movie”, failing to offer the usual chapter submenu – a disappointment for those wanting to easily jump to certain song performances.
However one slices it, though, The Apple is something to see – and this is the way to see it. When it comes to the category of face-slappingly fun bad movies, this one is the very core.