The Apple (1980)
Catherine Mary Stewart (Bibi), George Gilmour (Alphie), Grace Kennedy (Pandi), Allan Love (Dandi), Vladek Sheybal (Boogalow), Ray Shell (Shake), Joss Ackland (Mr. Topps/Hippie Leader), Miriam Margoyles (Landlady)
“Popular singing duo Alphie and Bibi are successful and in love. But they fall into the hands of an unscrupulous rock promoter. He fixes for them to win the Worldvision Song Competition with a song that combines rock music and martial arts. They become the singing sensation of 1994 and their music becomes the way of life for the people. But for Alphie and Bibi life soon becomes a desperate battle between the forces of good and evil…” – VHS box synopsis written by someone who half-watched the movie whilst doing their taxes.
There are certain films who have attained a ubiquitous level of infamy. And I appreciate inept film-making as much as the next grinning jackass, but I’m always fascinated by the films that are well-made but insane. And this leads us to Menahem Golan’s The Apple, a film so poorly received that Menahem Golan nearly committed suicide from its negative reception.
We open on some disco-nightmare take on the opening of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire as musical duo Dandi (Allan Love) and Pandi (Grace Kennedy) shout-sing at the audience to “Do the BIM” (BIM stands for Boogalow International Music). Apparently this is all part of some worldwide version of the Eurovision song contest where the winner is decided by the audience’s heart rate, perspiration, and excitement. After Dandi and Pandi’s rousing number, they’re followed by Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart of Night of the Comet in her first role). Alphie and Bibi perform a treacly love song which drives the audience into a frenzy only for them to lose interest in rioting and sit down so they can feel the folk music enter their souls. Naturally, they inexplicably cause the Worldvision boards to go off the scales to the dismay of evil music producer Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal). Boogalow cheats so that Dandi and Pandi will win and then approaches Alphie and Bibi about a contract.
Alphie and Bibi come up to Boogalow’s studio and Bibi happily scarfs down all the hallucinogens date-rape drugs she’s offered without question. Bibi is seduced to the side of wanting to be a star but Alphie thinks these people are weird as fuck. This all culminates when they go to Boogalow’s office to sign the contract and are transported to a hellscape for an elaborate musical number where demons attempt to get the duo to take a bite of a comically large apple. Bibi decides to lean in and Alphie storms out.
Bibi becomes an international star, gaining power for BIM which has become a totalitarian government regime. The silly triangle stickers introduced early in the film are soon mandatory for people to wear without a fine and, in a moment of truly unhinged absurdity we’re shown a glimpse of “The BIM Hour”: a government-mandated program where everyone stops what they’re doing (including fighting fires and performing surgery) to caper around like idiots to a continuous loop of “Hey hey hey, BIM’s on the way” for an entire hour. Gaze upon its majesty.
Alphie futilely attempts to get back together with Bibi but Boogalow’s people keep getting in his way. It doesn’t help that Alphie blindly trusts whatever obviously-laced drinks the bad guys offer him. This culminates in a musical number more overtly sexual than the entirety of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To give you hint of how overt it is, the song is called “I’m Coming For You.” In dismay, Alphie goes and lives with some hippies until Bibi shows up, then a big climactic confrontation with Boogalow and BIM that is interrupted by a literal deus ex machina.
The Apple has attained its fair share of infamy as one of the worst movies ever made. Reportedly, at a screening in Hollywood, angry guests threw their free copies of the soundtrack at the screen until it was torn and was nominated for a bad movie award. Both Rifftrax and Paul Scheer’s podcast How Did This Get Made have tackled this movie, not to mention a score of other film reviewers. (My personal favorite quote from the Good Bad Films review: “For a movie called The Apple, it’s fucking bananas.”
The thing is, it’s really not that bad. Now I’ve never been a big musical guy, so my expertise on this subject is limited but the way I’ve been lead to understand this is: if the music’s catchy, people forgive everything else. Sometimes “everything else” includes the actors in the movie not being good at singing, at least this is the only way I’ve been able to rationalize the success of Mama Mia. I mean let’s be honest here, Rocky Horror Picture Show is not a very good movie at all, but when those musical numbers hit your brain releases dopamine and you stop caring. And Rocky Horror isn’t exactly the picture of sanity itself, so why does that particular film get celebrated by people worldwide? My guess is that it’s because Rocky Horror has a message that makes sense.
The Apple is quite obviously angling for some sort of biblical message. We’ve got a very obvious devil figure, we’ve got temptation that is at one point represented by a giant apple, we have a god figure coming down to save everyone, and the BIM marks seem like a reference to the “Mark of the Beast” from the book of Revelation. But this is only really tied to a pretty boilerplate “corrupted by fame” story. Without the Hell musical bit and the arrival of God (in the form of Mr. Topps) at the end, it wouldn’t be apparent that anything about this is supposed to be biblical.
In Menahem Golan’s defense, he did originally conceive of a creation scene at the beginning of the film but the sound stage they shot it on was too small to accommodate everyone. As a result, some performers in a dinosaur suit collapsed of exhaustion, a tiger got free, and elephants kept tearing up the set with their trunks. Had the scene been shot it would’ve involved Mr. Topps creating the world, Alphie and Bibi, and Mr. Boogalow being banished.
The rise and fall storyline is fine but it really doesn’t show Bibi enduring any real adversity. Boogalow and his lackeys deceive her but she seems to be enjoying a career free of any trouble. The only real conflict is that Alphie and Bibi can’t be together and the resolution to that conflict is The Rapture. This movie reminds me, in various ways, of Rock & Rule but that movie actually had a climax.
Similarly the moral message of the movie is a bit underwhelming. Bugalow is clearly the devil, but what is he actually doing that’s so wrong? He sabotages the Worldvision song contest but by all accounts that was just to find music to accompany the government exercise program and “Do the BIM” is a lot more excercisable than Alphie and Bibi’s psuedo-Dan Fogelberg bulshit. He promotes consumerism and obsession with celebrity but by all accounts the people are so obsessed with these things that they’re not killing, stealing from, or hurting each other. Boogalow is, at best, kind of a jerk. What does Mr. Topps have to offer? A bunch of unwashed hippies squatting in a park lead by some sort of hippie messiah played by the same actor in an unconvincing fake nose. It would seem that, in trying to be about too many things The Apple is about nothing at all.
With that said, there’s not a whole lot wrong with this movie if I’m being honest. The songs are kooky but catchy and that’s the alchemy that usually makes a memorable musical. Catherine Mary Stewart sports one of the strongest first on-screen performances ever as Bibi. There’s a youthful self-conscious confidence to the character that probably more than reflects the attitude of the then 20-year-old actress. It is worth noting that Mary Hylan performs Bibi’s songs and is dubbed in over the singing bits.
One of the reasons I don’t care for musicals is that I hate the way musical numbers intterupt the flow of story. The Apple gets around this by being about 95% musical numbers intercut with little 5-10 minutes of talky stuff that mainly serves to move us along to the next musical number. The Apple sports a frankly-irresponsible 14 songs in its 90-minute runtime which means the plot has no time to drag or wear out its welcome. The minute things start slowing down we’re exposed to another bit of glitzy insanity and moving on.
I do have to wonder what happened to George Gilmour, he has a realy leading-man look and demeanor about him. Alphie is more-or-less the main character of the piece and he works well in the part. Frankly, aside from Boogalow’s assitant Shake, there aren’t really any bad performances in the film. What is so memorably nutty about The Apple are the songs (favorite lyric: “It’s a natural, natural, natural desire/meet an actual, actual, actual vampire.”), the sparkly costumes and dance moves, and the equally bizarre set design.
The sets are a weird sort of glitzy art-deco utilitarian like a communist tower block that has been spruced up by whoever came up witht he props for Deathsport. The motorcycles in the film definitely look like left-over Death Machines from Deathsport. It would also seem that The Apple was prescient in that it correctly guessed the design of Homer Simpson’s disasterous concept car The Homer.
In summary, The Apple deserves a better reputation than it has. It’s hokey and it’s muddled but that’s definitely a big part of its charm. The Apple is fun, it’s weird, and it’s made with enough genuine skill that its shortcomings never make it a disaster. I daresay that on the metric of Canon films it’s one of their masterworks. Overambitious, audacious, ridiculous? Maybe, but if you can’t have a good time watching this then your world is a bleak one indeed.
Unfortunately, an out-of-print DVD is the only way to legally see The Apple right now, but Kino Lorber is putting out a brand new 2K restoration Blu-Ray sometime in late 2016 or early 2017. So keep an eye out.
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