Monday, December 7, 2015

Cannon Fodder: The Apple (1980)

(PG, Cannon Films, 86 mins., theatrical release date: November 21, 1980)

[Welcome to Cannon Fodder, in which I endure a handful of "classics" from the Golan-Globus production team in advance of my review of Mark Hartley's Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. I will tackle as many different movies from various points in the duo's timeline, from the early success of Operation Thunderbolt to the infamous Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. We begin with one of the early Cannon efforts, and the first of many in the "so bad it's good" legacy they've achieved. "It's an actual, actual, actual desire..."]

I broke down 40 minutes into The Apple, when Barbarella's vocally-deficient kid sister tried to belt a raucous anthem about America's need for "speeeeeeeeeeed." My palate needed cleansing, therefore I went to YouTube and pulled up a popular clip from Teen Witch.

You know what I'm talking about...

"Top That," with its Beastly Boys and pathetic ideal of adolescent cool, is still a better number than anything in The Apple.

I shouldn't have to write a review on The Apple. The comparison should speak for itself, but The Apple is low-hanging fruit in a sequined thong.

Menahem (remember to pronounce it as Mun-Ackum) Golan and Yoram Globus had just bought Cannon Films at this time, and it looks like they wasted few precious moments cementing their legacy as the ghastliest, gaudiest production company to ever schmuck up the cinemas.

The story was originally conceived as an epic Hebrew musical theater production by Coby and Iris Recht. Overhauled by Golan himself as writer/director, The Apple ended up another in the late 1970s spate of opulent disco cash-ins, released the same year as Xanadu and Can't Stop the Music. Disco Demolition Night was a year old by the time The Apple played, and with the exception of Olivia Newton-John's songs from Xanadu, this trio of turkeys drove America further into the arms of AOR. We as a nation went from the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever to Hi Infidelity so capriciously.

Obviously, it didn't help that the premiere screening of The Apple at the El Capitan turned into Comiskey Park 2. Audience members who were given complimentary vinyl versions of the soundtrack album eventually started hurling them at the screen. Menahem Golan was apparently suicidal over the movie's poor reception back in Europe, but recovered soon enough so that the world was given such questionable gifts to film-going as Death Wish II, The Last American Virgin and his own Enter the Ninja.

To quote the main villain of The Apple, "Nostalgia is always dangerous." What better explanation is there for why The (Rotten) Apple has rode such a wave of retroactive awe that it washed up in my shores?

Set a decade after the Orwellian boiling point that was 1984, The Apple pillages from established junk culture in both popular music and movie musicals yet harbors loftier ambitions beyond its cavalcade of gold lamé, vampire teeth and repeated crimes against the earlobe.

In a future where pop music rules society, the 1994 Worldvision Song Contest is the stage for an Old Testament-copped struggle between good vs. evil. The latter is represented by Satanic agent Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) and his assistant Shake (Ray Shell, the Meshach Taylor of his era), as well as their hedonistic star singers Dandi & Pandi (Alan Love, Grace Kennedy). Opposing this fey foursome are Alphie & Bibi (George Gilmour, Catherine Mary Stewart), lovey-dovey folkies from Moose Jaw, Canada. After nearly causing an upset which Mr. Boogalow and Shake manage to suppress, these beaten babes are enticed to join Boogalow's circus of glam and ham. Alphie is deterred by apparitions of Eden-style temptation as he tries to sign the contract, but Bibi bites easy and hard, becoming Boogalow's latest protégé and driving Alphie to destitution.

As the mindless masses fall under the spell of Boogalow International Music and their pop-rock propaganda, Alphie soon finds salvation in a commune of hippies (led by Joss Ackland in a role more worthy of regret than De Nomolos from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey) and is joined by lapsed disco dolly Bibi. When Mr. Boogalow tracks them down and demands Bibi's arrest for reneging on her contract, a power greater than the Devil himself arrives in a gold Rolls ("Marc Almond! No?! BOOO!!!") to take the teens to their final destination.

Catherine Mary Stewart, looking in the film for all the world like a young Kelly Clarkson (while the equally underperforming Gilmour, in his only credit, arrives as Warren Beatty), talked about how Golan aspired to be "better than Ken Russell," but The Apple isn't so much Tommy. For all its kitsch, Golan never once has Stewart writhe sensually in a flood of creamed vegetables. No, it's apt to see The Apple instead as a Godspell-Phantom of the Paradise hybrid knock-off with more transvestites than The Rocky Horror Picture Show and less infectious tunes.

A friend of mine who's married to an online critic (who, incidentally, gave this film a sincere rave, the lunatic) knows musician friends who bought The Apple as industry satire, mocking a machine so prefab and crass that the only way out is through unwavering integrity and a pinch of divine intervention. While I see things in The Apple which could support their enthusiasm, there are more dead-bang jokes in Phantom of the Paradise and This Is Spinal Tap. The height of intentional wit in The Apple is to parachute in Miriam Margolyes as Alphie's Bubbe-esque landlady, a bit of comic relief that cannot light the menorah once followed by the infamous "National Bim Hour" montage, a fitting prelude to the hospital dance-a-thon in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

More than any Biblical pretense or bizness lampoonery, what The Apple is really about is, naturally, music. This 86-minute film has about an hour's worth of production numbers, songs written exclusively for the film by musician Coby Recht and lyricists Iris Yotvat & George S. Clinton, the latter a Cannon employee not to be confused with the leader of Parliament/Funkadelic. Nigel Lythgoe choreographed the dance moves, and would go on to fulfill one of The Apple's half-baked prophecies as executive producer of American Idol.

Unfortunately, every moment in which The Apple breaks into song-and-dance stops the movie cold. Like Robert Christgau reviewing David Bowie's over-the-top singing on Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), if the awfulness of the music here is supposed to be a joke, it's not worth the pain. Lyrics are awkwardly crammed into subpar melodies, for one. Aside from the futility to make a hook out of the phrase "Life is nothing but show business in 1994," the opening number "(Do the) BIM" has a chorus constantly drilled into your skull which threatens that "BIM's on the way." I heard "BIM's the only way," although they could have been also singing "BIM's Yahweh." The point is there are tons more non-rhyming, repetitive blunders meant to condescend to refugees of the current vapid pop scene.

The music of The Apple is processed late 1970s cheese all the way ("Hey, hey, hey!!!"), flavorless slices of imitation Supertramp, Bonnie Tyler and The Carpenters (where's Paul "Swan" Williams when you really need him?) to garnish your Bim Burger (I'm not making that up, there is an actual restaurant in the movie which sells those). The Karen & Richard connection applies to Alphie & Bibi, whose own showcase songs are no less cringe-inducing than Boogelow's blooze. Their utopian schmaltzfest "(Love) The Universal Melody" doesn't convince at the start, but the duo's nadir is the mopey rock ballad "Cry for Me" ("Where has all the pity gone?"), a song which makes REO Speedwagon sound like Big Brother & The Holding Company.

There is a weird novelty to a couple of these abortions, it must be said. Never has a synthetic doo-wop duet (call it "Since I Don't Have ‘Since I Don't Have You' ") been voiced by a deathless Roger Daltrey clone and the dim ingénue he has just drugged. Never has a barnacle of a cod reggae song been mangled by a thick-accented Machiavellian who gloats into the ear of his pretty puppet. And if you wanted something to put the "o" in solo but were just too bashful to admit you owned "More, More, More" by the Andrea True Connection, well, The Apple has another thing "Coming." 

The Apple is one of those movies impossible to NOT make sound like a majestic monument of manure. This is a film in which the heroine is allowed the easiest possible escape all because Pandi has fucked the BIM away (and is subsequently slapped by the sissy black guy). One where an extra with a hoser accent yells at the heroes to "Go back to Moose Jaw!" One in which you could deduce major penis envy from its creator stemming from being denied entry into Studio 54. But given the combined non-efforts of the terrible music, the ridiculous dancing (BIM's prime directive is to pull no punches against the oxygen) and Menahem Golan's pedestrian sense of style, my first viewing of this was arduous.

It only got worse the second time I watched.

My nutty suspicion about the Israelis of Cannon is that as filmmakers, they were such fine producers. I will elaborate further as I go along, but suffice to say that Golan is genuine in his lack of finesse. The Apple is over rather quickly and has a sliver of showmanship important to the success of any musical, but there are Italian Road Warrior wannabes which are filmed more proficiently and look more believably dystopian.

And hippies, Mr. Golan? Seriously?!


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