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Film

The Apple (1980)

SE&L celebrates this new blog section on the worst of the worst with an inaugural look at the infamous 1980 Menahem Golan mess.

Once upon a time, in a freaked-out future that's already a decade past, the entire planet is in the grip of BIM. You can't go anywhere without experiencing the magic that is…well, that is BIM. BIM is a pop song. BIM is a mass-marketed body sticker. BIM is a tall triangular glass and the ruby red joy juice drunk from it. BIM is…you have no idea what BIM is, do you? Guess what, neither does anyone else in the pre-Apocalyptic world of…well, the world.

Yes, the planet is run by the music industry (at least one accurate prediction that even Nostradamus, Alvin Toffler, and Jeane Dixon all missed), and Mr. Boogalow is the business's chief chart-topper. He pairs up innocuous tone-deaf teens with names like Pandi, Dandi, Bibi, and Alphie, and turns their trite tunes into a regular opiate for the masses. But there is more to the demented Don Kirshner than meets the eye. You see, Mr. Boogalow is…wait for it…the DEVIL! And he is trying to hypnotize the entire world toward the ways of wantonness via that objet d'evil - the hit record.

So when a couple of rubes from the backwater burg of Moose Jaw enter the World Vision Song Contest with the hope that their self-penned anthem "Love: The Universal Melody" will whip up on the overwhelmingly more popular "BIM is the Power," Boogalow uses the infamous red tape (no, not bureaucracy—an actual crimson cassette) to rig the results (apparently, Jem and the Holograms took third). He then applies the marketing-appropriate mantra, "If you can't beat 'em, own 'em," and tries to get the couple to sign away their souls…sorry, publishing rights. Soon, Bibi is indentured to this hyper-mega-super-duper conglomerate Boogalow International Music (B…I…M…oh, yeah…like BMI. Now it makes…no, it doesn't) and it's up to Alphie to save her from an incendiary afterlife. But it will be hard. After all, she's had a bite of The Apple literally.

Did you ever wonder what the world would be like if God were a white-leisure-suit-wearing tycoon type who drove his solid gold Rolls down from Heaven to transport a commune of hippies over to a brand new planet? Or if Satan were a fey music mogul who resembled Udo Kier's interpretation of the role of Carmen Ghia from The Producers? Perchance, what if Adam and Eve - or at least a "babes in the woods" folk-rock and roll interpretation of same - were an Australian idiot boy and the star of Night of the Comet? And let's just say for the sake of silly argument that the Devil employs a few mediocre minions who are incredibly sad excuses for Roger Daltrey, Nina Simone, and Meshach Taylor. Layer on the worst musical score since Sly Stallone's brother proved why "Staying Alive" is not necessarily a good thing, and you've got The Apple, a gamy glitterdome of outrageous kitsch passing itself off as a futuristic fable.

Resembling a stage show version of the Rapture as interpreted by Disco Tex and his Sex-o-lettes ("Get Dancin'," y'all!), this aimless allegory about the battle between good (or at least kind of decent) and evil (or as construed by this film, the flamboyantly fashionable) has all the subtlety of a steam-powered enema and reeks just as pungently. If you ever wanted proof of the madness that meanders through the mind of Menahem Golan (famous Cannon Films producer of such classical gas as The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington and Breakin'), look no further than this tale of Mr. Boogalow and his plans for a dictatorial fascist state based in and around the culture of the pop song (and this predates boy bands by a good decade).

The fact that this concept did not work out too well for either Brian DePalma (his Phantom of the Paradise is a noble failure) or 1977's abortive TV series A Year at the Top (costars Greg "BJ and the Bear" Evigan and Paul "David Letterman" Shaffer never got past the first couple of months of the titular time frame) didn't stop Golan from pursuing his crappy cinematic concept album. Indeed, it appears that the entire entertainment world in the mid to late 1970s was fixated on two divergent, yet still forced to cohabitate together, themes - mainly, that the future would be a dire, dreary place dominated by Bob Mackie's designs, and that rock and roll would have to step up to save all of our mortal souls.

From the Bee Gees / Peter Frampton flop based on The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to the just plain awful Americathon, everyone was predicting that the 1990s would be the time when the population finally paid the piper for lousing things up. Oh, and for making such beat-heavy horsecrap as "Push in the Bush" and "Boogie Oogie Oogie" Grammy Award-winning and popular. And, aside from grunge and the introduction of the mp3, they may have had a point.

The Apple indeed polishes its loopy fruit via this future shock silliness. According to this sci-fi fart, 1994 was to be the temporal space when everyone wore multicolored prism stickers on their faces and caked on more makeup than Boy George after a night at TABOO, and when police give citations for failing to "BIM" (whatever the Hades that anagram really stands for—"Beelzebub's Irritating Musical," perhaps?). It will take a group of radicals to stand up to the persecution and provocation of this wah-wah pedal man-goat-backed police state, so you'll never guess who The Apple pegs for its protectors. Why, the great unwashed, otherwise known as hippies.

That's right, gang…hippies. Peace, love, and flower power. In the realm of The Apple, when faced with the prospect of Hell on Earth, mankind will turn to a Jerry Garcia clone and his "still somehow relevant" roundup of peaceniks to save the world from eternal damnation at the hands of ersatz Duran Duran (the Barbarella version). Who cares if they live in a cave, avoid soap and water, and warble Moby Grape songs to each other - these are the saviors of the universe!

Worse yet, when all appears lost, Mr. Topps - AKA old Yahweh himself - cruises down the horizon in his sacred stretch limo and decides to send Jerry and his kids to another planet, to start over again without the influence of Boogalow and what he represents (i.e., rock and roll). So the ultimate message of The Apple is that (a) music is bad, (b) the Devil is bad, (c) letting your freak flag fly wins you a ticket to a new cosmic homeland, and (d) producers of B-movie mung should never be allowed to interpret the Good Book via power ballad.

And that's the main issue here. More important than all the Biblical bull broth is the fact that The Apple is, for want of a better term, a musical. Really, it's more of a Gilbert and Sullivan light operetta than a rock and roll opus - if, of course, the particular creators you're thinking of are Gottfried and Annie. Such a spectacular sonic scourge that your tightly honed sensibilities may never recover, the score here is the antithesis of melody and harmony. You name a genre or style - reggae, '50s ballad, disco dirge, Broadway-style show tune - and The Apple rapes it like the Sabine women or the swan-serving Leda. With lyrics composed by a random phrase generator, and an old-fashioned Eastern Bloc Iron Curtain interpretation of contemporary accompaniment, the tunes here put us through the aural equivalent of a painful rectal itch.

Lines fail to rhyme, emotions are so spelled out that inbred invertebrates can figure out the meaning, and everything feels like it was produced by Georgio Moroder's insane brother, Earl. Like a baby watching magic (an actual line from one of the hackneyed horrors here), The Apple's musical cues confuse and frighten us - not because of how bad they are, but for how painfully close they come to the Billboard ballyhoo actually arcing across radio dials all over America circa 2008 (add a guest rap or two by 50 Cent or Ludacris, and it would be impossible to tell the difference).

Sadly, The Apple is not a cult classic - unless, of course, you're referring to the kind of fodder that would actually cause the Branch Davidians to answer their "calling." It's not bad/good like Can't Stop the Music or awful/artful like KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. No, this surreal seminar on the abuse of filmmaking power is in a deranged category all its own. It tends to dwell in the "What the Hell?" or "How Can This Be?" realm of the ridiculous. The film is so unfathomable that you can't imagine anyone walking away after reading this script and thinking, "Now there's something sensible." With an overall design scheme that recalls Blitz kids with leprosy, and a narrative that never really understands the requirements of a parable, The Apple plays more like the fever dream of a deposed priest, an awkward overreaction to the popularity of religiously-based rock musicals (as if we didn't already have reason to hate Godspell).

Perhaps the best way to watch this film is to turn on the English subtitles and read along with the kindergarten song craft as game performers belt out completely incompetent brain busters. It may be worth a look, and there could be a few who actually tune in, turn on, and drop out - of the gene pool, that is - based on the befuddling film before them. The Apple should be a celebration of all that is camp. Instead, it's just seriously disturbed.

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