Welcome to “Bad Movie Night,” a biweekly feature in which we sift through the remains of bad movies of all stripes: the obscure and hilarious, the bloated and beautiful, the popular and painful. This week, to celebrate its recent Blu-ray release, we look at the baffling 1980 boondoggle The Apple.
There’s just something about pop/rock musicals released in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s – a very specific kind of rancid cheese that stinks up the frames of Xanadu, Can’t Stop the Music, Roller Boogie, Thank God It’s Friday, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with all of them, but it’s there in all of them: the sparkly, disco-sequined outfits, the flashing lights, the gliding camerawork, and the (mostly) bad music. Whatever that indefinable quality was, no film is more bedazzled with it than The Apple, the 1980 disco musical from director Manahem Golan – best known as the co-head of the Cannon Group, purveyor of a staggering amount of ‘80s schlock. He intended The Apple to be his definitive work. That it is, though perhaps not in the way he intended.
Golan (who both wrote and directed) sets his story in 1994, a future that somehow looks very much like the late 1970s (aside from the costumes, which seem to have time-traveled in from The Hunger Games). At this point in our then-future, America is somehow under the rule of “BIM,” a music conglomerate headed by a multi-lingual kingpin called “Mr. Boogalow” (foreshadowing the notorious subtitle of Cannon’s 1984 effort Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo). Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) is taken by a performance at the Worldvision Song Festival by Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), an earnest, Carpenters-style duo from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – though Alphie sports an accent that’s closer to East Berlin than Canada. Boogalow sweep the duo up with promises of world stardom, recordings, and tours, but Alphie resists, only to risk his life saving his love from the evils of BIM. (Yep, just typed that.)
That paper-thin plot, and its accompanying dialogue, primarily exist as bridges between production numbers, and The Apple mostly plays like a mediocre original musical at your local community theater. The songs, by Coby and Iris Recht, are relentlessly terrible – the duo was reportedly not comfortable with the English language, which you can tell from their painful couplets (“America, the land of the free / shooting up with pure energy”) and ceaseless repetition (one song includes the phrase “Hey, hey, hey / BIM’s all the way,” sung roughly 300 times).
Only one number really lands, and mostly out of mere incongruence: “Coming,” a hairpin turn from the easy-breezy songs that precede it, which follows its blush-inducing lyrics (“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”) with a full-on simulated-sex orgy. Have I mentioned that The Apple is rated PG? About the only explanation I can surmise is that the MPAA people were sound asleep by this point in the movie. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them.
Point is, it’s the story of wide-eyed innocents seduced by a flamboyant impresario and corrupted by the music industry – so it’s like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, minus the wit and style, with a dash of broad Biblical allegory thrown in for shits and giggles. Eventually, Alphie does manage to save Bibi, and they find purity of living by shacking up in a cave with about a dozen Godspell casts, waiting for a Jesus figure to show up and take them away in his sky towncar, which he does, and no I’m not making any of this up. As they float off into the sky, it becomes clear (if it wasn’t already) that The Apple is the kind of nutty project that bad-movie love is all about: it’s clearly the product of a singular, insane vision, unperturbed by any notion of good taste, good sense, or good storytelling.
Golem is, to be clear, a terrible filmmaker – there’s no sense of pace, the tone is all over the place (if you can explain the broadly-played Jewish landlady character, you’re made of smarter stuff than I), and the craft is downright incompetent. There’s only one scene that rings with any truth: when one of the BIM muckety-mucks announces, ”First you sell it, then you make it. That’s marketing!” Anyone who’s seen the essential Cannon Group documentary Electric Boogaloo knows that line was probably uttered, on several occasions, in Mr. Golan’s office.
Yet all through The Apple, everyone is just going for it, full-throated, even though the songs are shit and the sets are cheap and the effects are worse. But you get the sense that you couldn’t have told them any of that. Whatever Golem had, it was something everyone involved was snorting (literally or figuratively). True bad movies carve out their own worlds. The Apple seems to have come from another universe entirely – and God bless it for that.