Sunday, October 10, 2010
The '70s have much to answer for: Disco. The Partridge Family. Watergate. Leisure suits. Etc., etc.
To that list I would add The Apple. What is The Apple? According to the trailer, it is special experience in movie-going entertainment.
But I guess that depends on how you define "special."
Filmed in West Germany in 1979 by an international crew and cast, and released there that same year, The Apple was intended to be a musical for the youth market, a la Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Rocky Horror Picture Show had become a "midnight movie" favorite in the U.S. by then, and I'd bet that was in the producers' minds, too. I've been unable to dig up any accounts of its Teutonic reception, but given David Hasselhoff's success there the following decade, I'm going to assume it was a huge hit.
The U.S. market, however, turned out to be tougher nut to crack. The film was previewed disastrously--some accounts have audiences hurling free copies of the soundtrack LP at the screen--and got re-edited. If you ever decide to take the plunge and watch this, you'll notice a number of scenes in the preview above are nowhere to be found in the finished product. It played on only a handful of screens here in 1980, and disappeared in a week. Then it started appearing on late night TV and a cult began to form. I can't remember exactly when I first heard about The Apple but, as an aficionado of truly bad cinema, it's been on my must-see list for years. Then, as I cruised through Netflix's listings the other day ... there it was. I sat down yesterday morning with a large cup of coffee and slice of chocolate babka and let the whole thing wash over me.
Let's begin at the beginning:
It's the crazy, far-off world of 1994. New York--which looks oddly like an unused West Berlin shopping mall, as that's where it was shot--is home to Worldvision, a worldwide music competition modeled after the real-world Eurovision contest. Dandi and Pandi (Sandi and Mandi? Schmandi and Candi? Well, one of those must be right.) are singing their contest entry, "Do the BIM."
A word to future movie moguls: If you make up a word for a movie musical, it's probably best not to introduce that word in a wretched song. I honestly had no freaking clue what the characters were supposed to be singing. I realize now that it's a chant of "B!" "I M!" but it sounded more like "Be!" "I am!" A repeated refrain, which could be either "Hey, hey, hey, BIM's on the way!" or maybe "Hey, hey, hey, BIMs are the way!," wasn't a lot of help in puzzling it out.
You're probably wondering what a BIM is. Good question! As someone who watched this movie, I can tell you with absolute certainty that BIM is ... um ... that is, it's ... oh, hell, I'm not completely sure. At first, I thought it was the name of the group backing up Gandi and Wandi. As the movie progresses, it appears to be an acronym for the name of the record company. But, later, BIM the record company appears also to be the name of third party that got elected running on a platform of enforced calisthenics. So, your guess is as good as mine.
Tandi and Fandi achieve a phenomenally high score in the contest, much to the satisfaction of their manager and president of the record company, Mr. Boogalow.
Oh, another note to prospective movie moguls: If you name a character something like "Mr. Boogalow," decide on one pronunciation that the entire cast uses. Characters call him Mr. Booga-loo, Booga-loh, Bugga-loo, Bugga-low, and probably a few other variations.
Handi and Vandi are followed in the contest by the two characters who will become our hero and heroine, Alphie and Bibi, who sing a romantic ballad that goes: "We belong to one another/We share each other's destiny/United by our love, we're all children of/The universal family/And we are everybody's brother/We share the birthright to be free/And deep within our heart/There beats the song of the ages/Love: The universal melody!"
Of course, with such deep lyrics, Aphie and Bibi are a huge hit--until Mr. Boogalow sabotages their performance.
Still, Mr. B. recognizes their huge talent and summons them to his office for a meeting:
I should also point out that if there's a song you don't like, just hold tight--there's another song you won't like coming up in five minutes, complete with hundreds of extras wearing insane costumes. What this film lacks in competence, it makes up for in ambition.
Mr. Boogalow offers them a record contract. This provokes a series of hallucinations on the part of Alphie:
"It's a natural, natural, natural desire," Xandi explains in song to Bibi. "Meet an actual, actual, actual vampire!"
Who could resist? That may be my favorite couplet of all time. Bibi takes a bite of the gigantic plastic forbidden fruit, but Alphie declines. As a reward for signing a contract, Bibi is whisked off on a West Coast tour, where she gets to perform this salute to patriotism and amphetamines night after night:
"America, the land of the free/Is shooting up with pure energy!/And every day she has to take more/Speeeeeeeeeed!/America, the home of the brave/Is poppin' pills to keep up the pace/Speeeeeeeeeed!"
Obviously, she's a huge hit. And, yes, I suspect drugs were ingested in the making of this special movie-going experience.
Alphie, meanwhile, is living in a crappy apartment and writing earnest ballads that he can't sell. BIM, which heretofore has been presented as only a record label, is now revealed to be behind a Big Brotherish political regime that tickets you for not wearing BIM marks--stickers that look like something your little sister would put on her Trapper Keeper--on your forehead and forces you to do dance aerobics routines. Sadly, I wasn't able to find a clip of this sequence, but some of it is in the trailer.
Longing for his true love, Alphie tracks down Bibi to Mr. Boogalow's home, only to be seduced by Jandi with this single-entendre song about orgasms:
Unable to find Bibi, Alphie goes off to live with hippies in the park. Bibi eventually sees the error of her ways, finds Alphie, marries him, and has a child who appears to be about two years old, even though only a few months have passed. (I guess people age differently in the crazy, far-off world of 1994.) It takes the better part of a year, but Mr. Boogalow tracks them down and attempts to arrest them. In a literal deus ex machina, God drives down from heaven in a Rolls Royce and leads Alphie, Bibi, and the rest of the hippies to the Planet of the Hippies.
The Apple was directed by Menahem Golan, better known for Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris flicks. He had a long, lucrative career in B (and C and D and F) movies. The cast is very much a mixed bag. The heroine is played by Catherine Mary Stewart, who went on to a successful career on TV. The actor who played Alphie either never worked again or perhaps died of shame. There are some well-known or semi-well-known faces popping up here and there--the God character is Joss Ackland, whose face you'll remember from character roles; Mr. Boogalow was a bad guy in From Russia With Love and has an IMDb page full of credits; and Alphie's landlady is Miriam Margolyes, from the Blackadder series, The Age of Innocence, and Babe, among many others. From what I gather, the actor who played Dandi blamed this film for the death of his career, overlooking his own innate lack of talent. The choreography can be pinned on Nigel Lythgoe, currently a snide judge on the popular So You Think You Can Dance competition as well as a producer of American Idol. When Mr. Lythgoe is featured on So You Think You Can Choreograph, he'd better lose.
The Apple is available for streaming from Netflix. A lot of bad movies are sadly boring. This, however, had me laughing for pretty much its entire running time.
UPDATE: I am not alone in my love for this movie.