Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Car Wreck Cinema: THE APPLE

There are guilty pleasures. There are movies so bad they're good. And there are those that, like a five-vehicle pileup on the interstate, you can't take your eyes off of. Welcome to Car Wreck Cinema.

Watching The Apple, a 1980 sci-fi disco opera, I couldn't help thinking of that brief period in the 1970s when porn films actually had a sliver of ambition. Some were entertaining enough that you wondered just how good they might be if the sex had been dropped entirely.

The Apple is the best porno musical ever made, without the porn. It's a movie that gives Can't Stop the Music a run for its money as Gayest Musical Ever--without having any Village People--and makes even Xanadu look like a pretty good idea. For the movie's writer-director, Menahem Golan, you wonder if it was the most elaborate tax dodge in history or, possibly more depressing, the realization of his life's dream.

Written as a Hebrew stage musical in 1977, it so impressed Golan, the co-head of Cannon Studios (purveyor in the 1980s of all things crap), he had it translated into English with the goal of producing the next Grease or Rocky Horror Picture Show. If only he'd aimed lower. Instead of making the best gay porn musical in movie history, he concocted something more resembling the cracked fever dream of a small-town Lady Gaga impersonator.

Set in the glitzy, square-shouldered future of 1994, The Apple spins an Adam and Eve allegory about two naive young folkies from Moose Jaw, Canada, who in their pursuit of pop fame must struggle to save their souls from BIM, a world-dominating music corporation run by a Mr. Boogalow (who's really, you know, Satan). The future, we're shown, will include lots of triangular drinking glasses, star filters, face paint, and baggy silver tunics in a proto Duran Duran style, not to mention young men with pants so tight they actually sport cameltoes. (A gay friend informs me the technical term is "bull's knuckle.")

Don't call me horny.
One such man is Alphie, singing musical partner of the equally dewy-eyed Bibi. So indifferent do these two seem to each other, I was sure Alphie, with his throat-clearingly tight trousers and perfectly styled hair, was Bibi's gay older brother. But in the film's first inadvertent plot twist, we discover he's actually her boyfriend. Once again I was rooting for the wrong movie.

Corporate seduction quickly ensues, as Bibi opts for a contract with the Devil while Alphie chooses his soul and a few overly literal fantasy sequences. Much hand-wringing and colorful disco numbers follow, along with an impromptu exercise break, random mincing, and plot points as arbitrary as the cast's accents (though set in America, the movie was shot in West Berlin). The songs, at times catchy in that queasy, late-'70s pop-operatic way, are so obvious you may start singing along on the first listen.

Bibi is played by a young Catherine Mary Stewart--who survived this to star in Night of the Comet and Weekend at Bernie's--and in the beginning she resembles a dazed Karen Carpenter. But through the magic of BIM's starmaker machinery she's soon transformed into an amazing likeness of Fergie, from the Black Eyed Peas. Only it's a slightly puffy Fergie, and her dancing and singing are so unremarkable you'll find yourself missing the original. You'll also be grateful the film's ability to see the future didn't include predicting 1994's actual music (thank you, Kurt Cobain).

When an attempt to rescue Bibi from Boogalow's clutches leads to a severe ass-kicking by a bald BIM thug with pointy bulldog teeth (who's called...wait for it...Bulldog), Alphie takes comfort in a sad song and a healing bowl of chicken soup from his Yiddisher landlady, who exudes a weirdly incestuous mother vibe. A second rescue attempt results in Alphie being raped by Pandi, a horny black chick who sings, "Feel me comin' for you!" (Apparently the word "subtle" had no direct Hebrew translation.) This leads Alphie to seek refuge with a brood of hippies left over from the '60s who now live "under the bridge." Like trolls, I guess.

"I'm sorry, but we'll need you to be just a bit gayer."
Pandi then experiences a convenient bout of remorse and decides to free Bibi, who eventually finds her way to Alphie and his no-good hippie friends. But there's still an incongruous time jump to come, followed by Boogalow and Co. showing up to collect on Bibi's contract, and, well... We all know about ending things with a "god from the machine," but...a limo from the sky? I was shaking my head so much, I thought my Wi-Fi stream was stuttering.

There's far more to behold, but I'll leave that for you to discover yourself. This is a movie best viewed with friends--preferably friends sharing some form of hallucinogen. If you choose to experience it alone, I don't recommend doing so drunk or high. The former will only fill you with disgust and self-loathing at your own easily explained, mundane existence, while the latter may cause severe drifting outside the body, with only a pink cloud of incomprehension and a tight feeling in the groin to keep you company.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, David, I never want to see this movie. I hope writing the review purged your memory as well as reading it entertained me.


David Speranza said...

As long as you were entertained, my job is done!