Saturday, September 20, 2008

THE APPLE

The Apple might be the single greatest movie I have ever seen. Scratch that. The Apple is better than any film ever made about rock music competitions of the future, and has enough energy to fuel a dozen red giants, beat the Kessel Run record and come back home in time for stew. I cannot think of another movie that gets close to what they’re trying to accomplish in The Apple, possibly because I’m not sure what they were thinking when they made it. If there was a cocaine shortage during 1979, this movie is the cause. If there was a shortage of effeminate male dancers in the US during the time, it’s for the same reason. All of it and them were working in Berlin on this film. I shit you not.

The Apple is slightly notorious. I’d read the name a few times, but never knew anything about it until The Onion’s AV Club – God’s gift to the geek in all of us – reviewed it as part of the “Year of Flops” series. Completely intrigued, when TCM scheduled it as part of their “Underground Cinema” series, I Divo-ed it.

DEFINITION: “Divo” as opposed to Tivo, which we don’t have. However, we do have a DVR as part of our cable package. I also love Devo. Not as much as my former office mate Janson – oh, yeah, there’s an entry soon – but their early stuff makes me verrrry happy.

Lori and I – my wife is now named! Huzzah!! – were going to watch something else while nicely toasted, and I decided to start the movie, just to see what would happen. Hoooooooly shit. We didn’t turn it off for a couple of days.

Here’s how out there this thing is: The man who played From Russia With Love’s chess grandmaster villain Kronsteen “stars” as Mr. Boogalow, a record mogul who is actually Satan. He is apparently trying to take over the souls of the peoples of Earth via a future version of the Eurovision Song Contest. I shit you not. At the end, God shows up in his gold-plated Cadillac/Rolls-Royce/Monopoly Token and takes a bunch of hippies to another planet in order to start civilization over. It’s a morality play without the morals. Well, that’s pushing it – the movie tries to make a point about commercialism destroying the heart of music, but who cares about that when people are jumping around, lip-synching to “The BIM Song,” which features the lyric “Hey Hey Hey/BIM’s the only way” (or “On the way” or something else close to it) repeated over and over 24 times. Yup, the movie has a dance break in it where everyone drops what they’re doing and starts dancing as part of a government-mandated exercise program. Best. Film. Ever. How much cocaine did the filmmakers do during this film? They don’t tell you what “BIM” stands for until about 30 minutes after the song first appears, as part of the opening. It stands for Boogalow International Music. Mr. Boogalow, as Satan, appears “normal” (HA!) most of the time, but other times has one horn on his head – not centered, like a rhino, but on the side of his head, as an accessory.

Speaking of accessories, at one point, everyone is ordered to wear little, triangular, shiny badges on their foreheads to show their support for BIM. It is the law. The filmmakers apparently thought of the “Mark of the Beast”, but it’s more like the “Star of David.” This leads to the most awkward-to-watch moment in the film, when an incredibly over-the-top stereotyped Jewish woman – played by Miriam Margolyes, who voiced “Fly” in the Babe films – is stopped in the street and cited for not wearing a badge. No extra meaning here, just fucked-up-ed-ness. This movie does everything it can to create a world where a music conglomerate can control the world, a man can wear tight enough pants to give himself a cameltoe, a Canadian couple is torn apart by the woman’s yearning for success, and the man writes a song titled, “Love: The Universal Melody”. Hee hee!

If I cannot hide my unbridled love for this film, I hope I can share it. It cures cancer via multiple viewings, can grow hair where once there was no hair, and gives you a serious contact high. Let’s go.

I have no real production information I can share with you, since all records seem to have disappeared, possibly in a form of documental suicide, with them jumping into a shredder in order to keep the world safe from possible repetition. The main story is supposedly based on a Jewish morality musical one of the producers – it’s a Golan-Globus film! -- saw on a trip to Israel and bought outright. They then made this film out of it. That’s the equivalent of seeing a version of the Passion Play at a small town church and turning it into Jesus Christ Superstar, a film that is not as good as The Apple. Iris and Coby Recht wrote the original show, and George S. Clinton “adapted” – please tell me that you already know it’s not THE George Clinton – everything and wrote the lyrics for the film’s songs. He also plays the American reporter who wants Mr. Boogalow to say something for the “billion of” Americans out there. I do not believe he misspoke; I think the filmmakers honestly believe there will be a billion Americans by 1994. We have some retroactive fucking to do.

The film is a Golan-Globus production, for their Cannon Films, distributors of the Death Wish sequels, Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action series, the vigilante thriller Exterminator 2 (sequel to 1980’s The Exterminator), and Runaway Train, an Andrei Konchalovsky film originally written by Akira Kurosawa and one of the best films ever (there's something really fucked up about that). Since it’s Golan-Globus, that means the budget for The Apple might have hit 1643 dollars, with half of that going towards cocaine and little shiny stickers.

ASIDE: Did you know they made the two Missing in Action films at the same time, ala The Matrix sequels, but realized the second film was better, so they released it first? Yes, Missing in Action 2 was originally Missing in Action, and Missing in Action was Missing in Action 2. Eventually, the first Missing in Action became Missing in Action 2: The Beginning. I shit you not. Back to the coke-filled dreams of avarice.

My mockery of this film may seem harsh. It is. But my love for it is stronger. The more I watch the film, the more I admire what they attempted to do: create the greatest movie ever on a 5 figure budget, with no stars (at the time), a lot of cocaine, about 42 frenzied dancers and three locations: an efficiency apartment, a concert hall – all of it: stage, garage, lobby, front desk; and Mr. Boogalow’s office, which morphs into Hell.

How can you tell that there were only 42 dancers? Because they use them over and over, sometimes in completely different scenes but with the same hairstyles and make-up. One of the great pleasures of the film is seeing how each dancer pops up playing different characters who all look the same. Sometimes they talk. Sometimes they look at the camera. Sometimes they dance with feather boas in the lobby of the Civic Center, which is used as the office of BIM, escalators and all. I originally thought they were in an airport, because they don’t even try to hide the screens that direct people around, or the carpet, which can only be described as something out of a 1970’s dentist office. But faded.

The lobby sequence contains the single greatest moment in the film. It’s a musical number that tells all about the fact that “Life is nothing but show business/In 1994/We fight for the spotlight/We kill for accord (or “the gore”. Can’t really tell.). Here we go. What follows is a cross between Federico Fellini, Peter Greenaway, and Ed Wood. Here’s just enough context:

Mr. Boogalow has rigged the song contest so his protégés Dandi and Pandi can win with “The BIM Song”. They’ve even stacked the crowd with members of the 42-person dance squad so they yell “Do the BIM!” at random intervals. They attain 150 ”Heartbeats” – there’s a meter in the control room that measures heartbeats, which is apparently the unit of appreciation in the future, and never explained (if it’s actually the average heart rate, then the audience is made of rabbits). The next act is a couple of kids from Moosejaw, Canada: Alphie – the man has a cameltoe, I shit you not -- and Bibi. Bibi’s played by one of the three people you may actually recognize. The first’s Boogalow (From Russia With Love), the second’s Bibi, played by Catherine Mary Stuart, she of Night of the Comet and Weekend at Bernie’s. The third is the subject of a drinking game described later. They sing a love song, which is apparently too old-fashioned in the Berlin – s’cuse me, America of the near future. It’s called “Love: The Universal Melody”: “You’re the light within my darkness/ You’re my shelter from the storm/When my hope is dim/And fear shuts me in…” – you get the drift.

After a near rebellion in the audience by the BIM plants – “Do the BIM!” -- the crowd settles down, and just when they’re hitting 151 Heartbeats (oh, the poor, poor, rabbits, George), Boogalow’s sidekick, Shake – the single gayest character in any movie ever, Gregg Araki be damned – threatens one of the technicians in the booth with death if he doesn’t play a cassette filled with what sounds like Lou Reed’s infamous Metal Machine Music. Alphie and Bibi lose, but Boogalow sees good stock when he hears it, and invites them to his business. They show up, get to the lobby, and are told to wait. Here’s where it gets fun. The next shot is of a clown in full make-up, sulking, while a guy riding an early version of the Segway putt-putts around. Bibi is entertained by a magician in a wizard’s cap, and Alphie sits next to Dick Diablev, manager of Ballet 2000, from Kansas City. Alphie frowns and says, “Who?”

SMAP!!! (snare drum roll and rim shot)

The Greenaway film starts here, as the camera laterally tracks across a canvas of dancers in outfits made of balloon mylar, a fire eater spits fire, a man plays a futuristic clarinet, a man plays a futuristic trombone, and Yma Sumac sings. Boogalow sticks his head in from the opposite end of the frame, and we’re off. This is a musical number right out of Fellini, if Fellini had to use an airport lobby as a set: people dance on all levels, the worst tap dance number ever gets performed, and a tall man transforms into a midget by walking around a column while that aforementioned clown tells people to roll up and see the “Incredible Shrinking Man!” as five dancers shuffle sideways to cover the trick. The dancer in the middle also plays the cop who accosts Miriam Margolyes later on in the film. 42 dancers, I shit you not. The Ed Wood bit is the lyrics: “Mankind screamies/For whatever bits of dreamies/We might treat them to”.

There’s so much going on in this film that it threatens to overwhelm the blog. It’s a bad movie, do not get me wrong – it’s cheaply made, the lyrics are inane at best, and there are only 42 dancers. Oh, and the cars of the future are early 70’s station wagons with fins welded to them. And there are only 2 of those in the entire city, along with the 42 dancers. I am, however, filled with a great love and admiration for the film. What works doesn’t necessarily show up at first. It took 24-67 times through to really get at what Golan-Globus were after, which was to make the best musical possible with what they had available: lots of cocaine and little shiny stickers. So here’s what works:

Everyone in this movie is totally committed to the project, and they give it all their energy and passion, possibly because if they didn’t, they would not get any more cocaine. There’s some great camera moves – that shot in the lobby is fantastic -- and the screen is literally filled with spectacle. You will need a Kleenex. Alan Love, who plays Dandi, is TOTALLY committed. He never breaks character, and seems to be acting instead of playing. He’s got some subtlety in his performance, and a decent voice. When he sings “The BIM Song” (which sounds like a cross between T. Rex and Boney M), it’s as though he’s in a completely different movie: a good one. The choreography and dancing is pretty decent, with some great diagonal movement towards the camera and multiple layers. The title number, “The Apple” (“Magic Apple!/Mystery Apple!”), is an upbeat soul number set in the Land of the Lost cave set – I mean Hell – with people moving everywhere, dressed in costumes that were made by my preschool class. The song contains the most infamous lyric from the film: “It’s a natural/Natural/Natural/Desire/To see an actual/Actual/Actual/Vampire”, but even that can’t stop the music. During the number, Bibi is pushed off a ledge and is rolled – still standing straight up and down – head over foot as she’s passed down the dance line. It’s awesome.

Damn, I could go on. I haven’t even gotten to the mutual montage sequences, as our heroes walk down the apartment stairs, get on a monorail, and arrive at their destination. Montage sequences are usually used to compress time, but here, they just compress about five minutes into four as the songs “Where Has Love Gone” (when Alphie rides) and “I Found Me” (when Bibi rides) play behind them while they lip-sync. Bibi’s big solo number, surrounded by mopeds of the future – with fins! – is a song with such a thinly veiled metaphor about America and methamphetamines (“SPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!”), that it loses its veil. Poor Catherine Mary is dressed here like a cross between a hippie and a Delta Knight, and can just barely perform the choreography. I feel so sorry for her, wearing her long gauntlets while 21 leather daddies flail about. Then there’s a song called “Coming For You”, which contains nothing but entendre – no double to be found: “Make it hotter/And hotter/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”

Then all 21 of the female dancers and their 21 gay male partners pretend to screw in beds as part of the background noise.

Towards the end, Alphie montages back to his apartment, placing his back to the wall when he sings “I’ve got my back against the wall”, gets to his efficiency apartment, sinks into a chair, grabs a liquor bottle, and starts drinking. This is cliché conforming at its best. He eventually joins up with group of “children of the '60s... commonly known as ‘hippies’ “, as their leader refers to them. He’s played by THE Joss Ackland, with a fake nose (okay, there’s four people you might recognize in here). Bibi joins, too, leading to marriage and a child that looks three, but can only be one, since there’s a montage – over the song “Child of Love” (and that’s about its only lyric) – that seems to only cover a year. Maybe they adopt a hippie-child. Boogalow shows up. Demands Bibi pay him back. Arrests them. God shows up, also played by Joss Ackland, but with blonde wig instead of false nose. He takes the hippies away. The horribly animated title card shows up. The title song is played again, and we’re home.

You have to see this movie. It deserves the Rocky Horror treatment more than Rocky Horror does itself. It is an awesome combination of imagination, energy, cliché, ridiculousness – damn, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. Rent it. Buy it. Love it. Go to your next dance recital with a shiny sticker on your forehead and demand to meet an actual actual actual vampire. Roger Ebert once said something about the amazing Japanese superhero movie, Inframan, that once they stopped making movies like it, a little piece of the world would die (or something close to that). The same goes for The Apple, except no one can ever make another film like it, because the documents have committed suicide and the cocaine has run out. I shit you not.

EXTRA SPECIAL SECTION: 42 dancers, and one always stands out – Finola Hughes. You might know her from being a regular on General Hospital and All My Children, or as the dance diva Tony Manero dances with in Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever. She was also on Blossom as Ted Wass’ girlfriend. Heck, she’s even won a daytime Emmy! You’ll know her when you see her. She’s one of the 42 dancers, and, thus, plays about 38 different parts, some in a great, hot pink, nylon baseball cap. Since she’s so recognizable, every time she shows up in the background, your attention is drawn to her. That means you can play the “FINOLA HUGHES DRINKING GAME!” Take one every time she shows up. You’ll be dead before you can say “BIM!” I shit you not.

3 comments:

Greg said...

Here is the soundtrack. If this is dead, lemme know and I'll send it to you.

Janson said...

You wrote, "If I cannot hide my unbridled love for this film, I hope I can share it. It cures cancer via multiple viewings, can grow hair where once there was no hair, and gives you a serious contact high. Let’s go."

I shall rewrite this to apply directly to my aforementioned love and appreciation for all things DEVOlutionary.

"If I cannot hide my unbridled love for this band, I hope I can share it. It stimulates mutation via multiple listenings, can destroy hair where once there was plenty, and gives you a serious appreciation for questions, answers, and devolutionary pragmatism. Okay! Let’s go!"

And yeah, I've been spinning the Q&A album quite a bit recently. Seems to happen every election cycle.

Damn you Eno! Damn you Mothersbaugh!

And I'll have to check out The Apple.

Mark said...

Still haven't seen the flick. As I wrote to you earlier: tracking it down in Portland is tough; tracking it down in Salem is impossible. But from your description, I got a pretty good sense of it: it's like when Singin' in the Rain ditches the narrative and goes red, but writ large, and infused with the twitchiness of a cast and crew hooked on stimulants. And THAT is what a musical should be: not a story, but a spectacle. I got to gets me this Apple.