Thursday, March 24, 2005

Crappy Musical of the Week: The Apple

I'm not entirely positive why bad movie musicals exude such a strange fascination for me. I'm not much of a fan of the genre, as a whole, in the first place.

Maybe the root of my intrigue is that the cinematic musical is fraught with so many potential aesthetic landmines. A musical attempts to convey, in picture and song, essential human emotions in the most candy-coated, outwardly impractical format possible--by having its characters sing their feelings aloud. Such earnest sentimental display has been largely unfashionable since the Vietnam Era.

Creating the Pocket Universe of a musical requires more lavish sets and costumes than most other films, and in addition to appropriate emoting and delivery of spoken lines, actors must sing and dance--no mean feat, as Marlon Brando and Clint Eastwood (who had their career clocks cleaned by Guys and Dolls and Paint Your Wagon, respectively) would likely concur.

So the stakes are much, much higher for a musical. If it flops, it doesn't just quietly whimper away; it runs from the public consciousness, howling operatically like a drag queen on fire.

I pride myself in not looking down with condescension at any film, but God help me, I do love a good, grand failure as much as anybody. And a bad movie musical presents about the greatest, grandest failure you can muster.

So, let's talk The Apple. Forget one drag queen on fire; The Apple is a busload of would-be male divas, engulfed in flame and plunging straight into H-E-Double-Hockeystick.

Director Menahem Golan sank a hearty chunk of change into this examination of fame, lust, Satan, hippies, and nose candy. It ran in theaters for one week in 1980 before getting trucked off to the Island of Misfit Toys. Now, through the magic of DVD and a robust cadre of cultists, The Apple rises again to fry the minds of a new generation. Trust me, o ye of little faith and much jadedness; this film earns its (anti) hype.

Saying The Apple is a bad musical about two Canadian kids getting tempted and/or bitch-slapped by musical fame and fortune is like saying Lawrence of Arabia is about a skinny British guy wandering in the desert; you won't understand until you witness it for yourself. And in the case of The Apple, you'll be scratching your head in slack-jawed amazement even after you watch it.

Before you go any further, read Vince Keenan's overview, which covers the movie's delirious appeal with loving fidelity.

Done? Good. Rather than elaborate on Vince's fine bit of cinema analysis, I'll just content myself with summing up my Top Ten Favorite Things about The Apple. Not surprisingly, you'll note some overlap here.

10) It's directed by the guy who produced Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Hospital Massacre, and The Happy Hooker goes to Hollywood.

9) In 1980, when the movie first hit theaters, Seattle PI critic William Arnold proclaimed The Apple the worst film he had seen in his life. I'm sure he wasn't the only one.

8) Straight outta nowhere, a woman who may or may not be Exotica/lounge singer Yma Sumac turns up singing at the beginning of a musical number for about 4 seconds, then vanishes for the rest of the movie. Why? Who cares? Just go with it.

7) The sets and costumes suggest Ed Wood re-shooting Plan Nine from Outer Space in a high school gymnasium, on a juggernaut of a coke binge.

6) The Apple subverts the notion of rock and roll rebellion by making milquetoast balladeer Alfie (George Gilmour) a disruptive force in corporate-enslaved America. If real life followed this horrific template, Barry Manilow would be the musical equivalent of Che Guevara. Now THAT'S twisted genius.

5) In addition to leaving its glittery, smudgy thumbprint on Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, The Apple's vision of Hell exuded an inestimable influence on another indisputable cinematic masterwork: the Saturday Night Fever sequel Stayin' Alive.

4) The deliciously oddball Vladek Sheybal (usually seen in throwaway bits in spy flicks like Casino Royale and From Russia with Love) gives the performance of his life as the demonic Mr. Boogalow. Sheybal devours the rest of the cast like a Russian royal downing caviar. Seriously.

3) The horrid-but-irresistible soundtrack, a mind-boiling cesspool hybrid of disco and glam rock, will have you Doing the BIM 'til the cows come home.

2) The ending. Dear sweet holy Jesus Mary and Joseph, the ending....

and 1) There's not a hint of irony anywhere in The Apple's gold-lame-swaddled frame. Thank God...or Mr. Boogalow.

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