From The Vaults

“Disco’s Last Gasp:” A Review of Cult Film “The Apple”

12.04.09 | Comment?

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Disco’s Last Gasp: Marveling at The Apple

(originally published by Stop Smiling Magazine)

The Apple
Directed by Menahem Golan
DVD (MGM Home Entertainment)

Reviewed by Simon P. Augustine

One night, during a period when I was in the bad habit of staying up until three o’clock in the morning, endlessly combing the cable movie channels, I was rewarded for my unwholesome habits with a startling revelation deep in the recesses of the dark: a little known – until recently – cult gem from 1980 called The Apple. At first glance, I realized I had never seen or even heard of this film before – but what exactly was it? It seemed amazingly, impossibly bad and inept, even for a member of its rare species – the disco musical. I wondered just what the hell was going on here: was this a sly parody of the genre – a comedic, knowing take on the musical à la The Producers (1968)? Or something far more sinister and unlikely? Such questions were soon answered, as my curiousity was followed by somber disbelief – and then slowly the full, wonderful horror of what I was watching began to set in. Oh my God, this was being played straight! Could that be possible? My sense of conspiratorial wonder was only enhanced by the fact that it was playing at such an late, obscure hour. Did anybody else know about this thing?

Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who are best know for a string of low-budget action films in the early to mid-eighties*, and starring Catherine Mary Stewart, who would later go on to better things in the teens-meet-apocalypse movie Night of the Comet (1984), The Apple is a stunning collision of genres and convergence of stunningly bad artistic choices that only happens once in a cinematic blue moon. Ostensibly, it is the story of two naïve pop singers, Alfie and Bibi, who are manipulated by a powerful Svengali-like disco producer named Boogaloo, a Mephistophelian kind of guy intent on seducing them into a strange corporate industrial music complex, which is ruled by pagan religious beliefs and features the worship of a mysterious triangle called “The Bim.” Eventually he claims Bibi, breaking up the pair and disrupting their claim to artistic merit – which consists of singing flat, gushy soft-rock numbers that would make Barry Manilow blush. Alfie is left stranded and alone, while Boogaloo’s new protégé becomes a shallow, sexed-up disco maven. All of this is summarized by a wonderfully inept and transparent religious allegory, in which the two innocents find themselves in a parallel of Eden, here dressed in the coterie of the disco industry, tempted to hand over their souls by partaking of the “Magic Apple, Mystery Apple…Ju-Ju Apple, Voodoo Apple.” Will Alfie follow Bibi to the dark side? In the end, will the duo let “The Apple set [their] souls on fire,” and succumb to Boogaloo and his hideous musical minions, surrendering their artistic integrity once and for all for the trappings of success? I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you. What ensues is truly jaw-dropping, and a perverse treat not to be missed. Oh, and did I mention this all takes place in the “future,” in the distant realm of 1994, which is rendered in the most ridiculous tones imaginable, replete with “futuristic” fins tacked clumsily onto cars and office buildings thinly disguised by a few carefully placed metallic screens?

But really there is a deeper, and more intriguing story here: how, precisely, this thing managed to get made in the first place. It creates a car-wreck in every way possible way. To take only one brief but glaring example: in The Apple, the un-self-conscious fashion grotesquerie of the seventies, equal parts Victorian-era dandiness and sloppy urban grit – the overt and desperate sexuality, the pliant self-destructive drug use, the glitter, the excesses of makeup, frizzy hair, and gay glam campiness – is on proud and unabashed display. This aesthetic, which flowered in glam rock and found mass commercial appeal in a toned-down form during the disco era, and which is showcased in films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1977) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) to such celebratory and humanizing effect, is here merely rendered repugnant and self-mocking. Similarly, every other detail in the movie, from the sets to the lyrics, is ugly and falls flat. And to dwarf all of its little failures, The Apple commits the ultimate artistic sin: it sets up narrative rules that don’t make sense, that we don’t buy for a minute, and that no one could possibly care about – and then tries to create some kind of giddy drama out of them. It’s like trying to make someone laugh with a punch line, but neglecting to first set up a joke – and doing it for torturous hour and a half. Asked to wait and see if the power of “the Bim” will conquer innocence and corrupt the young couple, we find we don’t want to see what happens next, or feel anything remotely approaching excitement or suspense – we only wonder what the hell they are talking about, what is a “Bim,” and who the fuck cares? To so thoroughly flout any semblance of the basic concepts of dramatic presentation is a unique and deranged achievement, attained by only a few precious works of art.

Only three years before The Apple, Saturday Night Fever had defined disco as a phenomenon in which it was possible to clothe a story that possessed humor, pathos, and something significant to say about coming of age.  And it had great dancing, which you can still watch without a sense of irony (well, at least for people over the age of thirty).  Three years later it would all be over.  The Apple is Fever’s evil twin, signaling the death-knell for a passing trend – a kind of filmic mini-Altamont for the late seventies – in which the cold heart of disco is revealed as irrelevant, obsolete, and masterfully obnoxious.    If nothing else, it completely validates all those rock fans who stormed Comiskey Park in ’79 and rioted in their faithful belief that the slogan “Disco Sucks” was unshakably true.  They had good reason – for, as they knew all to well, disco contained the seeds of an aesthetic that is everything antithetical to the spirit of rock and roll – calculated, mechanistic, and soulless.  (The mass “computerization” of popular music today sadly testifies to that truth – disco had its revenge by irretrievably seeping into the very fabric of how music is made; compared now with much of today’s pop, The Bee Gees sound positively warm, welcoming, and melodic.)  In its inability to create anything remotely interesting or inspired, in its complete lack of musical verve and spontaneity, The Apple is the cinematic actualization of that insidious ethos of the Machine. 

However, what is even more bizarre and ironic is that The Apple also claims to know, and affirm, what those Comiskey Park rebels did: as the plot progresses, the lack of genuine heart lurking in the disco sensibility becomes increasingly the supposed antagonist of the story, just as it is simultaneously the unintended effect of the film itself.  For in the story’s climax, a societal theme emerges to accompany the religious allegory, as The Apple blithely sabotages its own artistic aims.  Despite the fact that it has just tried, and failed spectacularly, to entertain us for eighty minutes with horrible disco songs and dance numbers, suddenly we find that The Apple is, of all things, a nostalgic longing for the sixties(!) – that golden time before the cynical disco world arrived to wipe away all traces of sincerity, hope, and true believers.   In an unfortunately apt scene, a bereft and abandoned Alfie wakes from a discofied nightmare to find himself lying on a park bench, and then stumbles upon a group of forsaken outcasts living in the park, lost and isolated from the rest of society.  He asks the old man who has just awakened him, “Who are these people?” and is told plaintively, “they are refugees from the ’60’s –they are called ‘hippies.’”  Soon, religious allegory merges seamlessly with social theme, as God arrives to save the hippies from the clutches and treacheries of Boogaloo and his modern disco world, and, transformed to ethereal figures, they all too literally ascend into the heavens!   Although the soul-rot of the seventies that cast out the love generation is the object of The Apple’s purported social commentary, rather it is the ineptitude of the movie itself, and its faithful reliance on wretched disco posturing, that pushes soulessness to an absolute limit, turning it into something almost satanic: the filmmakers come to serve as our own Boogaloo, whose empire claims to give the unsuspecting disco fan “a computer for a heart,” and “make him stop or make him start/ feeding him emotion, while we feed on his devotion/ and he calls it “art!”  If only The Apple could fulfill such admirably powerful aims! 

To so thoroughly flout any semblance of the basic concepts of dramatic presentation is a unique and deranged achievement, attained by only a few precious works of art.

We have all heard the talk about the thin line between a “bad” bad film and a “good” bad film – the latter possessing some unconscious incompetence of such magnitude that it manages to somehow transform the experience into a riotous and pleasurable experience – Showgirls, Gigli, et. al. However, The Apple manages to intimate an entirely new category – let us call it the “transcendent” bad film – which stretches the very limits of credulity itself, and in which your imagination is inevitably led, not only beyond the fourth wall, but behind the scenes, into wondering about the context of the actual production. You find yourself asking things like, “Did the actors and producers pause between takes and fully understand the immensity of the ridiculousness they were involved in? If so, what in the name of God did they awkwardly say to each other? Did the director harbor some dark self-hatred that compelled him to want to punish the audience? Who could have possibly been the “target audience”?

I must admit I was disappointed to learn shortly after my late night discovery that people had indeed heard of this thing, and that The Apple was becoming a hit on the midnight movie circuit, its DVD release previewed in mainstream magazines. But don’t let this dissuade you: The Apple represents a precious moment in culture when circumstances aligned to create something that defies the very notion of “culture” itself. You must see it for yourself not to believe it. It is that rarest of things: something purely, completely, preternaturally unnecessary – and therefore absolutely essential.

*Editor’s Note: Golan and Globus are two Israeli cousins who helmed the Cannon Group, which quickly became a bloated “independent” studio making a varied palette of hits and bombs like Over The Top, Barfly, Superman IV (all 1987) Mona Lisa (1986) and what is thought of Cassavetes’ last film Love Streams (1984).(!)

Revisionist history via the author: that last Editor’s Note was written by my friend, film publicist Gabriele Caroti.  Now, all these years later, away from the editorial eyes of Stop Smiling’s fascistic editorial board, I can speak the truth: despite the Cassavettes thing, Golan and Globus were two of the most unrepentant – albeit wonderful – hacsk that the moviedom ever saw.  They make Dino De Laurentiis look like Orson Welles.  In the video age, their names were synonomous with "I can’t believe I rented this crap."  But enjoyable crap.

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