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Fantasia Obscura: ‘The Apple’

There are some fantasy, science fiction, and horror films that not every fan has caught. Not every film ever made has been seen by the audience that lives for such fare. Some of these deserve another look, because sometimes not every film should remain obscure.

Sometimes, an old song will pop up either on the radio or online, no matter how much you wish it hadn’t…

The Apple (1980)
Distributed by: The Canon Group
Directed by: Menahem Golan

There probably needs to be either a small book or long-ish article about the movie musicals of the 1970s. It’s a much bigger body of work over and above The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Phantom of the Paradise, which are the ones everyone remembers from that time.

The reason there isn’t, though, is probably that anyone taking up this subject would be forced to deal with this film, one that everyone has been trying to forget:

Our movie opens in the far-off year of 1994, during the Worldvision Song Contest. (Think Eurovision, but bigger, an event that a character later notes in the film garnished an audience of two billion.) The crowd is going wild for BIM, a musical act fronted by Pandi (Grace Kennedy) and Andi (Allen Love).

The crowd’s going wild for it, even though their piece sounds like the band is trying to fake their way through a bad misinterpretation of a Parliament-Funkadelic song. Any of their songs, really, pick one. Monitoring the reaction to the crowd listening to the BIM is the head of their management at Boogalow International Music, Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) and his henchman Snake (Ray Shell in his first credited appearance). The two of them are watching the real-time data come in, greed in their eyes as they calculate how much control over the world their successful act will give them.

Following BIM is a duo from Moosejaw, Alphie (George Gilmour in his only credit) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart in her first major film), who come on to perform a soft ballad about how much they love each other. Not wanting to lose the contest, Mr. Boogalow has Snake pull a few tricks to rig the election going on for the Worldvision-

No, must. Resist. Obvious. Comment…

Even after getting booed offstage, Alphie and Bibi still end up taking up Mr. Boogalow’s invite to a swanky party at his place. It’s starts badly as the couple get laughed at for being from Moosejaw, one of many disparaging remarks made at their expense, taking place 38 years before they could counter the slam by noting that Burton Cummings would move there. It gets worse, though, as Andi takes a liking to Bibi. Stupidly, she takes a pill he offers her with her Champagne, and faster than you can say “roofie,” they’re going at each other.

Things move way too quickly on the business end, too, as both of them are invited to BIM HQ to sign contracts. While Bibi signs up right away, Alphie wants time to review the agreement (which Mr. Boogalow refuses), while he has prophetic visions about BIM that trouble him:

Soon, Bibi is happily part of BIM, and faster than you can say, “Dylan goes electric,” releases her first big solo hit:

As her star rises, and Alphie struggles in lovesick obscurity, BIM flexes its muscles and makes its biggest hit the soundtrack to a mandatory exercise period that makes the Presidential Youth Fitness Program look a lot better than we remember it being:

By this point, most of the audience is likely to want to bail on this before we get to the end, maybe scream at whoever suggested that they watch this film. (Not me, thank you.) Anyone who makes the effort to finish this will find that Alphie’s visions are really revelations, the kind John had. (Yeah, that John…)

Yes, the biblical allegory is heavily sloshed atop the film, and ironically the whole “deal with the devil” plot is a good description for how the film was made. This project’s genesis (#sorrynotsorry) was as a rock opera penned by Coby Recht, an Israeli music producer, and his wife Iris Yovat, inspired by Recht’s experiences working with French impresario Eddie Barclay. By 1977 Recht and Yovat had a set of demos and a script that wasn’t getting any traction in Israel, but discovered that Recht’s childhood friend Golan was looking for film projects.

Menahem Golan by מנחם זילברמן, taken in 2008. Attribution.

In Golan’s hands, the script and the song lyrics were continually re-written by him alone over Recht’s objections, which nearly scuttled the project. When Golan brought in George S. Clinton to work on the music, his first film score, the project moved forward, although re-writes for the songs were still ongoing while the production had cast tryouts. (Speaking of cast, Recht, Yovat, and Clinton all got small speaking roles in the movie.)

The end result was one of the first Cannon Group film of the Golan-Globus era, and a mess that no one cared for. Reportedly, the film got very negative reactions during premiere screenings, and its distribution was at best random in its initial frame. The film was likely hobbled from the start, even if you discount its poor overall quality; the disco-flavored music and soft-rock pastiches came out at a time when punk had just crested and New Wave was coming into its own. Had the film come out just a year or two earlier, it might have found a more sympathetic audience, or at least one that would not have been as hostile.

Like some disco from then, however, some bits of this can be appreciated in hindsight. Yes, the depiction of the music industry in film has almost always been presented within a Faustian framework, and some of the depictions of the business in The Apple seemed extreme for audiences at the time. Seen today, though, having experienced Lou Pearlman, Sweden’s Denniz Pop and Max Martin, and the “Big Three” of K-Pop, you can give them points for getting a pretty good idea where the industry was heading in the decades following the film’s (very brief) release.

Further word of warning, though. It’s not a critique of that other Apple Music, though if you creatively interpret what you’re watching the way some people critique The Book of Revelations, then, well…

 

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