Rob Harmon’s Picks 5/10/16: “The Apple”

Rob_photo_031715_WebTHE APPLE (dir. Menahem Golan, 1980)

Have you ever had an experience so galvanizing that it seemed to drive a wedge into your existence, dividing it, so to speak, between “before” and “after?”

In my mid-twenties, I was living in New York City and my friends and I became fascinated by a trailer being played at a local theater for a largely forgotten midnight movie called THE APPLE, made in 1980. Seemingly no one that I spoke to had ever seen or even heard of the picture. I was intrigued.

When its long-awaited weekend engagement arrived, a large group of us congregated at the theater, took our seats, and waited for the lights to go down. There was a definite hush in the theater that night: though we had found out little about the movie in advance, we expected something very good, and, by that, I mean that we expected something very bad.

As you know, sometimes movies disappoint; other times they meet or exceed our expectations; and still other times — that rarest of rare occurrences — they smash all of our expectations to pieces. THE APPLE, it turned out, was one of the latter.

The movie begins disorientingly enough, hurling the viewer into the action: Screaming teenagers fill a concert hall where thumping percussion and smoke heralds the entrance of a duo of gold and silver lamé-clad pop stars named Dandi and Pandi and a veritable army of spangly and sparkly dancers. Almost before I was aware, the music exploded in a near cacophony, Dandi and Pandi chanting lyrics like “BIM is the power,” the band chugging away at full steam, and the droning chorus “Hey, hey, hey, BIM’s your way!” boring into my head with the subtlety of a jackhammer.

The_Apple_1980_film_WebThis was an all-out assault on the senses which I had not anticipated: while the music pummels the viewer from all directions with its pile-driving rhythms, dancers aggressively flail about and fly at the viewer, lights glare, horns blare, and voices soar. Not even three minutes in, I felt as though my brain were on fire, as though I had entered a strange alternate dimension where the production values of third-rate disco were merged with some sort of banal industrial advertisement: what the heck is the BIM, anyway?

As it turns out, the year is 1994 and an evil, totalitarian corporation — the BIM (it’s IBM scrambled, get it?), controlled by the nefarious Mr. Boogalow (played by Vladek Sheybal, of the original RED DAWN, with devilish charm) — controls all musical entertainment in the known world as a form of mass mind control. This is ably demonstrated in that headache-inducing opening number — appropriately called “The BIM” — where Dandi (Allan Love) and Pandi (Grace Kennedy) gyrate about in pseudo-fascistic fashion to the delight of the crowd of mesmerized youths, who – not realizing what synthetic dreck this is – lap it all up like kittens to milk.

It seems that Dandi and Pandi – pawns of the aforementioned Boogalow – are rolling out their new “BIM” anthem at an international song competition as another calculated move in Boogalow’s plans to mire the world in wide-spread and mindless consumerism (gee, that could never happen, could it?). Indeed, as the chorus pronounces in the eye-popping set-piece “Disco 2000,” “Life is nothing but show business in 1994,” while another of Boogalow’s minions, Shake (Ray Shell), croons “Like the bleary-eyed baboon to an organ-grinder’s tune, mankind screamies for whatever bits of dreamies he might treat them to.”

That is, until the idealistic folk duo Alfie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart, THE LAST STARFIGHTER, NIGHT OF THE COMET) take the stage, strumming away on the acoustic guitar and belting out “Love, The Universal Melody.” To Mr. Boogalow and his loyal henchmen, the oily Shake and the ditzy Ashley (Leslie Meadows), these hicks “from Moose Jaw” are a joke until it becomes clear that the crowd is taking this lovey-dovey, hand-holding stuff quite seriously.

Something will have to be done….

I will not divulge what follows. Suffice it to say that it involves, among other things: betrayals aplenty; dancing nuns; the unveiling of various BIM merchandise, including BIM marks and BIM t-shirts; hallucinogenic drugs; lots and lots of glitter; a musical number which re-stages the Garden of Eden story in Hell with Adam, Eve, a snake, an apple (obviously), and vampires (yes, I said vampires); a randomly-inserted Jewish landlady; a gang of hippies (actually, to be correct, they are “refugees from the 60s”); and a PG-rated orgy – choreographed in Busby Berkeley-fashion to the best beats this side of Donna Summer – that simply has to be seen to be believed! From pop to folk to disco and from power ballads to reggae, the film’s soundtrack buzz saws its way through one genre after another. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll lose your mind.

Filmed in West Germany and directed by Menahem Golan (of Cannon Films infamy, responsible for producing assorted 80’s Chuck Norris and Chuck Bronson schlock, as well as “classy” productions such as Cassavetes’s LOVE STREAMS) with enough gusto for ten films, THE APPLE is far and away the best glam-disco-utopian-luddite-pro-Zionist-Creation-allegory musical ever produced; it’s really one hell of a movie.

I won’t attempt to make overt value judgments about a film like THE APPLE: I could say that it’s terrible, tasteless, and nonsensical in the extreme, its direction ham-fisted, and — in a certain sense — that would be correct. Yes, the film suffers from trying to reinvent the midnight movie on a shoestring, over-extending itself in almost every direction. But that would be missing the point. THE APPLE scores direct hits because of the purity of its ambition and its naïveté; in other words, it succeeds precisely because it fails and does so with such incredible abandon, going so far beyond reason that it cannot, in the end, be anything but utterly charming.

THE APPLE is a movie from another time and place: nothing like it, unfortunately, will ever be made again. It’s 100% amazing, but, more than anything, it’s a social experience, a film that demands to be seen with an audience. That night years ago when my friends and I sat aghast and amazed? It was only the first of many such nights over the years, the film becoming as much a communal ritual for us as anything.

Luckily, THE APPLE screens this Wednesday night, May 11, at 7 at Best Video: why not take a bite? Admission is $5.

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