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    Wednesday, February 16, 2005

    DVD: The Apple (1980)

    I pride myself on keeping my Pavlovian responses to a minimum. But one phrase is guaranteed to make me weak in the knees: so bad it’s good.

    The problem is that bad movies are invariably disappointing. The film ends, and my typical reaction is: that wasn’t so bad. Or: that was bad, but it wasn’t horrible. Or: that was horrible, but it wasn’t terrible.

    Then there are those rare occasions when a movie’s sheer awfulness not only exceeds my expectations, but makes me believe that I’ve slipped through a wormhole into an alternate universe where aesthetic standards – nay, the very laws of God and man – have been cast aside.

    Such a movie is THE APPLE.

    It was written and directed by Menahem Golan, one half of the brain trust behind the ‘80s schlock factory Cannon Films. It had drifted into obscurity when the NuArt Theater in Los Angeles began running it as a midnight show. A burgeoning cult following led to the release of a bare-bones DVD, so that now its dark magic can be inflicted on the world.

    It’s a rock musical set in the distant future of ... 1994, when the most popular car seems to be the one Homer Simpson designed for his half-brother and the world is controlled by an evil entertainment conglomerate. A pair of Canadian folkies (one of them played by Catherine Mary Stewart, who will always and forever be the sensible girlfriend in THE LAST STARFIGHTER) makes a surprisingly strong showing in the globally televised song contest with their ballad “Love, The Universal Melody.” Soon, they’re pressured by the sinister Mr. Boogalow to sign a record deal. It’s a struggle for the souls of our heroes –

    Only this movie means it. Literally. What follows plays out in biblical terms. Which of course means a celebration of vice, because we’ve got to be tempted, right? So the movie’s future is positively steeped in decadence. Freaky sex, ready drugs, yards of gold lamé. It’s Cecil B. DeMille riding the white horse.

    But you can’t have sex and drugs without rock and roll. Or in this case, disco. All of this religious dementia is set to music, complete with on-the-nose lyrics and filmed in a style reminiscent of “Goddess,” the stage show featured in SHOWGIRLS. (As Rosemarie put it, “Verhoeven has to have seen this. Many, many times.”) It makes XANADU, another musical released the same year, look like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

    One stupefying moment follows another. The number set in Hell, featuring “an actual, actual, actual vampire.” The song about how America is addicted to cocaine. The compulsory disco calisthenics. The disco orgy sequence. The scene where our hero stumbles onto the tribe of vagabonds and is told that they’re “refugees from the 1960s, commonly known as hippies.”

    And then there’s the ending. A moment of such transcendent WTF absurdity that I began to think I was imagining the entire experience.

    As soon as the movie ended, I wanted to watch it again. Mainly because I was afraid to go to sleep.

    The only thing that allowed me to maintain my sanity during THE APPLE was knowing how far off the mark its vision of the future was. A world dominated by media companies and obsessed by fame, where undue attention is paid to a hellishly bad talent competition? Dream on, Menahem. Dream on.


    Some couples face grave dangers together: climbing mountains, raising children. We managed to avoid all that until this week.

    But this week we saw THE APPLE. And the ordeal has only strengthened our bond.


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