Cult Classics: The Apple

the apple index

The majority of the time when a film’s a little crazy you can understand why, you see what the director was getting out, how it came to be made. But every so often something absolutely bizarre and as mad as a hatstand is released, and more often than not they tend to be an incredibly joyful watch even if you suspect that the director behind them may benefit from time in a psychiatric unit. The Apple (also known as Star Rock) is such an example, a truly doolally musical shot in the 1970’s (and boy can you tell) but released in 1980.

It was written, directed and produced by Menahem Golan, one of the strangest film producers in an industry filled with unorthodox figures, and the film Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is essential viewing for all fans of cinema, whether you like his particularly eccentric (and sometimes just appalling) brand of cinema. During his time at Cannon he and his cousin Yoram Globus were responsible for some fantastic films like Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, Zeffirelli’s Otello and John Cassavetes’ Love Streams, but also some absolute tosh including Breakin and it’s sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Death Wish 3 (admittedly shockingly fun but undoubtedly awful at the same time) and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.

As well as producing films and being a studio head Golan directed forty seven movies, including some movies you may have heard of (Stallone’s Over The Top, Chuck Norris’s two Delta Force flicks) and some you probably haven’t (The Great Telephone Robbery only has 13 votes on imdb for instance, so is slightly obscure) and he also wrote “Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!!” which I now feel I have to track down and watch. Prior to The Apple I’d never seen anything he’d directed before but plan to rectify this as it’s one of the most outlandish and peculiar films ever committed to celluloid.

Essentially a mystifying mix of the story of The Garden of Eden and a parable warning of the dangers of fame, it’s set in 1994 and begins at a televised Song Contest where the quite frankly tedious band Bim are performing, and expected to win. But then Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) take to the stage and sing a cute ballad, which for some reason the audience adore and it looks like they’re set to triumph, until agent / producer Mr Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) sabotages them by playing a mysterious tape of weird sounds over the top which causes the crowd to become curiously angry. Mr Boogalow looks like the bastard offspring of Ming The Merciless and an anorexic version of Anthony Ainley’s The Master from Doctor Who, and is quite obviously the devil, it’s surprising they didn’t give him horns but otherwise it couldn’t be clearer and I’m sure a three year old would spot the allusion.

The next day Alphie and Bibi go to see Mr Boogalow and he tries to sign them up, with Bibi more than happy to do so, but Alphie becomes aware that he’s all kinds of evil and refuses to do so, and the once content couple are split up. Bibi goes on to fame and fortune and a relationship with Mr Boogalow’s son Dandi (Allan Love), the lead singer in Bim, but Alphie ends up homeless, and at one point almost killed when he tries to talk to a now famous and beloved Bibi. So is Bibi doomed to become a drugged up plaything of Mr Boogalow and his group of strange freaks? Or can Alphie somehow save the day? And just who is that strange bearded fella (Joss Ackland) who leads a hippy commune that Alphie joins?

All of the above may make it sound like it’s a fairly conventional movie, after all the perils of fame have been displayed on film many a time, but oh dear god no that is not the case in the slightest. Most of the oddness comes from the catchy but ridiculously on the nose songs, nearly all of which contain lyrics which are ridiculously appalling and yet this makes them all the more lovable. For instance in one scene Alphie and Bibi are suddenly transported to hell (where Napoleon Bonaparte and some half pig half men creatures are inexplicably present) and Dandi tries to seduce Bibi in to signing a contract using an apple as a metaphor and singing lines like “”Let me be your guide through the apple paradise” before shortly uttering “Meet an actual actual actual vampire”, there’s no reason for the latter line (though she does get to do so) but it’s hilarious in it’s ludicrously off the wall context. Dandi couldn’t make the satanic connection clearer either, crooning “You’ll be hypnotised ! You’ll be demonised” but the innocent / stupid Bibi still doesn’t realise, and then suddenly everyone’s back in Mr Boogalow’s office and only Alphie has any memory of their trip to the darkest regions of the afterlife.

Also weird but adorable is Mr Boogalow’s enormously camp song “How To Be A Master” which contains the lines “Lure them into chains / Whip them till they’re tame / They’ll learn to love their pain / When you know how to be a…a master”, and a song Bibi sings when on tour called Speed where the drug allegories are so glaringly overt it’s painfully funny, with “America the land of the free, is shooting up with pure energy” being one of the subtler moments. Then there’s one oddball one duet which Bibi and Alphie sing in separate locations where the former utters “Alphie, I wish that I were dead” and Alphie responds “Should I go on living for / The memory of your love / or should I end it all” which is cheery stuff I think we can all agree.

Apart from the songs there’s a great deal of oddness to be found elsewhere, for instance everyone is forced to wear “Bim Marks”, triangular stickers representing that you’re a fan of the band and you get fined if you don’t, and aesthetically it’s incredibly glam with some supposedly futuristic prams shown in one shot which I’m sure would lead to babies being suffocated. Ever day all citizens have to stop what they’re doing for Bim hour, the national fitness programme, even if they’re firemen or doctors, and in one rare intentionally funny scene we see a building burn down and a patient die due to this. There’s also a party where Alphie is drugged, gets confused by a bunch of drag queens, and has vaguely but not really consensual sex with Bim singer Pandi (Grace Kennedy) which she sings during in the act, taking a brief break to orgasm before bursting back in to song. Oh, and sex with Alphie makes her realise she’s been evil, because apparently his penis is that magical.

Most of the cast are made up of not that well known actors but Miriam Margolyes has a minor role as Alphie’s Jewish landlady, and for the record is amazingly good, and Joss Ackland has a cameo as a man who definitely isn’t God, oh no, that’d be madness. Catherine Mary Stewart is superb as Bibi though, even if her singing is dubbed over she gives the film a real sweetness and though George Gilmour isn’t the best actor in the world and won’t be troubling the Oscar ceremonies at any point he’s no Tommy Wiseau, and makes for a likeable enough lead. Vladek Sheybal is best of all though, bringing real camp menace to the roll and he’s a villain you’ll love to love, his singing is a tad patchy but that’s forgivable given how fun he is in the role.

It is pretty well directed too, Golan has a strong eye for a memorable image and the big song and dance numbers constantly impress, it’s only the script and lyrics which are beyond bizarre. It’s a movie on the list of many people’s worst ever films lists and sure, it’s kind of awful but it’s also kind of amazing, I considered putting it in the “Oh, The Humanity!” section for the worst of cinema but enjoyed it way too much for it to deserve a place there. Don’t expect a great film by any means but go in with the awareness that it’s a completely preposterous one, with an ending that has to be seen to be believed, and even then you might not do so, and you’ll love it.

Alex Finch.

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