The Great Cannon Film Watch-Through: The Apple

apple

My goal.

Details:

Directed by Menahem Golan

Featuring Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour, Grace Kennedy, Allan Love, and Vladek Sheybal

Released 11/21/1980

IMDB Synopsis (via John-Marc Rocher) Alphie and Bibi, two sweet, naive youths from Moose Jaw, Canada, have come to America to compete in the 1994 Worldvision Song Festival. Although the pair have talent, they are beaten out by the underhanded tactics of the festival favorites, another duo with the backing of BIM: Boogalow International Music, and its leader, Mr. Boogalow. Though crestfallen by their loss, Bibi and Alphie are soon delighted to hear that Mr. Boogalow has taken an interest in their music and wants to sign them to his label. All is looking up for the two until they begin to discover the dark underside of the rock and roll world.

Minutes of Interest:

00:31- This parking structure, combined with the extras running ecstatically has a 70s-era disaster vibe, like something out of 1974’s Earthquake.

00:47- Ah! Heart attack inducing.

01:05- I can tell why people booed this film in theaters. From the music, to the camp costumes, to the “future” instruments, it’s all silly. It’s also amazing. I love this movie already. The horn riff here also has a vague Blues Brother tinge.

01:52- Though there’s a strange disharmony in the costumes of the performers in the background, I also love that a hit musical number (in the film’s world) is a blatant ad for the band and its record label, though it isn’t a far cry from the sampling and name dropping in much contemporary pop music.

02:49- I get an odd vibe from Vladek Sheybal’s villain Mr. Boogalow. Of course, he’s evil but he almost looks and sounds like a younger version of Menahem Golan. Was this a conscious casting choice, perhaps a bit of self-deprecation considering how much Boogalow’s and Cannon Films’ business models match up? Or am I reaching?

03:04- “Excitement 90. Tension 92. Pulse rate 132. And 138 heartbeats!” This scene debuts an early model of the Fitbit.

03:53- Is the performer with the plastic keyboard drunk, high, tired, or recently lobotomized? You decide!

04:50- This chorus isn’t getting old at all.

05-14- The fans throwing the glow sticks at the performers prefaces the film’s debut at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood. Audience members did the same with souvenir soundtracks handed out beforehand. Reportedly, the barrage of cassettes was so powerful and furious that serious damage was done to the screen.

05:23- Mr. Boogalow’s refrain of “gentlemen” has almost the exact timbre of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

05:43 Brilliant line: “Use your imagination. This is 1994.” I love this movie.

06:07- Our protagonists, Bibi and Alphie, are finally introduced. They sort of dress like they’re The Carpenters. They also sound like them.

08:44- “Nostalgia is always dangerous.” Ahem, Mr. Boogalow.

09:19- There’s a ton happening in this scene which, aside from the titular musical number, might be the best thing in the film. Or, at least, what encapsulates Golan’s vision. Good art is trampled by consumerists demands and the wills of producers. The irony is peanut butter-like in its thickness. More on this later.

11:09- Not only is Mr. Boogalow’s company the biggest thing in music, it is also influencing federal policy. A record label controls the government. That’s amazing. That’s dumb. I love it.

11:48- Future cars! From the future! Of 1994!

12:41- An even better Hans Gruber forerunner from Mr. Boogalow. The complete “ladies and gentlemen…”

13:30- “Ladies and gentlemen.”

14:06- “Ladies and gentlemen.”

14:50- That champagne goblet is amazing. It’s more like a fishbowl than anything, something you get to keep from a shitty chain restaurant. And it’s doubly funny when Bibi accepts it, calling it a “glass.”

16:30- Even though he’s a villain with feathered hair, Dandi is quite charming in this scene. Comforting and jovial. I’d be his friend.

16:40- The party down below can see Bibi and Dandi on the roof? Like, through a skylight that’s not shown? Or have they seen The Apple beforehand and know what’s going on up there? Also, why is it so funny for two people to kiss to where the whole party needs to gather around and cackle? It’s Sodom and Gomorrah downstairs, after all.

19:11- That male singer in the silver jacket, left of frame in the foreground, has the perfect expression on his face. He knows what movie he’s in.

19:38- Mr. Boogalow’s record label complex is guarded by black clad storm troopers with riot shields. Yes.

19:57- I’m not surprised this was George Gilmour’s only film. Talk about wooden. “We need a lawyer.” You need an acting coach. He’s also supposed to be from Canada but sounds like Jurgen Prochnow in a dubbed Das Boot.

21:03- Oh, great. Card tricks. That doesn’t look weird performed in a waiting room.

21:34- This might be the worst music number in the film. Good beat but the lyrics are buried by Mr. Boogalow’s mushmouth delivery and a bad set. Not to mention the costuming is terribly lazy and confusing. It also features a set piece on an escalator that looks like it was filmed in a mall. Finally, plot progression is paused, only to continue uninterrupted in the next scene, relegating that number to irrelevance. Nothing would have been affected if this was cut.

26:53- “Mr. Boogalow is already selling your first album.” Bibi’s reply is indicative of Cannon’s workings: “We haven’t made one yet.” Again, more on this later

26:58- “First you sell it,” and “Then you make it,” might be the business model of Cannon spelled out on celluloid.

28:43- Yes, an earthquake is hilarious.

29:52- Start of the  best musical number of the film. So well costumed. So inventive. So toe tappingly catchy. Bat shit crazy, essentially. There are dancing corpses, a vampire, and devil dogs, and a cameo by Napoleon, and people who hung themselves flailing around as wind chimes, and a definite Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Jesus Christ Superstar vibe. Plus, man thongs. The only odd thing is Mr. Boogalow (Satan, essentially) only has one horn. Um, why?

30:47- “Bring the master’s special hors-d’oeuvre . Bring the apple!”

34:36- Oh, it was only in Alphie’s head. A big undercut for the best sequence of the film.

35:41- My mistake, THIS is the worst number of the film. Faux-reggae sung by Germans.

36:52- The only redeeming element in this number is (almost)all the principals singing on exercise bikes while Bibi does sit-ups. The blocking and sight gags is almost something out of a Zucker Bros. film

37:11- Mr. Boogalow makes a Casino Royale reference, the 1967 James Bond spoof with a production history worthy of its own book. Vladek Sheybal had a small role in the film: “The world is nothing but a Casino Royale.”

38:39- “The West Coast” is mentioned as if it is some sort of foreign country.

40:05- Catherine Mary Stewart is fantastic (even if she didn’t do her own signing). Naive, yes. Talented, certainly. Should she be in this picture, definitely. Did Cannon take care of her? No.

41:43- Is this the set for Death Wish 3? Also, Mr. Boogalow’s company now is mandating what people wear. 1984 meets New Wave music?

43:56- Oh, my. Sons don’t usually grab their mothers from behind and honk their breasts. Maybe this is a translation error, something Menahem Golan incorporated into his musical because he believed American audiences would like it.

44:58- Future prams! From the future! Of 1994!

46:39- “You’re a talented young man. Look to see what’s on the market.” More later.

47:32 BIM has conquered America and elements of satire creep in. Beautiful sequence. Great tone. Should have been run with from the start. Ditch the Biblical allusions. The best bit is akin to Paul Verhoeven when firefighters stop fighting a fire to listen to BIM Hour. So do surgeons mid dissection. The patient even dances around before keeling over on the gurney.

48:32- Nuns dancing!

51:36- Yeah, Alphie. Fuck that guy up!

52:25- Bad audio. ADR, please.

54:53- The Death Wish 3 set again.

58:53- “Darling, how nice of you to come.” Foreshadowing the second best musical number. The most on the nose piece of all time?

59:53- The music journalists are now bartenders? Mr. Boogalow is the ultimate media disruptor. You hear that, Silicon Valley?

01:02:09- Subtext becomes text. The second best musical number courtesy of Grace Kennedy’s Pandi.

01:02:14- “I’m coming, coming for you.”

01:02:42- “Feel every inch of your love.”

01:03:10- “Fill me up with your fire.”

01:03:28- “Come to me. I’ll come for you.”

01:03:38- “Make it hotter and hotter and faster and faster, and when you think can’t keep it up, I’ll take you deeper and deeper and tighter and tighter and feel every bump of your love.” I wonder what Pandi’s singing about?

01:07:55- Moses is here as a hippie commune shaman!

01:08:12- “These are refugees from the 60’s, commonly known as hippies.” Oh, Menahem…

01:10:10- Dandi wears an amazing robe. He also fake slaps Pandi. I’m not quite sure why Pandi is having a change of heart. Perhaps she “came” to a differently conclusion about how this world works. See what I did there?

01:13:24- Charles Bronson’s neighborhood.

01:16:08- “These people don’t like television.” OK. but this hasn’t been at all about television.

01:17:29- Fast forward much? Are scenes missing?

01:18:44- I understand the religious connotations but it seems Mr. Boogaloo (Satan) is more concerned with copyright law than with the damnation of man’s soul.

01:21:04- Mr. Topps (God, essentially) drives an old Chevy junker in the sky? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Shit Old Car?

01:21:21- This is glorious!

01:22:34- WHAT!?!?!

01:23:46- Mr. Topps is taking people to a new solar system to escape evil? That’s the ending of this movie? He’s doing the Alpha Centauri/Interstellar/Firefly/Pandorum/Freelancer thing? And he’s doing it via a bad double exposure of hippies sauntering across the sky in front of his janky Cadillac? This is how you end a disco/New Wave musical about record labels, addiction, artistic integrity, commercialism, and Satan?

Reflection:

Full disclosure: I think this film is amazing but mainly for reasons aside from the camp and the half-baked ideas that are quite charming in my estimation. And I don’t particularly care for musicals. But, plenty of much smarter people disagree. The Apple was Menahem Golan’s biggest American production up until that point and a very personal one at that. Of course, Enter The Ninja might take the crown for the Cannon release that defined Golan’s American aesthetics, as it sort of solidified the “house style” that many earlier (and harder to track down) Golan/Globus films danced around. Still, The Apple is perhaps the best encapsulation of what this filmmaker aspired to do with Cannon and, sadly, in a very ironic, King Lear sense, what he actually ended up producing.

The Apple is a punk rock/disco/New Wave musical that is redolent in religious kitsch and allegory, not unlike Jesus Christ Superstar or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on acid. Elements of Grease (the love tussled protagonists), Saturday Night Fever (the goofy music), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the camp and the sci-fi) percolate throughout as well, tacked on to a vague satire of corporate committee art and pandering to the lowest common denominator in a dystopian 1994.

Question: Does that sound like a confusing mismatch to you?

The film is near universally reviled because it doesn’t know who to appeal to. It’s too campy so its satirical edge is dulled because the satirist is as absurd as the target. The dystopia is too mild to be shocking but not mild enough to be realistic. It’s quasi-religious/moralistic but inflected with late 70s disco hedonism (“I’m Coming!”). This stew of themes and concepts can probably be compared to another campy musical, one that has had far more success than The Apple could ever hope for: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Camp connects the two musicals separated only by five years. Whereas The Rocky Horror Picture Show built from its midnight cinema roots into a large pop phenomena, The Apple didn’t and languishes in obscurity. Both are over-the-top, not particularly well-made, and boasts of the excesses of 1970s Americana bacchanal. Yet, one is loved and screened today and the other is nearly forgotten.

Why?

Primarily, The Rocky Horror Picture Show knew who to appeal to. Though equally a mess of ideas (a haunted mansion, a retelling of Frankenstein, transvestites, fishnet, AND aliens) the entire production (once it transitioned from stage to screen) aspired to be trash from the get-go. It was minted for midnight from inception. The characters and themes were so outrageous (at least, for 1975 tastes) that their inclusion could only be intentional. Director Jim Sharman knew where his film would land and who it would appeal to. Its transgressiveness was targeted.

The Apple, ultimately, wants to have it all and ends up appealing to no one, not unlike the corporate group-think it rails against. While The Rocky Horror Picture Show broke boundaries of taste, giving it a set audience of counter-cultural types, The Apple is socially conservative since it reaffirms monogamy, family, religion, a return to simplicity, and a Manichean worldview of darkness vs. light. Not that there’s anything wrong there but it is also coupled with musical numbers where a woman describes being penetrated, having an orgasm, and each performer drugged up and bristling with sex appeal. Did I mention the man thongs?

Furthermore, the critique of capitalist society in The Apple, perhaps something to rally those with more leftist tastes well before the 80s touchstones of Wall Street and RoboCop were released, end up being little more than extra light cream cheese spread too thin over a heavy handed religious allegory. It seems The Apple is concerned with the welfare of artists in an era of endless monetization and corporate media, but it boils down to little more than Satan running things with his secret police of taste makers, turning a concrete problem (something far more pressing today than in 1980) into an abstract philosophical concept wrapped up by the ultimate deus ex machina.

The Apple wants to appeal to the mainstream, and to those outside of it, and ends up stuck right in the unenviable middle of pushing away both.

More importantly, the musical numbers are undercut by lackluster performances and are often shoehorned, ending up as narrative dead ends. I’ve always had a hard time suspending my disbelief for musicals because the numbers often feel indulgent and narratively unjustified. Yes, they might look and sound great but often they pause story progression or muddy character development. The best musicals can make each set piece not only enjoyable in its own right, but also propels the action of the overall production.

A fine example is “Epiphany” from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Not only does the plot progress with Todd swearing vengeance on all of London’s high society, thereby setting up the action dominating the  film’s following acts, but it also advances Todd’s character and complicates the relationship with Mrs. Lovett, something that pays off enormous dividends during the climax. Multiple types of work are being done via sound, performance, and lyrics, and the number feels essential in the grand scheme of the production.

The Apple lacks many similar numbers. Even the best number, “The Apple”, is little more than allegorical, a figment of Alphie’s imagination. Though it colors his reactions and firmly establishes the religious connotations, the plot, along with the motivations of the characters and their actions, remain the same at the end of the number. Alphie doesn’t want to sign Mr. Boogalow’s contract at the start of the number and still doesn’t at the end. Bibi wants in and still wants in afterward. As much as I hate to say it because it is so damn fun and visually stimulating, “The Apple” could be cut and nothing would change narrative-wise.

In fact, the worst number, “How to be a Master”, might be the most effective of the entire film. Bibi is shown progressing and changing through a montage. Narrative time progresses. There’s a forward movement not present in many of the other numbers and it comes through something so corny and ephemeral to bury the impact.

However, it is looking beyond the aesthetic that draws me to The Apple. There’s an apocryphal story of Menahem Golan hitting rock bottom. After seeing the devastating reaction of audiences towards his “masterpiece” he nearly attempted suicide in his hotel room during 1980’s Montreal Film Festival The jeers and the boos drove him to the brink. This shows a level of investment (personal, professional, emotional, even spiritual) that seems counter to Golan’s future output.

If the story is true, I can only imagine it cut deep on the filmmaker’s psyche, forever impacting his worldview. Even if it isn’t, something changed. Of course, I wasn’t there and can only speculate. But it seems Golan and his mess of a musical about artistic integrity ended up as a sad joke in the long term. There are a number of lines sprinkled throughout of Alphie and Bibi’s art being pre-sold, marketed before it was even made. Both performers are aghast at the mantra of “first you sell it,” and “then you make it.”

A common business practice of Cannon’s (which, to be fair, wasn’t of their own invention but something done on a scale previously unseen) was to sell a film before it was made to distributors (often foreign) based solely on a concept or poster. No script was written, no actors were cast, no film was in the can. Once funds were secured, Golan and Globus parlayed the capital into actually making what had been sold. This is often why Cannon movies are so radically divorced in terms of concept and execution. Golan and Globus sold something they lacked the resources to realize. Therefore, in a bit of cargo cult reverse engineering, many Cannon productions were simply movies that worked backwards, stuffing a film into a pitch, rather than a pitch exploding out into a film.

It’s a miracle that Cannon was able to make it work. That miracle was brought about by Yoram Globus’s business acumen but, especially, by Menahem Golan’s love of film.

Menahem Golan has a reputation for being intense, for being personable, but, above all, for being passionate. Why else would you wear this. Or better yet, this. But, after The Apple, it seems this passion became more business-centric, rather than artistic, something cultivated during his earlier career in Israel. There are stories of Menahem Golan cajoling and threatening actors, distributors, and directors to get the job done but they scan far closer to a concerned businessman (like a Mr. Boogalow) trying to churn out a product than a legitimate artist suffering for his work.

If anything, The Apple is an engaging crystal ball vision of Golan’s future after the film crashed and burned. Perhaps the filmmaker, at the helm of Cannon, became what he despised, a wheeler and dealer that exploited artists simply because that was easier than facing the scorn and derision attached to being an artiste. Maybe he was that all along. I can only imagine beyond the dark wrestlings within the producer’s soul on display here. Either way, this failure of a musical, though charming and kitsch, is a fascinatingly ironic counterpoint to what Cannon would become and, possibly, what Golan hoped it wouldn’t be.

For all of its failures, I cannot help but love, and pity, The Apple.