Movie musicals. You love them or you hate them. They are certainly a uniquely American genre of film, adapted from the stage musical but some people just have a hard time grasping the notion that characters suddenly burst into song in the middle of their dialog. The Broadway musical Something Rotten! takes great glee in poking fun at this concept while adhering to the tenets of a musical. Movie musicals have been around for as long as “talkies” have existed, with the first motion picture with synchronized sound being a musical, The Jazz Singer. And while they gained huge popularity in the 1950s as MGM churned out most of the classic musicals we know and love today, a quick search online will show that while musicals may not be as popular as they once were, they’ve never really gone away either.
1978 saw the release of one of the most popular modern musicals of all time, Grease, which came out during the disco era and made a bona fide movie star out of Olivia Newton-John. Hollywood was anxious to get her into another movie musical so Universal Pictures snagged her for the glitzy, glam musical Xanadu which was released in 1980. Other studios also wanted to take advantage of the disco/glam rock era and that same year saw the musicals Can’t Stop the Music and The Apple. Unfortunately, for all of them, disco was barely on life support by the time these movie were released and they all tanked. Xanadu is probably the most “beloved” and remembered mainly because of its soundtrack, while Can’t Stop the Music is a campy mess featuring The Village People AND Bruce Jenner, and probably the only occurrence of full frontal male nudity in a PG-rated film. But The Apple was largely forgotten for some reason, perhaps because of its disastrous premiere that almost led to the director throwing himself from his hotel room balcony.
I remember seeing ads on TV for The Apple in 1980 but the movie came and went so quickly that I was never able to see it. It became one of those “Holy Grail” films for me, and while it did get a blink and you’ll miss it DVD release from MGM Home Video a few years ago (which you may now be able to find in retailer bargain bins), the announcement from Kino Lorber that the movie was getting a proper Blu-ray release sent electric shockwaves through my system. And now I have The Apple in my hands, but the question remained — after 37 years of waiting, more than half of my life(!), could any movie ever stand up to that kind of anticipation? Let’s put it this way … I’ve already watched it twice.
The Apple takes place in the far-flung future of 1994 (just far enough for the producers to find locations in Berlin and Hamburg that looked futuristic enough in 1980 but not so futuristic that they would have to use a lot of special effects to create the future) where the Worldvision music competition is underway (think the Eurovision competition). On stage is a glam rock band, headed by Pandi & Dandi, performing the song “BIM”. And the audience is eating it up, their heart rates being tracked in the control booth to prove it. Then two folksy-looking kids from Moosejaw, Canada perform a love song duet, “Universal Melody”, that the crowd hates. But the hate turns to love and as the audience becomes more receptive, the producers of “BIM” take drastic measures to sabotage the performance resulting in Pandi & Dandi winning the competition. But Mr. Boogalow takes note and demands an audience with Bibi and Alphie, seeing their potential to be the next big thing, and making them an offer they can’t refuse. Alphie is rightly concerned about signing a contract without reading it, but the naive Bibi thinks it’s what’s best for her career (they were offered separate contracts) and signs, taking a figurative bite of the apple, basically making a metaphorical deal with the devil. Or is it metaphorical?
The Apple is a not so subtle retelling of the story of Adam and Eve with Alphie and Bibi their counterparts. The movie features a massive musical number in Hell where Bibi gives in to temptation while Alphie is left to make it a go on his own. Bibi goes on to ascend to new heights of popularity, but at what price? It all becomes a bit insane by the end with the appearance of Mr. Topps, something that has to be seen to be believed, and even then you may not quite believe your eyes. In fact, I’m not quite sure that what I saw — twice — I can believe ever made it to film. But I am obsessed with this movie. It’s not a great, or even a very good movie, suffering (perhaps) from a round of heavy-handed editing after the premiere that left some major plot holes in the story (some of which can be seen in the film’s trailer). Unfortunately, it seems that only one print of the unedited version still exists, and that one was stolen years ago and is in the hands of a private collector somewhere, hopefully being kept in good condition so that perhaps some day we’ll get to see the film as it was originally presented.
The Apple is notable for several reasons. It was one of the first major motion pictures from Golan-Globus productions released by Cannon Films (before Golan-Globus bought the company). Director Menahem Golan thought this was going to be the film to put them on the map. It was also the first film from a young dancer named Catherine Mary Nursall who changed her last name to Stewart after being cast because Golan suggested she change her name. It’s remarkable that considering the disaster The Apple was from a critical and financial standpoint, Stewart emerged unscathed, enjoying a nice career in the 80s with films like Night of the Comet, The Last Starfighter and Weekend at Bernie’s to name a few. She even originated the role of Kayla Brady on TV soap Days Of Our Lives. And she is still active today. If you look closely, you can also spot Finola Hughes (General Hospital) among the dancers, as well as appearing in other small parts throughout the film (many of the dancers acted as extras). The film’s song writers Coby Recht and George S. Clinton (no, not that George Clinton) also pop up all over the place as different characters. And the film’s choreography was done by Nigel Lythgoe, better known today as the judge and producer of So You Think You Can Dance.
While the film is actually produced very well with some nice cinematography from David Gurfinkel, Art Direction by Jurgen Kiebach and some eye-popping costumes from Ingrid Zore, the movie’s real downfall is in the script, or rather lack of as, according to Lythgoe, they really didn’t have a completed script before shooting began and, according to Stewart, they shot the ending several times trying to come up with something that made sense (and they really didn’t succeed, but it does leave you with a “WTF were they smoking” reaction as the credits role). As for the cast, Stewart does her best considering this is her first lead role in her first movie. She brings her naive charm to the role and it works (she said she basically played herself). It’s a shame that she doesn’t do her own singing, which she could have done, but everyone agreed that it was best if a pro sang for her to match all the other professional singers in the cast (and Stewart has a nice anecdote about working with her singing voice Mary Hylan). But through it all she is still adorable and it’s easy to see why she managed to keep acting after this film.
Her love interest Alphie was played by Scottish musician George Gilmour in what appears to be his one and only acting gig. He’s a beautiful creature (in some stunningly tight pants) with a lovely voice and he does a fine job of making you root for him to save Bibi from Boogalow. But he really was not comfortable being in front of the cameras and retreated to his music afterwards. Allan Love’s Dandi perfectly embodies the late 70s / early 80s hedonistic lifestyle, and while he isn’t the Devil of the story, he certainly aids in Bibi’s temptation, with relish. Grace Kennedy, as Pandi, is lovely and fierce with an amazing voice, particularly during her solo number, the very unsubtle, Donna Summer influenced “Coming” (yes, I said it was not subtle). And even veteran character actor Joss Ackland turns up in a dual role at the end as a Hippie Leader and Mr. Topps. Well-known British character actress Miriam Margolyes makes one of her first big screen appearances as Alphie’s landlady. Vladek Sheybal (From Russia With Love) steals every scene he’s in as the flamboyant, devilish Mr. Boogalow. There’s no question The Apple is filled to the brim with talent, but an unfortunately inept production doomed the film to relative obscurity. It wasn’t until about 2003 when the movie was screened at midnight at a Los Angeles theater followed by one in New York that the film was rediscovered, also getting a screening at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of a Golan-Globus retrospective, where Golan finally got to see the film get some respect shortly before his passing.
The Apple has finally achieved a Rocky Horror Picture Show cult status with midnight screenings and fans who dress like the characters and know all the songs — which by the way are pretty catchy. And now Kino Lorber has given the film a proper Blu-ray release with a beautiful new HD transfer that’s sharp and colorful, probably the best the film has ever looked. The disk’s 2.0 DTS-HD Master audio gives a nice presentation to the musical numbers, never obscuring the vocals. The disk also includes a feature-length commentary from Stewart moderated by film historian Nathaniel Thompson, and they both sound like they’re having a great time watching the film, talking about some aspects of production (you can tell where they are in the film’s production by looking at how elaborate the hair is) and Stewart’s career. There is also an on camera interview with Stewart that runs close to an hour which covers a lot of the same ground as the commentary. The biggest takeaway from both is that she is not embarrassed by the movie but quite grateful to it and to Mr. Golan for giving her the career she’s enjoyed since then. She knows, and admits, that the film didn’t quite turn out as hoped and that some parts of it are genuinely goofy, but overall she has a love and respect for the film and for everyone involved in the production. There is also a trailer which includes some of the film’s cut scenes.
The Apple is a movie that really defies description. It falls into the “so bad it’s good” category of cult movies, but even when it fails to make a lick of sense, there’s just something about the energy from everyone on screen, the music, the crazy costumes that look like the result of Klaus Nomi and Bob Mackie dropping acid one night and coming up with these creations that dares you to dismiss the movie as trash. I’m happy to finally have The Apple on Blu-ray and any connoisseur of cult movies should be as well. Now perhaps someone will give the film’s soundtrack a proper CD release.
Kino Lorber generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray copy of the film for reviewing purposes.