Review: The Apple (1980)

The Apple

Directed by Menahem Golan
Starring Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour, Grace Kennedy, Vladek Sheybal

The battle between irony and sincerity has reached a fever pitch in popular culture, and it’s hard to say which is winning. There are arguments for both sides: Christy Wampole of the New York Times says that irony is “the ethos of our age,” while The Atlantic‘s Jonathan D. Fitzgerald argues that our society’s “cultural output […] point[s] to a rise in what some call the ‘New Sincerity.'” Wampole blames the prevalence of ironic detachment on the advent of hipsterism: “[The hipster] tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.” She argues that, in comparison to culture today, the 1990s “now seem relatively irony-free.” Fitzgerald adversely notes: “Today, vulnerability shows up in pop music where bravado and posturing once ruled.”

There can never be an adequate conclusion to this argument because both parties are essentially correct. While I, too, am noticing more and more sincerity in popular entertainment, I can’t help but think that future history books will cite “hipsterism” as the first big cultural movement of the 21st century, accompanied with a photo of a bearded man wearing a tight flannel shirt and circle-frame glasses. Destin Daniel Crettin’s 2012 film I Am Not a Hipster offers a portrait of a sincere hipster in its protagonist, a young musician who, while indulging in activities usually associated with hipsters (or at least one definition of them (this is getting complicated)), remains steadfast in his opposition to the cool detachment of the movement and in his dedication to creating art with meaning behind it.

But while sincerity is finding a new home at the cineplex, an ever-growing appreciation exists for films that were made to be taken seriously but ended up as unintentional laugh riots. As far as I can tell, the “So Bad It’s Good” movement is a recent invention popularized by Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room – two exceptionally awful movies full of unintentional humor and jaw-dropping ineptitude. More recently, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” has scored 66 million views and almost as many parody videos since its innocuous release in 2011 – all because of its insurmountable horribleness. It’s hard to draw the line between irony and sincerity in our appreciation of bad songs and movies because it’s an odd mix of both: We appreciate the sincerity that went into these projects because it’s provided us with an endless source of comedy. We don’t love them because they’re “good,” we love them because they’re anything but.

So – The Apple. It’s terrible. People love it. End of story?

I don’t think so. There’s something fishy about the filmmakers’ intentions. Is this a serious-minded attempt at satire or merely another Rocky Horror Picture Show retread, complete with outrageous costumes, sexually ambiguous characters and songs about makin’ love? I’ll put it another way: Does The Apple know that it’s pure camp?

The film centers around Alphie (Gilmour) and Bibi (Stewart), two fresh-faced kids from Moose Jaw, Canada looking to make an impression in the USA by performing an original number at the 1994 Worldvision Song Competition. Their song proves to be a hit with the young audience, and they’re immediately targeted by Mr. Boogalow (Sheybal), owner of BIM (Boogalow International Music), who introduces them both to a world of money, drugs and way too many sequins. The film ultimately reveals itself to be a sort of parable, with Alphie and Bibi standing in for Adam and Eve and Mr. Boogalow standing in for Satan himself. Later, God shows up in a transparent space car and says a few words. The takeaway message is that hippies were right all along. Plus, any music more exciting than James Taylor is the work of the devil, I guess?

The Apple takes itself seriously at times, but it’s purposefully comedic in its state of constant ridiculousness. The world of 1994 is presented as garishly commercialized and stylistically excessive, from the government-mandated “BIM marks” (shiny triangular stickers to be worn on the forehead) to the way that almost everything is covered in glitter. It’s as if a giant mutant drag queen exploded, covering everything in feather boas and fake eyelashes. The movie’s biblical allusions are outlandish and over-the-top, effectively futurizing religion, turning scripture into showcase and commercializing Christ. In the film’s fictional 1994, presentation is everything, worth is measured in accessibility, individualization is replaced by homogenization, and personal beliefs are fueled by peer pressure. The introduction of “BIM hour” (a daily, government-mandated hour of dancing to BIM’s theme song) is a hilarious, pointed attack on Top 40 radio.

But for all its sharp social commentary, The Apple is still a bad movie. The musical numbers feature deadly-dull melodies, middling vocal performances, and pedestrian lyrics. The framing is flat and uninteresting. The visuals are half-assed and repetitive. While The Room is bad in an unbelievably surreal way (“I did not hit her! I did not! Oh, hai, Mark.“), The Apple is just inoffensively hare-brained. The best So Bad It’s Good movies make you question a filmmaker’s sanity: Did Ed Wood know that every creative decision he made was completely wrongheaded? Is Tommy Wiseau an alien attempting to emulate human behavior? The Apple gets its satire right, but its characters’ indecipherable personal motives and seemingly random behavior ultimately make the movie a failure. The songs are bad, but not terribly so, and the film’s outrageous set and costume design is purposely (rather than unintentionally) funny. Mostly, it’s just kinda boring.

So which has won the day: Irony or sincerity?

It’s impossible to know for sure. While both play a part in the burgeoning So Bad It’s Good movement, neither are the root of the cause. We celebrate these movies because we really like them, not because we revel in poking fun at sincerity. Nevertheless, the desperate search for the next Best Bad Movie has led to an undeserved skewering/praising of a dopey 1980 musical that isn’t as much So Bad It’s Good as it is Just Kind of Bad. But don’t worry. Surely something absolutely awful is on its way, ready to receive our most sincere admiration.

Links:

Netflix – The Apple
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer
The New York Times – How to Live Without Irony
The Atlantic – Sincerity, Not Irony, Is the Ethos of Our Age

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