Monday, December 09, 2013

Review...ish: The Apple

For the first two minutes, 1980 musical 'The Apple' is perfect. It opens with letter-perfect and savagely incisive parody of a glam-rock stadium concert; the act is Pandi and Dandi, but they could just as easily be the Bay City Rollers or any one of a dozen Iggy Pop/David Bowie wannabes out of the late Seventies. Their anthem, 'BIM's On the Way', is a perfect evocation of the way major record labels repackage independence and rebellion into product--it's a brainlessly catchy tune that seems to have no other purpose but to laud the very same label that endlessly promotes the musicians singing it. ("BIM" is a stab at BMI, a gag I didn't even notice until it was pointed out to me.)

And yet, underneath the empty-headed vapidity of its lyrics, there's a sort of soul-crushing deadness to the lyrics...Pandi and Dandi might sound like a glam-rock version of any number of studio-hyped groups, but their song carries the explicit message that there is no good, no evil, no joy, no shame, nothing but power and the will to use it. And BIM has that power...and by extension, is the only thing worth your adoration. It is, in short, nihilism given a catchy beat and a clever call-and-response bit that invites the audience to join right in with the death of society. ("Be!" "I am!" So's Darkseid, buddy.)

Then people start talking, and that's about when the movie goes downhill. Because 'The Apple' is supposed to be an audacious glam-rock musical bookend to 'Jesus Christ Superstar', telling the story of the Book of Revelations in the same counter-culture rock-and-roll terms that it assumes its audience grooves on--while simultaneously being a scathing indictment of the music industry and the way it grinds up individualism and talent and turns it into pop-culture pablum. That's the goal, and it's actually an impressively lofty one. But...

Setting aside the second musical number, which is supposed to be a welcome antidote to the soulless glam and instead comes off as a schmaltzy salute to the Osmonds...and setting aside all the other musical numbers as well, which seem to have been written according to the well known songwriting technique of, "Sod it, at least it rhymes"...actually, I can't set that aside completely. One couplet goes, "It's a natural, natural, natural desire/to meet an actual, actual, actual vampire." This is not a vampire story. This is not even a story with vampires in it. This is a story where a vampire pops up into shot for three seconds as Dandi sings the above couplet, and then is never seen again for the remainder of the film. I'm not a professional songwriter, but I think that might be a sign that you should rethink your lyrics.

But reluctantly setting the music's flaws aside, the story doesn't do what it's trying to do. Mister Boogalow is woefully miscast and misdirected. He should be kind and warm and friendly and exactly the last person you'd expect to be the Anti-Christ; Alphie should be torn by self-doubt and indecision for breaking up with his beloved Bibi and giving in to his hallucinogenic visions of doom and disaster if he signs on with BIM. ("BIM" = "Boogalow International Management".) But instead, he's a sinister smirker with a goatee and a Russian accent. He couldn't be more obviously evil if he had horns. Which he does, in some scenes...well, horn. Not sure what happened to the other one. Maybe there was a wardrobe malfunction.

With Boogalow obviously evil, Bibi looks stupid for signing on with him. Her journey through the highs of becoming a superstar to the lows of personal destruction and drug abuse, on to her final personal transformation and reconciliation with Alphie, basically just becomes a waiting game for the bimbo to realize what the audience figured out 87 minutes ago.

It doesn't help that the film is catastrophically unsubtle. Don't get me wrong, I understand that a glam-rock Rapture is not the place for subtlety. But that's the wonderful thing about a musical; people get to openly sing about their emotions in big music numbers, getting all that subtext out of the way in a song so that they can be subtle in the actual story. Bibi's getting ready to sign a contract, but she has have Boogalow and Dandi sing a song about temptation likening the contract to Eve's Apple. It's unsubtle, sure...but it's the right kind of unsubtle. As it is, Alphie has a hallucination where Bibi is literally presented with a giant prop apple while standing on a set that evokes a downright Ed Wood-ian vision of Dante's Inferno, precisely so that Dandi can sing a song about how she should take a bite of the giant prop apple. The song was already metaphor enough without turning the costumes, set decoration, and dialogue into a walking literalist extension of it.

The film's pacing also has issues. Far too much of the film is spent on Alphie moping over Bibi and Bibi pining over Alphie (while sleeping with other people and taking copious amounts of drugs). The actual plot, such as it is, sort of hovers around in the background trying not to intrude. There are a few scenes where Mister Boogalow's marketing gimmick of a "BIM Mark" goes from being a trendy fashion accessory to a mandatory identification badge, and one where BIM's dancercise show becomes mandatory for every American, but these are so abrupt and unmotivated that the allegory fails. It's now less an allegory, and more some guy wandering past the movie and mentioning, "It's all about Satan, by the way," when he thinks the A-plot isn't looking.

The conclusion, in which "Mister Topps" shows up to spirit Alphie and Bibi away to a new world in his pimped-out Caddy (if this movie does nothing else, it teaches us exactly which machina the deus exes from) is just as abrupt as all the other things that happen. In trying to give us both a savage expose of major record labels and a trippy rockpocalypse, the film really succeeds at neither. But I have to admit, there's just enough of a glimpse of what the film could have been that I can't help but love it a little. It fails miserably at everything it tries...but it tries at something. I don't think there's a single Michael Bay film I could say that about.

1 comment:

Kyle White said...

The Island tries to be a ripoff of Parts: The Clonus Horror?