By Ebba Wester
“The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating [...] It is good for the digestion”.
Adam and Eve, Moose Jaw, Canada.
The Apple (1980) is a science-fiction, rock n’ roll musical about the age-old battle of good versus evil. Set in the distant future of 1994, this disco-dystopia uses biblical allegory to tell a cautionary tale about the dangers of corruption and the pitfalls of fame.
Adam and Eve take the form of a sweet Canadian hippie-couple from ‘Moose Jaw’; the virtuous Alfie, and the gullible Bibi. They’re introduced at the start of the film at the “World Vision song competition”, where their sentimental singer-songwriter performance proves a crowd favorite.
Threatened by their apparent popularity, Mr. Boogalow - head of the giant music corporation ‘BIM’ - plots to ensnare the couple and coerce them into joining his international pop-empire. While Bibi is easily convinced to sign the dotted line, Alfie remains adamantly suspicious and declines.
As Bibi rises to the top of international superstardom, she spirals deeper into a world of drugs, delinquency, and loneliness. Alfie finally convinces her to escape BIMs evil clutches, and the pair of them are rescued once and for all in a swift and literal Deus Ex-Machina: God descends from the heavens in a sparkling Rolls Royce to take the good-guys to a new planet, free of BIM and Boogalow.
The Devil wears rhinestones
Alfie and Bibi’s milquetoast purity is visually represented in the film by their normative and laid-back “hippie” styling; jeans, t-shirts and natural makeup. BIM, the corruptive and hedonistic threat to their innocence, is a glittering flurry of colorful feathers, bedazzled bodysuits, leather-clad back-up dancers and sequin dresses. While Alfie and Bibi perform in all-white linens, Boogalow’s devilish costuming features a rhinestone beauty mark, red drag-queen eyeshadow, and sparkling golden horn.
The film’s aesthetic moralising of drag, androgyny, and plumage, is - when taken at face value - unabashedly homophobic. As critic Richard Harland Smith observed at the time, the film translates as a “Christian scare” drama; a biblical allegory whereby the heteronormative family unit is threatened by the ‘Satanic’, represented in the film as electronic music, glitter, androgyny, homosexuality, and drag-queens.
Adding clarity - or perhaps further mystifying - the nature and cause of The Apple's existence, this delightful and strange film was originally conceived as a Hebrew stage production. Israeli rock producer Coby Recht was inspired by both his experience in the music industry, and his disapproval of the immoral “show business lifestyle”, in writing the initial script.
Recht eventually met with filmmaker Menahem Golan, who took the story to LA to adapt it for the screen. Recht’s original intention was to create a “1984 but with music”; a deeply serious work of art with ambitions of Biblical proportion. However, production of the film proved to be a successive series of creative disagreements and filmmaking disasters. Today, it is considered one of the worst films ever made.
The moral seriousness of the plot and thematic allegory clashes unintentionally with the excessive extravagance of the musical numbers, costuming, and set design. As much as it wants to assert a moral message, the film is so insistently celebratory of everything it purports to condemn. The occasional Alfie and Bibi ballads are lame and unconvincing in contrast to the high-production, high energy BIM and Boogalow musical numbers. For a film that’s so explicitly about the evil of sin and corruption, it really goes out of its way to make ‘the dark side’ look like fun.
"For a film that’s so explicitly about the evil of sin and corruption, it really goes out of its way to make ‘the dark side’ look like fun. "
This ironic contrast between content and form could have been an intentional device, had it been employed for the purpose of parody, for example. But the irony of The Apple is utterly and damningly dramatic: the audience sees it, but the film does not. Any chance for the film to be taken seriously is ruined precisely by how seriously it takes itself. The gaping narrative flaws, lack of continuity and earnest but awful performances undercut any possibility for redemption.
Dethrone the serious.
It may seem petty, if not totally pointless, to point out the obvious downfalls of a film that already bears the title of ‘one of the worst ever made’. But I do not propose to reprimand The Apple for its failures. Its total and complete failure to be whatever it is supposed to be, is, in fact, its greatest achievement. The Apple becomes so great precisely because it is so bad. Its demonisation of drag aesthetics and excess, emerges finally - on the other side of (melo)dramatic irony - as camp.
In her seminal essay ‘Notes on Camp’, Susan Sontag outlines a rough guide to the camp ‘sensibility’.
According to Sontag, camp is a number of things: the celebration of artifice, the victory of style over substance, and of aesthetics over morality. It is often either bad art or kitsch. Importantly, “pure camp” is always naive; It is dead serious, but it is “a seriousness that fails”, usually due to its own too much-ness in form of theatricality or aesthetic extravagance. The Apple is thus - in its theatricality, in its failed seriousness, in it’s inadvertent celebration of artifice and excess - pure camp.
Today, audiences who enjoy the playfulness and pleasure of camp sensibility have adopted The Apple as a cult classic - there is pleasure, and even a kind of tenderness in celebratory “hate-watching”. More still, cult and camp celebration of The Apple turns the film's moral seriousness into something ironic and playful. Any condemnation of homosexuality or drag culture is totally reversed by the disobedient viewer. As Sontag writes, camp finds the “success in certain passionate failures”. The Apple is certainly a complete and utter failure - and that is its greatest success.