Summer Camp: The Apple vs. Showgirls

The Apple (available 8/24)

When the success of “Grease” hit Hollywood in 1978, producers scrambled to match it with their own musical creations. But as “Grease” was a period film utilizing the pop framework of the 1950s, the musicals that followed in its wake mostly consisted of over-discoed contraptions that spoke more about the drug-fueled era than they intended to. 1980 alone gave birth to Neil Diamond’s “The Jazz Singer,” the Village People origin picture “Can’t Stop the Music,” and the “Citizen Kane” of glitterati musicals, Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu.” But nothing could top the sheer weight of absurdity found in Menahem Golan’s futuristic opus, “The Apple.”

Set in the far away year of 1994, “The Apple” painted a rosy future for society where our musical choices are selected by, literally, heartbeats. Evil Mr. Boogalow (diminutive Vladek Sheybal) is the ringleader of this operation, controlling the airwaves with his arena-rock BIM music. Enter two youthful, innocent singers named Bibi (a babyfaced Catherine Mary Stewart, “Night of the Comet”) and Alphie (George Gilmour), who rise to challenge the BIM music with their acoustic guitars and virginal dispositions. Boogalow ain’t havin’ it, and attempts to woo the couple into his empire with lucrative, convoluted contracts, and the sexual full-court-press from his two underlings, Dandi (Alan Love) and Pandi (Grace Kennedy). While Bibi bites the symbolic “apple” and takes Boogalow’s contract to glorious heights of fame, Alphie refuses the offer, and watches his beloved fall into a pit of chemical excess and a wealth of platform shoes and eye shadow.

“The Apple” really is the epitome of the era; soaking in glitter, overproduced rock, and random, poorly choreographed dance numbers. It’s Studio 54 imagined as our future. But does that make “The Apple” unwatchabler Hardly. It’s a kind of mad genius cult film only a man who has a tenuous grip on reality (and English for that matter) could dream up. That manr Israeli-born Menahem Golan, also known as the co-president of 80s-staple schlock production company, Cannon Films.

Golan directs “The Apple” like a man driven to make a statement to the kids of the world. And that statement is: disco rock rules. Cheapy in production value (the futuristic cars are simply station wagons with cardboard and flashlights attached to them) and overall clarity in storytelling, “The Apple” benefits from Golan’s strange taste in what was considered cool back then, as well as his own limited range as a director. Dance numbers show up out of the blue, Golan leaves no musical cliche behind (the lovers share a rain-soaked duet), and his final act, which has Alphie falling in with a group of hippies, is just so odd that only flat-out earnestness could explain it away.

Yeah, that’s it. Earnestness fueled this picture. Or mounds upon mounds of cocaine. You pick.

Since this is a musical, “The Apple” does feature a wide range of tunes to satisfy every taste. Leading off with the Love and Kennedy arena rocker “BIM,” the film eventually works its way through some folk tunes, a Mr. Boogalow reggae number, a subtle R&B song about sex creatively titled “Coming,” and the showstopping hippie finale, “Child of Love.” Like anything produced back in 1980, the music is ferociously dated, but the songs aren’t the worst thing in the movie. I would reserve that honor for a mid-movie reprise of “BIM” where we watch all the city’s denizens (firemen, doctors, patients, and, gulp, nuns too) break out into an awful, but refreshingly glitter-free, dance routine. That’s pretty much where “The Apple” bottoms out.

“The Apple” is a bad film; nobody could argue that. But its poor taste and cloudy judgment in style is endearing, making what is a disaster of filmmaking almost pleasurable to sit through. The finale features God (Joss Acklund) coming down from the heavens driving a Rolls Royce, looking to take his hippies to another planet to start anew. You just can’t buy that kind of madness anymore.

Or maybe you can!

After years in exile, recent midnight screenings of “The Apple” around the country have prompted MGM to finally release the film on DVD. The film is presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, with the only extra feature (what I would’ve paid for a Golan commentary!) being the trailer, which, amazingly, sells the film with frightening accuracy.

Showgirls (available now)

15 years after “The Apple,” director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas decided to embark on a different kind of camp classic. Armed with Hollywood’s attention after their torch song to 80s sex, “Basic Instinct” racked up huge box office numbers across the globe, the duo were handed the keys to make any type of film they desired.

They made “Showgirls.”

Much has been written about this atrocious NC-17 rated nightmare of a film, but less has been said recently how well the film has aged, and how comfortably it has fit into its newfound home as a lesbian beacon and midnight movie staple. Like “The Apple,” “Showgirls” wasn’t made with camp on its mind, making the bizarre and outlandish situations presented in the story much more entertaining in hindsight.

But in 1995, this film was junk, and personally made it on to my worst films of the year list. “Showgirls” climaxes with a gang rape and a murder, which is no way to close a film this ridiculous, and at the time I found it to be a truly repulsive and misguided movie. But time heals all wounds, and soon enough, “Showgirls” evolved from being a for-dirty-old-men-only cinematic pariah to an oh-wait-we’re-supposed-to-have-fun-with-this comedy classic. A kind of newfangled “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but with a lot more nudity, Vegas chic, and Elizabeth Berkley (playing “Nomi,” a determined, street tough, wannabe dancer) having epileptic sex with Kyle MacLachlan in a pool. In terms of sheer ambition to be as outlandish and moody as possible, “Showgirls” is hard to beat.

Much like “The Apple,” “Showgirls” revels in glossy style and neon eloquence. But “Showgirls” had a lot more money to play with, so it should come as no surprise that, while the script is junk and the performances borderline psychotic (again, our friend cocaine raises its ugly head), the visuals are lush and highly detailed, and the production design A-list all the way. It’s impossible to argue that “Showgirls” looks cheap, it was just written that way, making for a schizophrenic experience.

Mercifully, after an initial, lukewarm non-anamorphic DVD release a handful of years ago, MGM has decided to dive back into the Nomi waters and come back with “Showgirls: The V.I.P. Edition,” which is the collector’s set fans have been looking for, but criminally doesn’t offer any input from the creative forces behind the camera. Who wouldn’t want to hear what Elizabeth Berkley has to say about the film (which killed her career before it even had a chance to begin) these daysr Well, in place of that, the new box set includes:

Lap Dance Tutorial
Two women from the “world famous” New York strip club Scores offer the viewer ten steps on how to make lap dancing for your partner even better. Perfect for the bored married couple or the bored college freshman.

Audio Commentary by “Showgirls expert” David Schmader
Schmader went from coast to coast with a print of “Showgirls” doing live commentary for fans of the movie. MGM called him and offered him a slot on the DVD, in place of the real behinds-the-scenes talent. Schmader is an interesting commentator, but he doesn’t quite understand the format, urging the listening audience to “listen” to the film from time to time, and often losing his concentration, leaving interesting topics behind in his fog. This is also one of the first times a major DVD release featured a commentary that basically trashes the film it’s accompanying. Think of this commentary as watching the film with your bestest, gayest neighbor, and that might help the heaping doses of camp that await you.

During Nomi’s initial stripping sequence, a brief video commentary is provided featuring, again, the two Scores dancers.

“Showgirls” Trivia Track
A subtitle track that lists fun facts about the film’s production, Las Vegas, and “Saved By the Bell.”

“Showgirls” Diary
The only real piece of production info on the whole DVD. This feature assembles brief b-roll clips with Paul Verhoeven’s crude storyboards so the viewer can get a better understanding on how much the final film resembled the filmmaker’s vision. I can only assume this feature is meant to take the burden of guilt off MGM’s shoulders.

“Showgirls” Theatrical Trailer
In all honesty, this was one of the best trailers of the 1990s.

Also in the set are various party favors to make your night complete, they include:

“Pin the Pasties on the Showgirl” Game
This is where you can live vicariously through the Kyle MacLachlan character and try to nail Nomi, this time with rubber-suction pasties and a poster of a topless Elizabeth Berkley. Also comes with a blindfold.

“Showgirls” Playing Cards
This provided something to do during the rape sequence of the film.

“Showgirls” Party Games
MGM has provided four photo cards with drinking games printed on the back of each one. A fifth card features warnings against alcoholism.

“Showgirls” Shot Glasses
To help enjoy the filmr You tell me.

Rating: C