“The Apple, 1980”

“Come do anything to me your little heart desires!”

The Apple, 1980 (Catherine Mary Stewart), Cannon

Wow. Just … wow. I don’t know where to go into this except to start off with complete ’80s overload; v-necks and shoulder pads goose-stepping in interesting formations. There ain’t no pleasure, there ain’t no pain. Uniformed space cadets straight from the Ace Frehley/Patti LaBelle Academy dance and wreak havoc on outsized stages, singing “Hey, hey, hey!” to cheering crowds. This is the latest thing! I have to believe it because it scored 150 heartbeats, which must be some kind of currency, but I don’t think I’ll ever be sure. I wonder if this is a structured society or simple commentary on our collective lust for trends. I might be reading too much into it. After this space orgy ends, next is a simple couple (Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour) and an acoustic guitar (with orchestral backing) singing a song of love that earns jeers and boos from the crowd. They don’t like The Brady Bunch. Love is a universal melody and we belong to each other, but fuck ’em – there’s no money in love! Pay attention to the lyrics. The audience starts to like what they’re hearing and the heartbeats go up! Couple of kids from Moosejaw. Who would have though it? 151 heartbeats! The producers sabotage the simple couple from Moosejaw and their heartbeats go down. They leave the stage because they think the crowd is booing them off.

Frustrated with their lack of options, the simple couple seek out an influential sage who will guide them to success. It’s interesting to me they wear regular clothing, jeans and jackets, while everybody else is decked out in lunatic-duds. The forces of evil, a mega-conglomerate known as the “BIM,” set about corrupting the duo with pills and sexual propositions. In the middle of all of this is a musical with some actually decent songs that propel the narrative. Of course it isn’t a particularly original narrative (somewhere between The Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment) but it is visually striking. This is a New Wave musical as if directed by Fellini. It’s Ziggy Stardust meets Amarcord. The music scene as visualized for the year 1994 in The Apple was off by 20 years. 1994 in music was a hodgepodge of folk, emo, grunge, and darkwave, diminutive yet theatrical with a newfound respect for the British explosion and less focused on fashion and choreography. Catherine Mary Stewart is essentially the Jessica Harper of this enterprise. Harper (in The Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment) is the innocent girl thrust into the spotlight and corrupted by “creative” excess, though Catherine appears stronger than Harper.

The forces of evil (aka “BIM”), of course, offer the duo a recording contract and a trip to the west coast. They deck Stewart in a glittering dress and leave Gilmour almost naked. They offer Stewart the “apple.” An actual, really big, apple, and we can see the Biblical connotation unraveling. Is it requisite that she bites into the apple and accepts the evil? I’m guessing. I hope I’m right, because then the movie will satisfy my demand for literalism. What I don’t understand is the song that accompanies the action of biting into the apple. The lyrics, which reference vampires and demons, seem to suggest this is an extremely dangerous choice to make. Is it really that bad for Catherine and George? The Roger Daltrey/Robert Plant-like singer who seduces Catherine compels her to “take the apple and take a bite.” George is disgusted. He walks out and refuses to sign any contracts. With the “BIM” label brandished on her forehead (a glittering triangle with rounded edges), Catherine begins her recording career. They give her Vulcan eyebrows and drape her with dead animal skins. Wait a minute, Catherine! What happened to love being the universal melody and us belonging to each other? What the fuck is your problem? Only Menahem Golan can answer that question.

When she gets up on stage, singing about America (and it’s correlating dependency on drugs) in a strange perversion of Neil Diamond, she just looks like the rest of those fools. She’s lost her individuality and her love for love! She’s a tool. Meanwhile, “BIM” has acquired such power that anybody not wearing their signature label is given a ticket and fined. I don’t get it. Is this what would happen should the Music Industry gain true power? Is this supposed to be the Illuminati with their bizarre hand signs and lizard eyes? It seems everyone else is living in squallor while the elite dance with happy, programmed feet sipping champagne out of weird glasses in ivory towers. This is actually a good movie! So much of what we see has been replicated in recent movies and television shows. George struggles with his career. He misses Catherine. Well, who wouldn’t? In the torrents of her success, he tries to reach her but is beaten by BIM goons for his trouble. In a bit of Xanadu-inspired musical madness, they sing to each other from different locations: she in a luxurious penthouse, and he in the gutter, and we know by the end of the movie, these crazy kids will make it work. Menahem Golan (and his cousin Yoram Globus) had been unfairly characterized as low-budget schlockmeisters with the Cannon Group, but The Apple is quite staggering as a piece of modern art. The Apple is a fun (if bizarre) cinematic statement, and is worth it just for Grace Kennedy’s erotically-charged over-the-top show-stopper, “Coming.” Yowza!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

 

“Metropolis, 1984”

“Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.”

Metropolis, 1984 (Brigitte Helm), Cinecom

We start with an explanation of why Giorgio Moroder did what he did; that is to take a print of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and then to add previously missing footage and photographs, affix his newly-produced musical score, and then release the result. A montage of dangerous-looking machinery turning joined with text describing the pleasures and privilege of the “chosen sons” in the elevated city of Metropolis begins the movie. We are shown that the benefits of these few are the result of the back-breaking labors of the masses – the working class. A frustrated man in pleated breeches, Freder, spots a strange woman with dirty children, who apparently took the wrong elevator with an unruly mass of dirty children. She exits as quickly as she came, but Freder can’t stop thinking about her.

Next, we see the massive factory and the slave workers choregraphed to a specific rhythm. It’s at this point that we see parallels to art direction and production design in movies from the ’80s to the early ’90s. Blade Runner immediately comes to mind, as well as Ridley Scott’s bizarre and jaw-dropping commercials for Apple. Freder asks his father why they must treat their workers so badly. His father has no answer. Perhaps it’s easier to simply reap the rewards rather than give care or consideration to those who die to construct this fantasy of superiority. I think if the workers were not made to be so passive through fear, they would have revolted years before. The movie works as a plea for constructive socialism in that regard, but therein lies the inconsistency.

A Jew converted to Roman Catholicism by his mother, Fritz Lang fled Nazi-ruled Germany for Paris shortly after meeting with Joseph Goebbels, who suggested Lang to head the UFA, despite the ban of his film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Hitler and Goebbels, being film enthusiasts, respected Lang immensely*. As Lang’s Judaism was hidden at the time, they would surely have been embarrassed by that revelation. Yet Lang explicitly preaches the tenets of modern Socialism, at least our perception of Socialism in the words of Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Marx considered Capitalism to be the enemy of Socialism to such a degree that he also wrote (somewhat flippantly), “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”

Freder rebels against his father after witnessing firsthand the cruelty of his father’s indifference to the plight of the workers after a fierce explosion kills several of them. Meanwhile Freder’s father approaches inventor (and early rival) Professor Rotwang (resembling a slightly bent-out-of-shape Rip Torn) with a series of old maps found among a dead worker’s possessions. Rotwang abducts Freder’s mystery woman and makes an android version of her, in an effort to discredit her with the workers she herself incites to rebellion with Freder. When Freder sees his father with this android version of his dream girl, he flips out, figuratively (but with visual flair) descending into his own personal Hell. He takes to the bed while Rotwang shows off his new creation to all the muckety-mucks with a surprisingly erotic, pre-Code interpretive dance.

Brigitte Helm’s android provides us with a delicious sneer and a winking eye on her face to indicate that she is not human. She incites brawls among the workers, as the leaders and organizers have realized the best way to destroy any notion of dissent through community is to make the workers fight each other rather than the establishment. I see parallels in modern politics and sociology occurring even now. She encourages the workers to destroy the power station, which will cause their own homes to be flooded. In the end, all that remains are desperate, hungry faces, and destroyed machinery and the workers decide that Brigitte Helm is the cause of their misery so they decide to burn her at the stake. The flames burn away at her flesh-like draping, revealing the robot beneath.

Underneath a startling examination of the human condition, Fritz Lang has constructed the definitive science fiction experience. Revelatory and exciting (as with Lang’s M made four years later), Metropolis is less an expressionist piece, and more emotional because of his reliance on character motivation rather than the static interpretation of films produced at the time. The movie is less concerned with progress than it is with entropy and the breakdown of society. Several versions of Metropolis had floated around for years after Moroder’s 1984 release, with runnings times varying from the accepted 83 minute running time to over 2 hours. Moroder, often credited with popularizing disco music in the States, suffuses his Metropolis with songs from popular artists of the time, ranging from Billy Squier and Freddie Mercury, to Pat Benatar and Adam Ant.

Critics savaged this version of Metropolis at the time of it’s release. It was even nominated for two Razzie Awards, Worst Original Song and Worst Musical Score. As this was the only version of the film I had been exposed to (also heavily promoted on MTV), I accepted it as the definitive version. Moroder’s intention was to contemporize the film and the subject matter for young audiences with the use of popular music, and he succeeds. Critics then (and now) never seem to place films in the context of when they were made, and only review them favorably if they are viewed as some subjective definition of the word, “timeless.” Though I doubt filmmakers would ever admit to it, and based on many music video produced, such as C+C Music Factory’s “Here We Go (Let’s Rock & Roll)” and Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis was enormously influential.

*Conflicting reports state Hitler and Goebbels were aware of Lang’s Jewish background, and were prepared to make him an “honorary Aryan” because of their admiration for his work, and Metropolis in particular. The film could be seen as a rallying cry for desperate, impoverished Germans after the end of the first World War. Lang’s wife at the time, Thea von Harbou (Metropolis’ screenwriter) was alleged to have been an early supporter of the Nazi Party.

Thanks to Geno Cuddy for supplying the source copy of Metropolis for this review.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “American Pop”, 1981

cable-box-001-2696“A stripper gettin’ dressed ain’t beautiful unless she’s ugly to begin with.”

american-pop-movie-poster-1981-1020203245

“American Pop”, 1981 (Ron Thompson), Columbia Pictures

“American Pop” is a song with a simple rhyme; the condensed history of recorded music from big-band to punk, where the journey begins over a hundred years ago with Russian émigrés traveling to the United States to escape Cossack persecution. The descendants of an extended family fight in wars and face episodes of tragedy while trying to realize their musical aspirations. The story settles with young Tony, a Long Island punk who writes songs by night, washes dishes by day, all the while fighting an increasing dependency on heroin.

Tony reunites with his long-lost son, Pete, who also shares an interest in music. Together they deal drugs to high-profile musicians. Tony’s addictions grow worse and he sells his musical instruments in order to pay for more drugs. He abandons Pete after taking all their money. Pete, obviously learning from his family’s missteps in life in pursuit of their own musical dreams, is hired on-the-spot by a musical group whom are stunned by his talent.

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This was the nadir of adult animated features, and because of rights issues with the music used in the soundtrack, a forthcoming video release was blocked until 1995. The same problems arose with a pending video release for “Heavy Metal”, another cult favorite. Animated adult movies are not produced anymore. The market is now consistently geared for children.

“American Pop” is an incredible movie to behold; predating “A Scanner Darkly” by 25 years, this mixed media marvel uses rotoscoping to create realistic movements in astonishing dance and music sequences (which recall classic Disney), and the result is tremendously rewarding. Ralph Bakshi, most notably, directed the first X-rated cartoon, “Fritz The Cat”, as well as a popular adaptation of “Lord Of The Rings”, and later, “Cool World”. “American Pop” serves to remind the audience that talent and dreams are not enough to succeed in this increasingly cold world. Sometimes all we need is a little luck.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.