Sunday, May 24, 2015

You know you want....The Apple

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all. The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least. Remember - ART IS ART!

Some films are, sadly, simply before their time.  One film that comes to mind is Shock Treatment. However, another film that was simply ahead of it's time is the brilliant Menahem Golan film - The Apple.  Set in the year 1994, the film revolves around the trials, tribulations and temptations of a duo from  Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), competing in a a Eurovision type singing competition called Worldvision.  We see quite early in the film that  BIM (Boogalow International Music) head Mr. Boogalow  (Vladek Sheybal) is willing to be less than fair to make sure his duo Dandi and Pandi win the competition.

Although Alphi and Bibi did not win the competition, Mr. Boogalow still has big plans for them... or at least for Bibi. It is at this point in the film, where the story goes from standard rock opera to Judeo-Christian allegory.  However, the thematic turn the film takes is far from subtle and, I suspect, played some part in it's initial critical pillory. However, when I look back on films from the late 70s and early 80s, subtlety is certainly not something they are known for.

Many of the competitors arrive at the home of Mr. Boogalow where they are essentially forced to wear "BIM marks" and as the picture goes on, other visual cues begin to provide a more sinister impression of Mr. Boogalow and his "BIM Family".  In time we are presented with a scene that takes place in Hell where Mr. Boogalow and his assistant Mr. Shake (brilliantly performed by Ray Shell) present Bibi with "The Apple" and encourage her to take it and eat it.

Eventually, Bibi's desire for fame is stronger than Alphie's ability to warn her about the path she is going down.  The duo split and go their separate ways to live their specific Hell.  At this point the film has a number called "Cry for Me" that, in fact, is very moving.  It's a strong song and sold by Catherine Mary Stewart and George Gilmour.  I believe if you have ever been separated from someone either by choice or chance the song and that segment of the film will affect you.

The religious symbolism continues until the end of the film.  Watch for the wonderful Joss Ackland as the Hippie leader Mr. Topps to bring the film to its ultimate Biblical conclusion.

As I've mentioned, the film is about as subtle as a gold brick to the back of the head.  Nevertheless, I find myself enthralled with this film.  I believe as cautionary tales go it is sound, although, I believe I perceived some possible homophobia in some of the parts of the film, mostly in background characters and some of the visual points the film was trying to make.  But, I give the film kudos for predicting the future must the same way Shock Treatment did.  Although, the film misses the mark regarding what technology and fashion would be like only 14 years later - it certainly felt to me as if it was spot on regarding the desire for fame for fame's sake.

Although the Eurovision singing completion has been a staple since 1956, I also see the rise of such time wasters as American Idol and The Voice in this film.  A world controlled by essentially a single media conglomerate deciding what is art, what you'll listen to and what you'll watch.  I believe the 1994 of The Apple is similar to the 2015 of today in that you have 500 channels to watch, with 492 of them controlled by the same three media firms.  How is that choice? And why have we let it come to that?

 If you read about this film on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes you'll find very few kind words about the sound track.  However, I found, with the exception of the first two numbers, most of the film's music is not bad.  I have found myself humming 3 or 4 of the songs when I'm driving or just at work.  The piece I mentioned earlier, "Cry for Me" is good as are "Showbizness" – Vladek Sheybal & Ray Shell and "How to Be a Master" – Vladek Sheybal, Grace Kennedy, Allan Love & Ray Shell.

The film is available currently on NetFlix and Amazon Prime.  I'd encourage you to check it out with a fun and open mind and I think you'll discover a lost nugget that deserves some praise.

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Defense of Bad Movies.....Defined

After some comments and emails I've received, I feel it might behoove me to explain definitively the title of my blog, as well as define the type of films I "defend".

As I've mentioned for some time in my disclaimer, the title of the blog came from a conversation that took place some years ago at the University of Redlands.  I worked with two individuals who seemed, for the most part, incapable of understanding my love and enjoyment of genre films.  It was they, in fact, who labeled the films I would discuss with them as "bad".

One Friday afternoon as we were attempting to ensure we broke nothing before the start of the weekend, the topic came up and I was once again trying to lay out the very argument I will provide later in this essay.  I opened with the line " defense of bad movies.." when one of them stopped me and said - "There, that should be the name of your blog."

It seemed like a good idea then, and given my feelings today, I still feel like it was a good idea.  But, I should point out - there is not a film I've written about yet on my blog that I believe to be a bad.... genuinely.  Each film I've written about I believe has a quintessential element that allows me to define the film as "good" rather than "bad".

Let me explain.

I tend to write about films from 1950 through 2000.  There have been some exceptions when I find a film that I feel has qualities similar to films from that time period (Jim Wynorski and Bill Dever's Gila! is one of those films).  I choose that period because I find that four decade period "bookends" both the rise and fall of the drive-in and the rise and decline of the "Mom and Pop video store" and the rise of digital film making.  All of those elements are important in how I perceive a film.  My thinking goes like this.

Today, if you really want to make a "film", you can grab your digital camera and a couple of friends and very likely knock something out that has a certain polished look.  You can do it for very little money and perhaps even less effort.  Are each of those efforts bad?  No.  Are each good?  No.  But, I think if you listen to the new director's commentary featuring Fred Olen Ray and moderated by David DeCoteau on the Blu-Ray release of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers you'll get a better understanding of what some of the greatest film makers working today had to go through to make art just thirty years ago.

You needed a crew, lights, a 16 or 35 millimeter camera.  For 35 mm your were going to need to rent a Panavision camera.  Then you had lab costs, color correction.  And you certainly weren't going to edit the film on your PC.  My point is - no matter how "bad" a film by Andy Milligan may seem, a great deal more effort went into making that film and distributing it than need go into films today.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad David DeCoteau, Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski have these digital tools at their disposal now.  But, I'm also inclined to give them a pass these days because they had to make films the hard way. So did George Romero, John Carpenter, Charles Band, Dan O'Bannon, H.G. Lewis...Hell, the list goes on.  So, I'm sure there are new films shot on digital that are good- I do watch them from time to time.  But, my blog is really meant to show some love and respect to film makers that blowhards like Roger Ebert denigrated for years.

Sure, some of the films I defend aren't good in the conventional sense.  But, in the world of lower budget film making some very talented people were working against the clock.  A low budget meant there wasn't always time for that last polish of the screenplay, extra work on a set, or getting that makeup effect down perfectly.  But, a film like Transformers 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, or the God-awful Indiana Jones film from a decade ago have no excuses.  They had huge studios with pockets full of cash.  None of those films should have sucked...and they did.  Those film makers cared less about their audience than the genre directors.  Michael Bay laughs all the way to the bank - where Tobe Hooper was trying to make a great film.

I'm pretty certain if you had given Andy Milligan a budget like Michael Bay had for Transformers, or hell, even for a film like The Sixth Sense, his work would have more respect today.

So, please remember - I didn't call my blog In Defense of  Bad Movies because I think Lust in the Dust or Barracuda are bad films.  Quite the contrary.  I think some amazing people busted their asses to make the best film they could with the resources they had - and that should be celebrated not sneered at.

Art is Art!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Rewritten Ode to.....Kristine DeBell

I'd like to apologize briefly for the lack of updates.  I'm happily employed and very thankful for that, however, like everyone else, I find work, on occasion, leaves little time for other things - like writing. But, I appreciate the positive emails and the messages wondering about new articles.

This is the second article I've written about the actress Kristine DeBell.  The first is now long gone, not even captured by the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.  Some of you might recall a period roughly a year and a half ago when this blog went dark. Not only did I stop writing new articles, I removed all the essays I had previously written.  Some of the articles I had copies of and I have re-posted them.  Some are gone, never to be retrieved.

I knew almost the instant they were gone I would regret it.  However, I was trying to make people happy who were, I can only speculate, letting their own insecurities blind them...and then blind me. There are things worth getting offended by, but, I don't think writing about unappreciated films, writers and actors is one of those things - no matter the genre.

That said - I'd like to to this opportunity to write (once again) about one of cinema's most under under-appreciated actresses - Kristine Debell.

Growing up, I was a very lucky kid.  My dad loved going to the drive-in and so, thankfully, I saw some films that other kids my age didn't get to see...or probably shouldn't have seen.  I won't mention the first film I saw Ms. DeBell star in because it doesn't need to be mentioned. However, her beauty and purity made the film somehow believable and, I was smitten from this first moment.

It might be hard to understand for younger readers, but, in the days before social media, keeping up with a specific genre actor or actress was not entirely easy.  There was no Twitter or Facebook, no Instagram or Pinterest.  If the actress you truly appreciated flew under the radar, finding out about upcoming film roles and getting news about them personally could be a daunting task, if not essentially impossible.  It was my father's yearly purchase of Leonard Maltin's book that allowed me to seek out and watch other films starring Kristine DeBell.

I saved my money to watch (and re-watch) Meatballs and wondered, as I sat there, how Kristine was not the star of the film.  I stumbled upon Battle Creek Brawl, and even her small role in The Main Event.  Each week I'd scour the TV Guide for films featuring her, making sure, in those pre-VHS set the VCR to record days, that I set my alarm clock to get up and watch the film.

As the age of the Internet gave way to sites like IMDB and newsgroups, I began to trade for tapes of films she starred in but I was unable to find at any of the video stores in the Inland Empire.  And although access to some of the more obscure films increased, it appeared Ms. DeBell had left acting. Thankfully, technology did make DVDs of some films I was still lacking available...and they are treasured disks in my collection.

I remember asking for any updated information about her on a couple of the newsgroups and was only ever met with the replies that were asking the same thing.  In my head she was teaching college somewhere - English or Math - with her students unaware of who their brilliant professor was or perhaps she was running a business - now far too busy closing deals to worry about acting.

Then one day, a new picture of her showed up on IMDB.  I was completely overjoyed because it was a recent picture and she appeared to be the same beautiful, bright-eyed spirit she had been in my youth.  After that I began to check the page regularly looking for new roles....and they came - shorts and cameos.  And then thanks to one of my favorite people and directors, David DeCouteau, feature length films.

It brings no end of joy to me that I can now go to Netflix and Hulu and find films starring Kristine DeBell - She was then and is now, a monumental talent. And I know her best work is still in front of her.  The Oscars and Emmys are still in her future.  I'm convinced of that.

I've always wanted to meet Ms. DeBell and thought I was going to have a chance last year at a Dark Delicacies event, however, as is too often the case these days, work called and instead of a quick drive to Burbank it was a quick drive to campus to resolve a problem.

Nevertheless, some day I hope to meet her and shake her hand.  As the first star I was ever truly enamored with, she will always hold a special place for me. The 70s and 80s were great because Kristine DeBell was making films....and the world is an even better place now that she is once again

Kristine DeBell's IMDB Page

Be sure to follow Kristine DeBell on Twitter  - @KristineDeBell

And also check out her Official Facebook Fan Page at