Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Obscure Oddities: HOWARD GOLDBERG'S APPLE PIE (1976)

I recently got a Blu-ray player with Wi-Fi capability (welcome to 2009!) and decided to join the land of the streaming Netflixers. Like any good Video Junkie, I decided to make a list of the more obscure titles to check out.  After all, why watch something readily available on VHS or DVD, when you could be watching something like MILLION DOLLAR RIP OFF (1976), a made-for-TV crime movie starring Freddie Prinze, Sr.? One title I stumbled upon was something called HOWARD GOLDBERG’S APPLE PIE.  The plot info on the TV was pretty vague, offering even less than the Netflix website. Something about a gangster relaying the story of how he kidnapped himself to get his father to pay up.  Oh, and the father is played by legendary stand up "tragediest" Brother Theodore.  Okay, NYC, 1970s, gangsters, and Brother Theodore?  I am so there. So, at precisely midnight, I pressed “play” and soon found myself hypnotized by a film that practically defines “cult” filmmaking.

APPLE PIE unfolds in basically three sections.  It opens with gangster Jacques “the Ace” Blinbaum (Tony Azito, sporting an incredibly fake beard) arriving at a hotel with his entourage (that includes future David Letterman regular Calvert DeForest).  They retire to his suite, where DeForest challenges a burly looking gangster to a game of Clue.  This was my first clue that something was not right here.  Anyway, Jacques holds the attention of his group by quoting poet William Cowper and telling them the story of his first con when he was 17-years-old.  We then get a flashback of the still bearded Jacques faking his own kidnapping to get his father (Brother Theodore) to pay a ransom of $250,000.  The plan goes off without a hitch except for dad forgetting to pick up his “kidnapped” son, leaving Jacques to walk home in the dark.  He is greeted at the front door of the mansion by his dad, who says, “The proper way to boil water is to warm it first.”  It gets weirder after this, folks.  End part one.

The next section picks up with Jacques ripping off his beard and wig.  He talks to his friend Richard on the phone for 5 minutes in what appears to be a random stream of consciousness.  He then decides the only recourse is to kill his parents, which entails him putting on a tight fitting black jumpsuit and mask.  He calls a limo to his apartment and goes to the family mansion, but not before spray painting “Cool Karl” on the side of the limo (sharp-eyed viewers will also notice this graffiti was also on a gas station phone booth earlier).  Anyway, he gets to the house and sneaks in to murder his sleeping folks. Just before Jacques is about to pounce, his dad gets up and screams, “Look at the mouse! It tries to be a rat.” The lights then flip on to reveal they are all on stage in the middle of a theater in front of a huge audience that begins laughing at Jacques.  He rushes out of the theater in embarrassment and spends the next 10 minutes wandering NYC locations in his black jumpsuit.  This sequence ends with him meeting some futuristic dressed folks on a rooftop.  They claim to be artists and, after Jacques claims to be one too, one woman shows him she can make her face disappear. Jacques then steps away and disappears in a flash.  End part two.

The film’s final section has Jacques cruising along some country back roads in his red Porsche.  At a stoplight a girls pulls up next to him and she has “if you can beat me, you can eat me” written on the side of her car.  They race, but we never know who the winner is.  The next scene has the duo dressed all fancy as they head to an equally fancy restaurant to eat.  As their dinner progresses, they begin splattering food all over each other. Well, except for the beans because, as Jacques tells the waiter, “These beans clash. They are unfit to stain my clothing.”  Following their hands on dinner, Jacques and his new conquest head out onto the street and pass some black kids rhythmically banging on a white station wagon.  This causes Jacques to start busting a move and soon everyone (including a priest and some hookers) walking by is doing a pre-FAME (1980), 15 minute choreographed dance in the streets (to a jam written by Daryl Hall and John Oates, according to the end credits).  Okay, who slipped something in my eggnog?  End part three and so culminates the “home-baked” film debut of Howard Goldberg.

True confession – I don’t do drugs.  But I certainly felt like I was on them last night while watching this movie.  Where the hell did this slice of APPLE PIE come from?  Did I die in my sleep and this is my death dream?  And why is it not on cult films lists?  From the opening minutes, you could tell something is a bit off on the film and it just became more and more bizarre over its short 76 minute running time.  It says something about how strange this film is when I can say Brother Theodore gives one of the more restrained performances.  As it became weirder and weirder, I became more mesmerized by the film.  A lot of the success rests on the shoulders of lead Tony Azito.  Azito – who sounds exactly like Sascha Baron Cohen and was a Broadway dancer and performer – is a lanky and rubbery man who is onscreen in nearly every shot.  I sense a lot of the performance was improvised by him and he certainly has a knack for the outlandish, but funny.  Sadly, he passed away in the mid-90s.

One of the initial reasons I even jumped on this was to see some 70s era New York City location shots and this definitely delivers.  You gets plenty of locations and even a nighttime jaunt to 42nd Street (some films playing include THE CHINSE GODFATHER, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY).  If you dig that kind of retro stuff, this is definitely worth seeing as director Howard Goldberg effectively captures a lot of the city.  If I had to guess, I’d say Goldberg got the money from his folks to make this flick (one scene has Brother Theodore reading a Goldberg Realtors sign over and over). Anyway, I’m not sure mom and dad were pleased that their son ended up emulating Robert Downey, Sr. more than Martin Scorsese.  But the folks should be proud as the end result is one of the most unique films I’ve seen all year. (Itself probably the end result of lots of drugs or creativity, I’m not sure which.)  Goldberg is an artist after all (according to his IMDb bio, written by…Howard Goldberg!) and he has definitely created a one-of-a-kind movie.  He has only directed one other film (EDEN [1996]) and his only other film credit is co-writing Tobe Hooper’s SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION (1990).  Yes, the man has truly lived.  

Here’s a snippet of the end dance number that some kind soul uploaded to Youtube:

1 Reactions:

All comments are moderated because... you know, the internet.