'You know that scene underwater. where I'm in the pool in the nude with the dolphins. I kept thinking all the way through “Oh my God. my dad is going to see this!" because I knew he would be really shocked.‘ For 16 year-old Emile Charles. getting in the swim with some very friendly mammals was just one of the challenges presented by his role in The Fruit .llaehine. He and fellow newcomer 'l‘ony Forsth play two Scouse teenagers finding friendship as they run away from home in this zesty new British picture from the pen of Frank (Letter To Brezhnev) Clarke. directed with a sense ofstyle by television veteran Philip Saville.
It‘s a project that displays a laudable amount of atnbition in its attempt to cover a wide ideological area through the portrayal of the young lads' developing relationship. W'ith the trajectory of their flight stretching from deprived Liverpool to affluent Brighton it touches on the nation’s North South divide. doubtless a matter ofsome resonance for the Scottish audience. but for the most part the film‘s blend of urban realism and poetic melodrama gives a thorough and sympathetic examination to the kind of hostile attitudes and atmosphere that face an adolescent going through a period of sexual uncertainty in the Britain ofthe late Eighties.
‘lnnocent. shy. under his mother‘s wing all the time.‘ is how limile describes his character liddie. whom we first see at home with mum and a box ofchocs. thrilling to Marilyn Monroe on the box. Needless to say. his docket father is hostile. lashing out at his son for ‘talking like a sissy and dressing like a nancy."l‘hings are much tougher all round for Michael. played by Tony l"(it's_\'tlt. a tearaway with the threat ofa detention centre hanging over him who is forced to get by as a rent boy. ‘lt‘s just easy money.‘ says the seventeen year-old. ‘l le knows he can get for a few minutes work what it would take him hours to earn on some building site.‘
'I‘emporarily they both find refuge in The Fruit Machine. a gay club presided over by Robbie (‘oltrane (finding the right proportions of camp and butch as the gingham-clad transvestite proprietress Annabelle). The boys accidentally witness her murder by hired killer Bruce Payne (Payne's woolly indifferent slayer probably representing the menace of the AIDS virus). which adds further urgency to their desire for escape. The two head south on the tails of an ageing opera star to the seafront in Brighton where they find a run-down dolphinarium. llere. Eddie in particular identifies with the trapped animals. for as the killer lurks ever closer they symbolise for him the kind of confinement society would impose on him as he attempts to find his own way of life and loving.
In person. Emile (‘harles displays the kind oflikeable naivety that surely contributed to his highly appropriate casting. ‘If you'd ask Eddie about his sexuality. he'd say “what sexuality?” He just thinks
Philip ( Boys/rout the Black Stuff) Saville‘s The Fruit Machine is a brave film. given the current post Clause 28 climate. Trevor Johnston met him and the film’s two young stars. Tony Forsyth and Emile Charles.
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“isn’t that man beautiful!” or “isn't that woman beautiful!" ' Brought up in the shadow of elder brother ('raig's success as a poet and comic. this is his first professional role (‘l’d never even been in the school play before‘). and while his on-screen performance is a model of assurance. during the course of the interview he is frequently interrupted by the bristling self-confidence of his co-star.
Boxing from the age of eleven and acting from fourteen has built upon the sometimes natural arrogance of the adolescent in the case of'l‘ony Forsyth. astonishingly self-possessed as he talks about ‘my career” after
only one movie. ’lt was such a challenging role for me because I'm not like Michael at all. I’m not gay. Pure acting. But l thought it would be good preparation for when I get the big publicity later on. and you begin to see changes as I develop. Because I'm basically here for good.‘ Yet. his denial of identification with homosexuality. a recurrent theme in the conversation. strikes a raw nerve as far as the production and marketing of the film is concerned. Firstly. it is important to note that the relationship between Eddie and Michael is not at all based around sex — the latter even attempts to hide from his innocent friend the facts of
his activities as a tnale prostitute but is rooted in the affection that builds between them as they find themselves reliant on each other through the course of their escape. Writer Frank (‘larke offers us a loving male friendship that doesn‘t conform to the audience's preconceptions about a gay lifestyle. 'l hope that The Fruit Machine does for gays what Brezhnev did for the Russians‘ is his declaration in the Film‘s press notes.
A few pages later however. and we find the film's producer Steve Morrison quoted thus: ‘We felt it was time there was a backlash to the backlash about gay subjects. 'l‘hat. however. is not the reason people will want to see it. They will want to see it because it is about two boys they care about who are pummelled from pillar to post. It shouldn’t be seen as “a gay film" . . . it is a film of innocence. We never see any violence or homosexuality. It‘s a life-enhancing story.‘
Morrison also apparently advocated the inclusion of (‘laire l liggins’ corrupt business woman (who abuses Michael) 'for her strong heterosexual influence'; an impetus which could also help to explain a jarring and gratuitous moment of female full frontal nudity. But it would be wrong to put all this down to outright homophobia. merely the nose for public attitudes of a producer who knows that a film that deals with teenage homosexuality will be difficult to sell to a wide audience in the current climate. Which in turn. rather ironically. illustrates the need for movies like The Fruit .llat‘hine. which. for all its perhaps overwrought symbolism. is admirably honest in its efforts to explore the emotional confusions that everyone faces as they shamble towards maturity.
‘It has a passion that so few British films have.‘ is director Philip Saville‘s final assessment. A weatherbeaten and grizzled-looking (‘anadian with a deep burr of a voice. he could well be Hemingway‘s younger brother. and was chosen to add a certain cinematic finesse to (‘larke's day-glo imagination. His experience in television stretches back to the Sixties. taking in milestones like the cult classic series Gangsters. and the seminal Boys Front The Blaek .S‘tu/falong the way. before moving into movies for the small screen like Those (i/(n‘y (ilory Days and Mantle/a. ‘Fruit Machine works because it is an ongoing story of love and conflict .’ he says. offering his own apposite insight. "l‘wo boys are being chased and trapped by a malevolent exterminator. and under stress they begin to discover how close they are. It's about caring. unexpressed friendship between two young boys. Similar to the kind ofcloseness that often forms between young women at this time. The kind of friendship that will last a lifetime. This is the stuffofcinema.‘
The Fruit Machine opens at the
( ‘annon. .S'auchiehall Street. Glasgow, on Friday. 4 Nov; and is reviewed in full in the Film section this issue.
10'I‘he List 28 ()ct — ll) Nov 1988