A first foray into filmmaking. As a stage writer I am concerned with dialogue and language. I set myself a challenge to tell a story with no dialogue. It is an axiom of my screenwriting teaching that the narrative be conveyed visually. Apeth is very narrative heavy – there isn’t very much conflict, the characters were not reliant on dialogue as a tool for advancing their agenda. Back to the silent cinema…
I took my cue, not for the first time or the last, from visual art. One stage direction in Fat Souls is inspired by a painting previously attributed to Bosch, the Christ Crowned With Thorns. I wrote an entire play – Reformation – based on the art of Cranach the Elder. Apeth was inspired by an El Greco, the fascinating An Allegory (Fábula). It shows a young man lighting a candle in the company of an ape and a fool. The painting is probably a satire on lust, as is Apeth. I named the protagonist Sven, Swedish for Young Man; his pick-up Pierrot, for fool. The ape, the third member of their threesome, remains an ape. The screenplay was a conscious move towards surrealism. Buñuel was always one of my key film directors.
Apeth continues some deliberations around the fetishization of underclass youth by middle-class gay men. I’d looked at this in an unproduced play, whatever. There’s something in there about the rejection not only of art but of the responsibility of sharing the experience of art. Sven follows his baser lusts. Watch what happens with the El Greco catalogue. The art is, of course, spiritual in content.
I teamed with an experienced producer, Andy Kelleher. We made the film for his company White Dolphin Films. We shot over three days, at my flat, at a friend’s, and some guerrilla footage grabbed outside London zoo. We found a brilliant artist, Dorinda Sweales, who created our primate. Tom Hayes, my long-term acting collaborator, spent hours getting under the make-up. It was also a chance to work with Stephen Billington, who was well-known from Coronation Street but has always taken chances in his choice of scripts.
It was a great learning experience. I was fascinated by telling the story through shots. I gave myself the license to play around. I’m particularly pleased with the shot from under the CD player drawer. The film got screened at quite a few festivals. People asked me about the title. ‘Daft ‘apeth’ is an old Northern phrase for a fool. It doubly suited my purpose, as it also could be a little ape. When they showed the film in Brazil, they translated it as Gorilices.
An affluent gay man arranges a threesome with a young chav from the local council estate and an ape from London Zoo. The chav has to wrest his freedom from his mother to get there. The ape has to escape from the zoo.
Production Company: White Dolphin Films
Director: James Martin Charlton
Producer: Andy Kelleher
Executive/Co-Producer: James Martin Charlton
Editor: Laura Talfinger
Screenwriter: James Martin Charlton
Director of Photography: Mark Lewis
Sound: Warren Spencer
Music: John Hyde
Cast: Stephen Billington (Sven), Pietro Herrera (Pierrot), Tom Hayes (Ape), Caroline Burns Cooke (Pierrot's Mother)
Running Time: 8 mins
Format: Mini DV
Premier: Cannes Short Film Corner, 2007
Apeth on YouTube:
“I saw this on a late-night double bill with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and think it fair to say it crammed more madness into 10 minutes than Baby Jane managed in two hours. If I had to sum up my feelings in a word it would be bamboozlement. Although I think I can say its subject matter (rich bloke meets up with working class bloke for sex, and they decide to invite an ape round to make it a threesome) is unique in modern cinema, its tone reminded me of late Pasolini in its mixture of high seriousness and humour. Plus, like Pigsty, even with a gun aimed at my head I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly what point was being made. Is it something to do with class, exploitation, the transfiguring power of art or the terrible living conditions of ape sex workers? Well, I haven't a clue but it was certainly fun not finding out.” – IMDb user review