Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Return Trip to Turtle Island

What are you LOOKING at?

Your muscles.

What about them? You're really acting silly lately, Em. Always saying DUMB things like that. Always LOOKING at me funny! You're not coming down with something, are you? Don't give it to me.

I am convinced, that every decade, there is a celebrity who acts as the nexus between many gay boys and young men and their sexuality. During the eighties, when I first became a teenager, that celebrity was Christopher Atkins. When I wrote about The Blue Lagoon's anniversary a few years ago, a piece I was proud garnered a 'great blog' message from director Randal Kleiser. (Happy Anniversary) I wrote about how Atkins brought me out of the closet, even though I didn't know it at the time. I was too young to see the film when it first hit the theatres, my introduction to Atkins came a few years later, in the form an image, the People Magazine cover above.

I remember first seeing the issue in a pile of old magazines in my neighbours basement that I was getting paid to help clean. I was hypnotised by the image, and kept looking for moments to take a peak. I so wanted to steal it, but was nervous, and an opportunity never arose. I remember making up an excuse to go down into the basement a few weeks later, plan set to find the issue, but that pile of magazines was gone, most likely thrown out in the clean up. Months later however, I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy at the bottom of a pile of magazine in my dentist's waiting room.

I was getting braces at the time, and knew that waiting room inside and out. I stuck the magazine between two chairs to hide while I went in for my fittings. All through the appointment, I kept worrying the magazine would not be there when I was done. I was scared and nervous, but managed to complete my plan, and quickly grabbed it as I headed out the door. It wasn't just any magazine, it was a magazine with a cover that revealed a secret I wasn't yet fully aware I was hiding.

I eventually saw The Blue Lagoon on VHS, with countless rewinds and pauses. I even got to see it the theatre (two nights in a row) in a nostalgia weekend when it played in a double feature with Grease, also directed by Randal Kleiser. Kleiser directed some of the most popular films of the 70's and 80's including, Summer Lovers, Big Top Pee Wee, White Fang and Flight of the Navigator. Kleiser's films may not have won him awards, but the writer and director was responsible for a collection of movies that had an impact on almost everyone growing up in the 80's. He is also responsible for introducing us to Christopher Atkins.

Kleiser & Shields

Instead of posting a slew of naked Atkins shots, (there are many on FH) I went on a search for some behind the scene images of the filming on Turtle Island in Fiji. I was looking for info about how Atkins's was cast, and info about the production and the nudity. It is both fascinating and more than a little erotic, to think of a hot 18 year old, cast in his first film, quickly whisked off to Fiji to spend months on a beautiful island. Of course much of this time he was expected to be naked, surrounded by crew members and his openly gay director. Atkins didn't seen to bat an eye.

His nude scenes, almost tame at the time, are most likely too explicit for today's movie going audiences. Although Atkins was 18, his co-star Brooke Shields was just 14, which I am sure would cause more of an outrage today. Although boyish, Aikins seemed both innocent and  at the same time wise beyond his year.. He seemed to have full knowledge of the impact he was having on both the women and men who adored him. He welcomed it, which only added to his appeal.

Casting Richard:

'Christopher Atkins was a high school senior with no acting experience when he landed the role as the shipwrecked teenage heartthrob Richard in The Blue Lagoon.' The 1980's classic turned him into an overnight star. 'I didn’t know anything about movies, and I was just one of these kids in this huge, huge long line,' Atkins says about his 'Blue Lagoon' audition. After landing the part opposite a young Brooke Shields, he says the cast was swept off to film in Fiji.'

'That was not like making a movie that was like a life experience. There's never been anything else like that in my life. I was teaching sailing in Rye, New York. One of the mothers took pictures of me and sent them in to Ford Models. Before I knew it, I was modeling with Ford. At Ford, they heard about the open call for Blue Lagoon, and I was one of 4000 people to audition for that movie. For whatever reason, they kept calling me back. Then I didn't hear from them for three months and I ended up getting a Gloria Vanderbilt jean commercial.

I never in a million years expected that my life was going to go down that road–I wanted to play pro baseball. Finally, I got a call from Columbia Pictures, and they said, can you come in and bring a blond curly wig? I thought, 'Where am I going to find a blond curly wig?' My mom happened to have something. The next day they called me in and said I had the part. Two days later, I was flown to L.A. and met with hair and makeup people, and they were testing tanning lotions on us and curling my hair. And few days later, I was on a plane to Fiji. Then I was on a deserted island for four and a half months–with Brooke Shields. I'm known for chasing Brooke down the beach in a diaper'


'Atkins says they spent the first two weeks living on a boat and getting into character. 'I was 18 and Brooke Shields was 14, and the director wanted us to be attracted to each other, Randal stuck a picture of her over my bunk on the boat when I was first there so I could start becoming attracted to her. He said it will come out in your eyes, it will come out in real time on film. Brooke and I had a little bit of a romantic, innocent sort of romance in the very beginning of the film.'

'Because the chemistry between the two leads was vital to the success of The Blue Lagoon, Kleiser (who also directed Grease) came up with the idea to get star Christopher Atkins feeling a little lovestruck with Shields by putting a picture of the young starlet over Atkins’ bed. Staring at Shields every night apparently did rouse some feelings in Atkins; the duo had a brief romance while filming. heir affection didn’t last for long. Despite their early attachment, Shields and Atkins soon began bickering nonstop. “Brooke got tired of me,” Atkins told People in 1980. “She thought I took acting too seriously. I was always trying to get into a mood while she would be skipping off to joke with the crew.” Still, Kleiser even capitalized on that, using the tension to fuel the more frustrated scenes, lensing the tough stuff while his leads were tussling.'

'Teri Shields was also anxious for the two to hit it off. For the first few nights of filming she suggested that Chris move from his beachfront tent to the extra cot in the Shields bungalow. 'I invited him to stay,; explains Teri, ;because I thought they should get to know each other.' Recalls Chris, 'I kissed them each goodnight before I got into my own bed.' During the first week, Teri says, 'they were in love—all goo-goo. I think they brainwashed themselves.'

'We were so built up for one another',observes Brooke, 'by the time we met I was too embarrassed to say, ‘So you’re the one I’ve heard so much about—stand there, I want to stare at you.’ Chris was equally intimidated. 'She was one of the most beautiful girls I’d ever seen,' he raves. Kleiser broke the ice by taking them around the island. 'Brooke would turn around and ask me questions,; Chris remembers, 'and suddenly we were talking like friends.'

The Nude Scenes:

'The setting in the movie with two young people running around naked. It just hit everybody's fantasy in a big way. It is literally a timeless story.'

'It was Kleiser’s original concept to have the two grown characters play the entire film in the nude, which scared off many actresses including Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was the first choice for the female lead. Kelly Preston, Linda Blair, Jodie Foster, Tatum O’Neal, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daryl Hannah and Rosanna Arquette also auditioned for the role of Emmeline with reservations to go nude. Finally, the desperate director agreed to let actress, Brooke Shields act in the film predominantly clothed, with a body double employed for the nude scenes. Shields was 14 years old at the time of filming and later testified before a US Congressional inquiry that older body doubles were used in some of her nude scenes. Also throughout the film, her chest was always covered in frontal shots by her long hair or in other ways.'

'For the male lead actor, once Matt Dillon turned down the role of Richard, the casting director returned to the thousands of audition tapes made over the course of a year, and decided that 18-year-old Christopher Atkins would be alright if he permed his hair to look more savage. Actors Sean Penn, Christopher Reeve, John Belushi and John Travolta were among those considered for this role.'

'The Nudity didn't bother me,' Christopher said. 'You only go around once in this life so you do it all. There's nothing really wrong or immoral about the nudity. 'There's a difference between nudity and sex. The human body, unfortunately, makes some people self-conscious. It was no big deal for me to adjust to my nude scenes in 'Blue Lagoon' or running around in a loin cloth.'

'Obviously they broke it to me ahead of time that I was going to be naked... a lot. Randal was really nervous about that. But I understood. I knew it wasn’t gratuitous nudity, it wasn’t gratuitous sex. It was a major aspect to the film. He was capturing the nature of the story, two kids on this island, they obviously wouldn’t be wearing any clothes. I’m from Rye, NY not from where the hippies are, but you know, I was fine with it. The whole experience ended up being so much fun.'

'I was waking up every single day in a tent. I was with Brooke, the director, the DP. All the crew lived in a tent city. Every day, I was waking up in a tent walking down the beach without any clothes on, washing up in the salt water and heading over to breakfast. We weren't in a hotel — we were living the movie. Coming home was tough, though.'

I'm a fortunate person in that I have a tremendous gay fan base — and straight fan base. You put them together and that's a big deal. Somebody asked me once, do you know why? And I said, 'No.' They told me, 'When your movie came out, back in the early 80s, it was a huge coming out time for the gay movement. People were starting to come out and be proud.' Blue Lagoon came out with male nudity, and you became the poster child to gay movement. I thought it was fascinating and unexpected. It was the right time in history for that to have happened.'

'Randal Kleiser: [Laughs] All kinds of people come up to me and say, 'I found out I was gay when I saw The Blue Lagoon.' It’s because you had a choice, either person A or person B. Chris [Atkins] was great about the nudity. He was like, 'Sure, I’ll jump in and swim naked.; There weren’t many studio films that featured frontal nudity in those days or even many afterwards.

One of the fun moments was when we filmed the scene when Chris was masturbating on the rock and Brooke comes up behind him and says “What are you doing?” He screams “Go away!” After we finished filming that Brooke came up to me and asked “What was he doing on the rock?” [Laughs] I said “Go ask your mother. She was 14 and had no idea what he was up to on that rock. That was a wonderful shoot. We were on an island in Fiji that had no roads or electricity and we built a tent city so the crew all lived in tents. We built a drive-in type screening with blankets in front of it where we would watch our dailies. We had a great time living on that island. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.'


Michael A. Deer / Pride of Paradise Photography said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading and watching this. Take me back to the first time I saw the movie.
Thank you.

prem said...

A number of the crew are wearing speedos too. It was in a different era altogether.