Monday, February 25, 2008

Movie Review: Midnight Express (1978) (English film - Hollywood)

The story begins on Oct 6, 1970 in Istanbul, Turkey when William Hayes is arrested at Istanbul airport for possession of Hashish. Initially sentenced to 4 years in prison, the term is extended to life imprisonment by a higher court. The movie is about William’s life in the abominable prison amidst dirt, depravity and torture and his subsequent escape to freedom.

Watch this movie and you see the Turks without exception being depicted as boorish, louts, lecherous, cruel, without a shade of civility, hostile, dirty, incompetent, mostly homosexual, who consider foreigners as dirty. I picked-up this movie because it was an Oscar-winner. And then I discovered that the weakest link of the movie (its totally biased and incompetent script) is what got it an Oscar. The ‘Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium’ Oscar given to Oliver Stone. What a bad joke!! It left me puzzled and sad and wondering about the sensitivities of the Oscars jury.

Happily enough I discovered on the Net that I was not alone in my views. Both the viewers and the critics have soundly criticized these exact shortcomings of the movie. I must say I heaved a sigh of relief after that.

Take the scene where an Enlishman prisoners’ pet cat is hung by the light-bulb wire to death: That is set against the Morning Prayer call of the muezzin. The screenplay probably wishes to point out a direct relationship between the religion and the depravity shown in the movie. I found that quite tasteless, for sure. It only seemed to confirm the clich├ęd opinion one has of Americans: insensitive to other cultures, arrogant and overbearing.

The Turkish lawyer digs his nose, the ones in power are corpulent, the prison commander looks like a pig and his young sons like piglets.

The father of the imprisoned son shouts at the prison commander: “Take good care of my boy, you hear or I’ll have your fucking head, you Turkish bastard”. For a moment I could have mistaken this jingoism for the Rambo vs the Russians kind of movie. For a movie sanctimonious in tone and patronizing throughout, there are so many examples I can give of jarring movie sensibilities, that probably its best that you just read what others have written about this movie.

The overall tone is that Bill is dealing with an uncivilized barbarian people even in court (when his outburst could have been regarded as contempt of court). There is artistic license but this film makes me think. Bill shouts in court “For a nation of pigs, its funny you don’t eat them” and then he goes on to call the judge a pig and says ‘I fuck your sons and daughters because they are pigs’. Hollywood’s eloquence (or lack of it) stuns me.

And it makes me take a double-turn on the people in the western world that we generally look up-to in terms of evolution in culture and sensibilities.

Starring: Brad Davis

Directed: Alan Parker

Produced: Alan Marshall and David Puttnam

Screenplay: Oliver Stone

Based on the book by William Hayes with William Hoffer

Made on location in Malta

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