Midnight Express (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
of you probably know all about this movie, so I'll keep the summary to
In the 1970's, Billy Hayes was an American student who was arrested in Turkey for possession of drugs, the charge later upgraded to smuggling. He was tossed into a brutal Turkish prison, where he languished for many years until escaping. He wrote a book called Midnight Express, which was then made into a successful movie. Although the movie altered several details, removed all balance, and dramatized the situation beyond what happened in reality, it stayed relatively loyal to the tone of the book and to the general concepts.
|The movie plays out as very realistic and tense. The scene at the airport, when they catch him with the drugs, is a real nail-biter, emphasized perfectly by the music. The scene where he tries to flee through the market and his various escape attempts are also fraught with tension. It's some powerful moviemaking, even if it is a manipulation of the original facts. (Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay. It was his first major work.)||
the film is more than two decades old, and told a story that
happened nearly a decade earlier, the real Billy Hayes is still alive
and still a relatively young man. (He is 52 as I write this, and has
outlived the actor who played him in the movie). In 1981,
six years after his escape, three years after the movie was released,
the Turkish government and Interpol issued a warrant for his arrest
and tried to get him back into prison. There wasn't much chance of
that happening (although the warrant stayed in effect until 1995!),
but the warrant is indicative of the deep embarrassment and anger that
the Turkish people and the Turkish government felt over their
portrayal in the film. Turkey has been trying to establish that it is
a modern European nation, and wants to be a part of all the
pan-European associations. The film portrays their nation as barbaric,
reinforcing the prejudices that keep other Europeans from welcoming
the Turks with open arms.
Of course, if it was the movie that bothered them, the person they really needed to arrest was Oliver Stone, not Billy Hayes, because it altered the book and made it more melodramatic.
Powerful Turks lobbied to have the film banned at Cannes, but they were unsuccessful. They were right about one thing. For better or worse, true or not, the film shaped the West's perception of Turkey and Turkish justice, and the whole concept of "Turkish prisons" is still a suitable punchline for any joke about oppressive and barbaric third world conditions.
The real Billy Hayes (left), and actor Brad Davis playing Billy Hayes
|Here are a couple of worthwhile links if you want to know more details about the story:|
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