209) Midnight Express -Protagonist Billy Hayes' Current Thoughts -Representation of the Turkish People in "Midnight Express"

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Surrounded by these garlicky oilmen with hairy nostrils who talk in their incomprehensible language, like members of another species, he is isolated with his fear,..he is hung up by the ankles and clubbed — and there’s the strong suggestion that he’s also sodomised — by the head guard, Hamidou (Paul Smith), a huge, sadistic bullock of a man with great dumps of hair growing from the rims of his ears, like outcroppings of lust
(“Movie Yellow Journalism”, 496-7; thanks to this site).

Ahhhh.... MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. What a beautiful source of information to influence people with no knowledge about Turkey. If any film can demonstrate the inherent power of the cinema, it is this one; MIDNIGHT EXPRESS' ill effect on neutral minds still linger to this day.

This page features:

1) Synopsis and Analysis
2) A perceptive IMDb Commentary
3) "Midnight Express": A Turkish Nightmare
4) Sam Weems reaction to a TV broadcast
5) Mahmut Ozan excerpt on prisoner welfare
6) A Case of Maladaptation...Guilty As Charged!
7) Director Alan Parker Now Thinks...
8) Academic article link
9) Links for Hayes' current thoughts; video interview
. .
“Midnight Express is not only racist, it’s anti-human.”

Elia Kazan, the New York Times, February 4, 1979

(This article is from tetedeturc.com/Midnight-express/intro-ME_anglais.htm#Le film)

Story synopsis (movie version)

During a stay in Istanbul, Billy Hayes, an American citizen is arrested by the Turkish police, as he is about to leave the country by plane with his girlfriend, carrying with him several packets of hashish. He's sentenced to an "exemplary" four years' imprisonment. In the remand centre, he meets up with other western prisoners he makes friend with, and quickly prepares an escape plan, which fails. While his release is getting closer, Billy's sentence turns into a detention for life. His stay in this Istanbul prison makes his life hell: terrifying and unbearable scenes of rape and physical and mental torture follow one another in a ramshackle remand centre, where bribery, violence and insanity rule. Monstrous warders, acting with an unbearable cruelty, have the prisoners undergo the worst brutalities. Some of them are working for the prison administration as "informers". In a fit of madness, Billy Hayes kills one of them, who denounces the escape plan prepared by Billy Hayes and his friends. Billy finally tries to escape by "bribing" the warder in chief. After accidentally killing the warder, as the latter wanted to rape him, Billy puts on his uniform, and manages to escape.

Critical analysis of Midnight Express

a) The substance

A freely adapted scenario from Billy Hayes's original story

While reading the book, we realize very quickly that there are important differences between the cinematographic and the literary versions of Midnight-Express. In fact, very questionable liberties have been taken with the real events as related by Billy Hayes. We all know that the scenario rhythm of such a movie must be steady, without any slack periods, in order to arouse the utmost attention next to a public, the largest possible. However, as the image of a whole nation and a country is here in question, beyond Billy Hayes' personal story, it would have been decent, intellectually speaking, to respect more scrupulously the original story. Moreover, we'll see that these liberties are in keeping with a deliberate process to accentuate and to emphasize the movie's dramatic nature.

Here are some of the most obvious liberties taken with regard to the book:

- Billy Hayes is in Turkey with his girlfriend, whereas he's alone in the original story. Nevertheless, in the scenario, this love story between the hero and his fiancé represents a main dramatic driving force.

In the movie, the hero's image comes close to the "perfect" American's. In fact, he's presented as a good person in all respects, who loves and respects his parents and who is dogged by misfortune and the Turks.

The hero's only fault appearing in the movie is a very occasional use of hashish. On the other hand, according to the book, Billy Hayes admits that he has been a great drug consumer (his addiction became more severe during his imprisonment) and even that he has illegally carried hashish through Europe on several occasions (Billy Hayes, Midnight-Express, Presse de la Cité, coll. Pocket, 1987, p. 11).

- Another distortion of the truth in the movie, of fatal importance: the scenes of rape. In fact, according to the book, Billy Hayes has never been raped by the Turkish warders. He has never suffered any sexual violence. On the other hand, he has a homosexual relation, entirely consented, with one of the western prisoners, a love relationship which is carefully hidden in the movie, because it could have "besmirched" the image of the "perfect" American (in fact, in the movie, he refused his friend prisoner's advances and remains true, against the whole world, to his fiancée, Susan).

- The following liberty taken with the original story is fraught with sense: the serious insults said by Billy against the Turkish nation, when, in the movie, he learns that he is given a life sentence, just don't exist in the book !! Later, we'll come back to these insults, their nature, and their significance among the Turks.

- Otherwise, in the cinematographic and literary versions of Midnight-Express, there are two different story ends. While in the narrative, the hero is moved to another prison from which he escaped by sea, during a storm, in the movie, this passage has been completely changed and replaced by a scene with, again, extreme violence. In fact, Billy Hayes, still in his prison in Istanbul (he's not moved) is "forced" to murder the warder in chief, who wants to rape him, before escaping thanks to the warder's uniform.

Of course, all these liberties work towards giving the movie a tragic and dramatic dimension, out of proportion to what Billy Hayes relates in his book (in which the events are dramatic enough, there is no need to add anything). Whether it's intentional or not, these liberties contribute as well to giving a very negative image of the Turks in the movie.

The anti-Turk rhetoric

After carefully watching the film, one notices, throughout the whole story, that the characters and the situations are composed in a pure Manichean way.

The characters

- Billy Hayes and his family: unity, love, courage and self-abnegation are the keywords characterizing the relationship between the hero and the members of his family. The disputes between Billy Hayes and his father mentioned in the book are totally ignored in the film, which conveys a stereotyped image of a "perfect American family".

- The Turks: Throughout the whole film, they figure as brutes, militarists, bloodthirsty, stupid and evil torturers and sadistic, in brief as true "bastards". Their image is a real caricature: ugly, with a moustache, badly shaven, suntanned, with eyes and hair very dark. They are stereotypical persons, who, even when they are killed in the film, they always have the lot they deserve!

All of them are systematically presented in a discrediting way. For example, the customs officers: in the film, they methodically search all the foreigners, while they let the Turks pass (as if the Turks could not be drug traffickers!). The same for the policemen: they are savages, who do not respect anything, and particularly the personal belongings of B. Hayes during the search in his luggage; they are stupid and rude (scene where B. Hayes takes out of his boots some bags of hashish forgotten during the search by the policemen). In all this collection of portraits, the warder in chief and the lawyer hold a central place. The first is ignoble and cruel (he closes his eyes on different traffics in the prison); he shows all the ignominy in the scene of the first interrogation, incredible in violence, in which he rapes B. Hayes. This last one is then tortured for having borrowed a blanket during his first night in prison. Images are particularly rough and hardly bearable. The second, the lawyer of B. Hayes, Yesil, is far from being reassuring and nice: he is fat, corrupt, a liar and very venal.

At this level, one can note an interesting fact for a story supposed to have taken place in Turkey. Indeed, most of the actors playing the parts of the Turks in the film speak the language very badly, with strong accents which make almost incomprehensible their speech for a person with a perfect master of Turkish. Except the attorney General, this observation is valid for all the Turks presented in the film. Besides, in the casting list at the end of the film, one can see that there is not a single Turk among the actors: some, in Turks' roles, are even Armenians and Greeks (the Armenians or the Greeks are known for not having sympathy towards the Turks).

Quotations, descriptions, and situations

- At the beginning of the film, B. Hayes still believes that he can get out of prison, but Max, a prisoner, very quickly removes his illusions about the rights of prisoners in the country: "In Turkey, there is no honest lawyer, they're all twisted, worse than sowbugs. In their profession, it is indispensable. Corruption is taught at the universities."

- The film presents besides a dreadful Turkish prison life: everything is only an affair of corruption; one can find anything in prison on the condition of being able to pay for it. Besides, there is a striking contrast between the severity of the keepers, changing with their humor and the languor that reigns in the daily life (the prisoners take the law into their own hands, for example).

- The dialogue between B. Hayes and his father, during his first visit in Turkey, is another eloquent example of anti-Turkish discourse:

Billy: "Well, how do you like Istanbul?"
The father: "Interesting, well. But, between us, I find their food disgusting. The mess they serve in their cheap restaurants, yucky! I had to rush off to the bathroom, but you should have seen the bathroom! From now on, I shall not take any risks any more. I shall have lunch and dinner at Hilton: steak and chips and torrents of ketchup!"

- Further, in the film, Billy speaks himself of his situation and the universe in which he is: "Everything is here sula bula (which means so so). One never knows what is going to happen. For the Turks, all the foreigners are hated, under excuse that they are dirty and hated. Homosexuality also is dirty, it is a serious offence here, but it is in current use. There are a thousand things which one considers as hated. For example, one can stab below the belt, but not above, because it would mean an intent to kill. Then, people stroll by stabbing buttocks. One calls that "Turkish vengeance". All this must look crazy to you, but this place is really crazy."

In this place, one can note the recurrence of the subject of the homosexuality at the same time in the book and in the film. So, in chapter 2, B. Hayes speaks about sexual customs of the Turks in these terms: "My stay in Turkey had allowed me to notice that most of the people of this country tended to be bisexuals; all the taxi drivers, the waiters, peddlers seemed to throw at me lecherous glances and there, stark naked in front of these customs officers, I felt these same lustful and immodest glances". Nevertheless, in the book, this quotation is the only one concerning the homosexuality, and constitutes the only attack aiming at the Turks as a whole. In general, the original story is much less virulent, aggressive, and offending, towards the Turkish nation, contrary to the film.

- The violence of insults aiming at the Turks reaches its paroxysm when B. Hayes, who learns his life sentence, pronounces words which profoundly shocked many a Turk: (addressing the Turkish judges) "For a nation of pigs, it is funny that none of you consumes it. Jesus Christ forgave his executioners, for me, it is out of question. I hate the Turks, I hate your nation, I hate your people, and I fuck your sons and your daughters, because they are pigs. You are pigs. All pigs!".

No comments...

b) The Form

Least one can say, is that Alan Parker showed in this film that he had a strong sense of shock images, the fact that he has a great experience of advertisement films has certainly a lot to do with it. Midnight Express appears, indeed, as a succession of skillfully staged plans, which plunge the spectator into a terrifying atmosphere. From the very beginning, it starts with the arrest of B. Hayes and the first scene of torture. Violence and murders are shown in their crudeness. These shock images are in fact a palliative to the lack of depth of the persons and their character. As far as these last ones are stereotyped, it is the violence of the scenes and of the situations that supports the film. Description and first degree, constantly, take the precedence over reflection. Throughout the story, visual effects and manipulation reign, a series of situations and feelings are just exposed instead of investigating and analyzing them. Everything is made to arouse only strong feelings, without any perspective: disgust, dismay, pity and sympathy. And realization plays deeply on the emotional identification of the spectator to the hero. There just is no place for the critical mind, and nothing in the film invites the spectator to minimize the scenes that he sees or the comments he hears.

The lighting plays also a main role in the film. It increases particularly the sinister and lugubrious character, not only of jails, but also that of the city of Istanbul. Everything is dark and sad there.

As for the music, it intensifies the shock caused by images, but also the anxiety. It comes back, monotonous, as if a leitmotiv, to punctuate the most violent scenes of the film: the murder of Rifki, the warder, for example.

In general, everything, in the way of capturing the scenes, makes sense in this film. Nothing is left to chance, and the result is an execrable image of the Turks and Turkey, given to the spectator, bewildered by the power of visual effects. We have already spoken before about comments held by Billy and his father, and evoked the caricatural image of the Turks (they do not respect anything, they are fat, they sweat, they are "pigs").

Istanbul, for its part, is filmed so that the spectator is frightened. The city is indeed swarming of crowds, streets are constantly blocked, full of people or carts, buildings are ruined, dirty, electric cords hang out of everywhere, in brief, a real city of the Third World, which radiates an atmosphere of disorder and chaos. One perceives at the bend of an image heads of sheep being roasted, the linen suspended across the narrow and dark alleys, and traditional shoeshine boys. One can also see idle people discussing on the pavements or smoking the water pipe, that is, the caricature of the indolent and idle Orient. Far from the picturesque impression it could display in other circumstances, this collection of images is not innocent and it contributes, there again, to give to the spectator a feeling of fear and refusal of the "Turkish world".

The prison life too undergoes a particular treatment, which is understandable, because the Turkish prisons are not renowned to be four-star hotels: all the images are dark, and humidity oozes from the walls of the cells... The prison is dirty and falls in decrepitude, there is no comfort, not even the most elementary one. A dirty atmosphere is given off.

In brief, all the stage setting aims at over-dramatizing the story of B. Hayes, which damages the image of the Turks. The question is to check out whether the effort to darken and to slander the Turkish people is real, or if it is an indirect consequence of the shock realization of the film? Doesn’t the scriptwriter and the director reveal signs of extreme primary voyeurism and racism in their way of suggesting the oppression and the atrocity of conditions of detention? These questions are the subject of a debate between the detractors and defenders of Midnight Express, and especially between two categories of film critics, those who pretend to be specialized, and those that consider themselves more popular and close to the enthusiasm of the public for the films of Parker (See in this regard, COURSODON J. Pierre and TAVERNIER BERTRAND, 50 ans de cinéma américain (50 years of American Movie), Omnibus, 1995). As far as we're concerned, the answer to the above questions can only be positive. Nevertheless, the quality of the realization and the performance, the décor and photography, give a force of immense persuasion to this film, whose success remains understandable.

Besides its international success, Midnight Express had the effect of a terrible disappointment in Turkey, where it was shown on the television in the mid 90s. Still today, the Turks can hardly understand such an outburst of hatred against them. They consider this film as another element among all other negative representations that Occidentals make of them through generations. Representations, more or less forgotten, which stand out by the only statement of these words: "the Turks". The latter, in the course of the years, curled up on themselves, except for official condemnations, avoided reacting to or answering provocations or insults of all sorts that they were victims of. For some years nevertheless, one can notice a willingness of the Authorities, but also and especially of the Turks themselves, to improve the image the Occidentals have of them.

A Contemporary "Jude Suess"

Here is an on-the-button commentary from the Internet Movie Database:

Artistically, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS is quite well made... I do recall several media reports at the time of the film's release that led to contrary impressions, supporting the deliberate attempt by the filmmakers to do a hatchet job on Turkey and its people. The first was Billy Hayes himself, when he first arrived on native soil, having pulled off his alleged escape; he said on TV, "I like the Turks...it's the prison I had a problem with" Easy to understand; few prisons are a joy ride, regardless of nation of origin. From this, I gathered he personally didn't have an animosity against the Turks, although MIDNIGHT EXPRESS goes out of its way to make everything negative about the country and culture. Only the "Western" characters are good and attractive, and the folks selected to play the Turks are corrupt, physically ugly and basically sub-human. The exterior scenes in Turkey itself have a grayish tint, implying the land is a hell-hole, and even the near-universally acclaimed cuisine gets a black eye.

The second thing from the (film's release) period I recall was a discussion on radio that claimed the prison Billy served time in was relatively modern, built in the mid-sixties... and not the Devil's Island PAPILLON setting depicted in the movie. (A 19th-Century British barracks in Malta was used for the prison.) Naturally, some artistic leeway is allowed here, since the movie's purpose is to paint a picture of a living nightmare.

I recall reading the book years ago, and when our hero got his unfair sentence, naturally he was in despair... but at that moment, he felt an almost gallant, resigned acceptance. In contrast, when Billy gave his courtroom speech in the movie (which certainly was a defining moment of the film's ill-naturedness... to quote part of the speech: "For a nation of pigs, it sure seems funny that you don't eat them! Jesus Christ forgave the bastards, but I can't! I hate! I hate you! I hate your nation! And I hate your people! And I f**k your sons and daughters because they're pigs! You're all pigs!"), the three ugly judges actually hung their heads in shame. I wonder if there's a courtroom in any nation that would permit such a prolonged and loud outburst.

The nasty fellow convict that Billy uses his teeth on wasn't even an ethnic Turk (I think he was... Syrian? Or an Arab, of some sort), if I remember the book... however, ever-anxious to pile on the anti-Turkish characterizations, the film even made this fellow Turkish. (As a related point, although I'm aware we're not supposed to comment on other user comments, the previous Aug. 30 post mistakenly referred to Turkey as an Arab nation.... so the user must not have seen "Lawrence of Arabia," where the Arabs were the heroes and the Turks were the villains. It's interesting that in the rare Hollywood film where Arabs are portrayed "positively," Turks still come across as barbaric.)

A Turkish-American friend has told me, contrary to what others here are thinking that the film couldn't really prejudice the viewer, that the film has achieved one of its purposes, to leave a sore, anti-Turkish taste in mouths. Keeping in mind that Americans are generally ignorant of the ways of many foreign nations, this film continues, even today, of being the only source of information most Americans have about Turkey. As cinematically effective and wonderfully made this film is, there's a disturbing side to MIDNIGHT EXPRESS that makes it mildly resemble a contemporary "Jude Suess," or THE ETERNAL JEW ("Der Ewige Jude").


"Midnight Express" 20 Years Later:
A Turkish Nightmare

By Haluk Sahin
New Perspectives Quarterly
Fall 1998

Istanbul — I remember the first time I realized the seriousness of the damage caused by "Midnight Express." It was, I think, a few weeks after the movie had been released in 1978. Upon a chance encounter, a young man — a white, middle-class, male college student in Cleveland, Ohio — asked me where I was from:

"From Turkey," I said, expecting the usual casual response.

Turkey was a faraway country Americans knew little or cared little about. Over the years I had spent in the United States, I had detected no strong feelings about Turks one way or the other.

But this time it was different. I saw a shadow of fear pass through his eyes upon hearing the word Turkey. First, he couldn't say anything. Then, he blurted out something like:

"Is it...is it really like that?"

"Like what?" I said not knowing what he was talking about.

"Like 'Midnight Express.' Is it really that bad?"

It was my turn to be disturbed. The young man was looking at me as if I was an alien from another, obviously very scary planet. Perhaps I did not look as fearsome as the unexceptionally ugly creatures posing as Turks in the film, but I had just admitted I was from their land. A Turk from Turkey, from the land of "Midnight Express!"

This unsolicited new identity, this cursed Hollywood passport, this media-age Star of David that was branded upon me, upon all citizens of Turkey, has caused inca!culable suffering for millions of my countrymen over the past 20 years. Some of my American friends decided not to come to Turkey because of "Midnight Express." They were afraid they too might have found themselves in a similar nightmare. A Turkish prisoner who spent 15 years in an American jail wrote to me last year that he is being denied parole because the wardens believe he still has not atoned for the sins of "Midnight Express." "What we are doing to you is nothing compared to what your people did to our American boy," he was told.

A few months ago, in a case similar to the much-publicized British nanny Louise Woodward trial in Boston, a Turkish woman in Columbus. Ohio, was sentenced to eight years in jail without parole. A colunmist for the city's only paper, Columbus Dispatch, wrote:

"(The woman) is headed to prison — and maybe to hell. A Turkish citizen, she faces deportation to some "Midnight Express" hellhole — swapped under treaty for an American... Now that is justice."

"Midnight Express" had come to haunt this Turk 19 years later. She is no exception. Talk to any Turk in the U.S. and you will hear his/her version of the "Midnight Express" nightmare. The damage is lasting and extensive. Further, it is regenerative: the movie is still being shown on television and at student cinema clubs. Americans are still being told not to go to Turkey — the land of "Midnight Express."

The Hollywood Lie

Turks have become victims of a lie much more powerful than any truth about Turkey and the Turks, good or bad. I remember the frustration and anger I felt the first time I watched the movie. The lie was obvious for us who came from Turkey. The movie had scenes where the ugly, pig-looking characters played by Armenian and Greek actors presumably spoke Turkish. But their Turkish was so bad, so broken, so unreal that we knew immediately it was all a fabrication. This was not Turkey, this was not Istanbul airport, these were not Turks! This whole thing that was being sold as "a true story" was in fact a monumental piece of falsity! But "they" didn't know. "They," that is, the great majority of the viewers in the movie theater. For those who knew nothing about Turkey this was the real thing: the real Turkey, the real Istanbul airport, the real Turks. As the movie forcefully progressed along its viciously racist story line, the lie gained more and more credence until the truth was totally obliterated. The audience came out hating or despising the Turks they had never met.

I have often wondered how such a blatantly racist film, such a shameless example of visual hate-speech, could have come out of the Hollywood machine in such race-sensitive times. It was not only the latent message that was racist —Turks portrayed as mean, ugly and wicked creatures in toto. There were several explicit verbal and visual elements to make sure the viewers would not miss the message. Can you be more outrageously racist than calling a country "a nation of pigs?" This is what the film did. Here is what Billy Hayes, the hero, says in the film:

"For a nation of pigs, it sure is funny you don't eat them. Jesus Christ forgave the bastards. But I can't. I hate them. I hate you, I hate your nation and I hate your people and I f**k your sons and daughters. Because they are pigs. You are all pigs.'

Disgusting enough. But not without visual corroboration: In one scene, the two sons of the Turkish prison director are made to look like piglets. They are all pigs, fathers and sons!

At the time the movie was released Billy Hayes, whose "true story" this film claims to be, came to the university where I was teaching on a promotion tour organized by Columbia Pictures. He was the ideal figure for college students to identify with: blond, tall, articulate; an all-American boy who smoked hash and had been mistreated by uncivilized brutes (for trying to smuggle out only 4.5 pounds of hashish)! He was a warning that the world (the Third World, to be exact) had become a dangerous place for them. ("You can't take the American Constitution along with your passport," the film poster explained.)

After his presentation, I interviewed Billy Hayes and asked him why there was not a single halfway decent Turk in the movie. Didn't he come across any nice Turks during the years he spent in Turkey'?

"Of course, I did. I had several friends," he said. "They are in the book. But the director told me that putting good Turks in this film would be like showing Nazi officers giving cigarettes to Jews on the way to the gas ovens. It would weaken its impact!"

I found the analogy horrifying. I found the "artistic" reasoning behind it even more chilling. Anything for dramatic impact! Wasn't that the rule in Hollywood? Reinforce the stereotype until all opponents of the (American) hero — in this case, Turks — are turned into bestial barbarians.

Pauline Kael was the first critic to see through the opportunistic self-righteousness of the film. She wrote in The New Yorker:

"This story could have happened in almost any country, but if Billy Hayes had planned to be arrested to get the maximum commercial benefit from it, where else could he get the advantages of a Turkish jail? Who wants to defend Turks? (They don't even constitute enough of a movie market for Columbia Pictures to be concerned about how they are represented.)" (Pauline Kael, "When The Lights Go Down," 1980, p.499).

There was no significant Turkish-American population in the U.S., no Turkish lobby in Washington, no financial resources or friends in Hollywood. Turks were defenseless — an excellent target of opportunity.

Obviously, the shot was right on the money. The film grossed over $15 million in two years despite the fact that it was made at a cost of $1.5 million. It won several professional awards and nominations. But for the victims of the movie, the people of Turkey, it was a different story: They lost much and are still paying. Turkey is still "the land of 'Midnight Express" for many. Foreign human rights groups, journalists, intellectuals and others still come to Turkey with preconceived images branded in their minds by this film. And perhaps so do the officials of the European Union who refuse to admit Turkey.

The key question is: What can you do? Is there any way of undoing the harm done? Turks talked a great deal about making a film to reverse its effects, but how? Who can defy Hollywood in its own game when all the cards are stacked in its favor? The unevenness of international cultural exchanges, the disparity in national opportunities of expression and the sheer power of Hollywood have engendered a global crisis in culture that may not be visible from the U.S. Great areas of the world, deeply rooted civilizations that have excelled in self-expression, have been rendered speechless in the new order.

"Midnight Express" is but one case. Turkey may have the strongest army in the Middle East, but it has been proven powerless against a fictive attack far costlier than a bombing. And, 20 years later, the bombs are still falling!

Haluk Sahin, one of Turkey's top
TV journalists, is on the board of
NPQ Turkiye. New Perspectives
Quarterly (ISSN 0893-7850) is
published 5 times a year for The
Center For The Study of
Democratic Institutions.

This article was taken from The Turkish Times, Jan. 29, 1999

Haluk Sahin's thoughts on ARARAT

Judge Sam Weems offers his thoughts on an apparent documentary on Billy Hayes or the movie, on an American cable-TV channel


From: Sam Weems

Dear Friends:

As a former state's attorney I found tonight's program making a Hollywood hero out of an admitted drug dealer and escaped convict. Out of the 30 minutes devoted to this 15 minutes of fame, only 15 seconds was given for a Turkish reply. That was disgusting.

For TNN to broadcast such a program does nothing to discourage drug dealing.

Quite the contrary,this program makes being an admitted drug dealer looking for easy money, seem to be the thing to do.

TNN showed a lack of regard to American youth by creating such a program to make this criminal a hero and the good life it can create for you! This is nuts!

TNN and the movie makes Turkish prisons out to be terrible places. These Hollywood folks called Turkish prisons "third world". Hollywood has done a similar thing, when they also visited Arkansas in the mid 70ies and made a hero out of a terrible prison warden. They made Arkansas prisons look like
something from the third world also. The "third world" phase just sounds good and is used to hype sales.

Truth of the matter is no prison is a good place to go, but if one does the crime they must do the time. Too bad this Hollywood drug dealer didn't do his time. He complains that 30 years is too long. My response is it's not too long when drug pushers are off the streets and not getting kids hooked on drugs! Just think, this drug dealer was going back to Europe to push drugs in another country. What would have been his time had he been caught
somewhere in Europe?

TNN has just trashed the fairness of telling stories. Perhaps TNN is run by a gaggle of Armenians who just have to tell a tall tale because the truth isn't in them!

The tax payer cost not counting the human loss abusing drugs in the USA and throughout the world now runs into mega billion dollars each year. Why can't Hollywood produce a motion picture to show this? I will try to get in touch with these TNN people to voice my thoughts.



Excerpts from an article by
Mahmut Esat Ozan
The Turkish Forum

Mr. Michael Abbell of the U.S Government, who negotiated the prisoners exchange treaty between Turkey and the United States at the time, had the following to say:

"No prison is a picnic, and generally people think that the poorer the country the poorer the prison system. Yet let us look at our own prisons. Some of them are worse than in the Third World." Here is something you may not believe. Mr. Abbell said this:

"I personally think that the American prisoners in Turkey get better
treatment than the Turkish prisoners do in this country."

Mr. Abbell, of the U.S. State Department ... called the scenario 'fictional'. He labeled it as being "grossly inaccurate." He added, "it did not even accurately portray the book it was taken from."

At another occasion several newspapers in Turkey interviewed the American prisoners held in various prisons. They learned that these foreign inmates of Turkish prisons were not in agreement with the content of the film. Most of them were quoted as saying the prisons were no heaven, yet not as bad at all as portrayed in the movie.

These are the real parts of the story. It is public knowledge that Turkish prisons are over crowded, may lack adequate sanitary and medical facilities and recreation and work opportunities for the inmates may be limited in comparison to some of the modern U.S.
Prisons. Turks accept that as fair analysis. But their objections, at the time when Billy Hayes served time in Sagmalcilar prison, was as being singled out for abuse on what they considered a universal problem.

(Holdwater adds: The prison Billy Hayes stayed at was relatively modern, built in the mid-sixties, and was far from the "Devil's Island" setting presented in the movie. [If what I once heard is true.] In addition, I recall a conversation with a friend where I was asked how I could be sure prison conditions weren't as bleak as portrayed in "Midnight Express"... then I remembered a Turkish film I had seen with that very friend — "Yol"[?] — by Yilmaz Güney, who wasn't always pro-Turkish [for example, this film displayed a map of Turkey, part of which was identified as "Kurdistan"], and I described the not-all-that-bad prison scenes in the film. She replied, "You're... right.")

As late as five years ago there was a Greek art theater owner in Miami who used to run this 'film' free of charges every weekend. His intent was, I am sure, "to disturb the minds of his clientele" an epithet used frequently by Oliver Stone in order to describe his malevolent 'masterpiece.'

A Case of Maladaptation...Guilty As Charged!

It is probably the case that no film could adapt any book faithfully. The differences between the two media are such that the production of a film will most likely require a compositing of events or characters, etc. More than this, a film will require a narrative structure that works as a film. Film adaptations are usually attempting to do something different to the book they are based on — in this instance to 'popularise' rather than to 'document'. The suggestion that 'the film wasn't the book', can sometimes amount to a fairly empty criticism in film analysis. However, in the case of Midnight Express, it is worth examining the significant differences which arise between the film and book.

Firstly, Billy Hayes was incarcerated in Istanbul’s Sagmalcilar prison which was of modern design, having only recently been built in the mid 1960s. The film was shot in a disused army barracks in Malta, giving the prison a distinct 'olde worlde' look and feel. In the book events take place in three locations, Sagmalcilar prison, a separate lunatic asylum at Bakirkoy, and the Prison Island of Imrali, from which Hayes eventually escaped. The compositing of these to one location in the film might in part be for reasons of economy and 'technical necessity‘, but equally the compositing decision heightens Billy's prison experience as a nightmare journey in to hell.

In the film, Billy is implied to be at risk of homosexual assault by the guard Hamid on two occasions, and is once propositioned by a fellow prisoner whose advances he rejects. In the book the assault scenes do not occur and Billy engages in a consensual and mutually beneficial same-sex relationship with his fellow inmate. This is deliberately excluded from the film to keep Billy heterosexual. In the film, Billy's girlfriend, Susan, visits him at a time when he has become 'a babbling mess'. Talking through a glass screen, Bill become fascinated with her breasts and pleads with her to remove her top. Shocked by his depravity, Susan tells Billy that he has to pull himself together and get himself out of there — the turning point in the film. In the book, Billy’s pen-friend, ex-girl friend, Lillian, visits and they enact a much tamer version of the film scene, with the important difference that Lillian urges Billy not to attempt escape whilst legal / diplomatic avenues are still being explored to secure his release.

In the film, it is implied that Billy has to attempt escape because the legal system reviews his original four year sentence and substitutes one of thirty years. In the book, we are told that Billy's 30 year sentence is subsequently reduced by two successive amnesties. By the time of his escape he has three years left to serve, and has already been moved to a lower security classification prison. In the film, when Billy learns in court of his new thirty year sentence he gives a speech in which begins by observing that laws vary from time to time and place to place, but which turns into a rant with Billy declaring his hate for the Turkish ‘nation of pigs’. In the book the 'hate you' section of the speech is replaced by: ‘If your decision today must sentence me to more prison, I cannot agree with you. All I can do…is forgive you…' (Hayes, 1977: 167). And, there are any number of other instances where events that occur in the book diverge from their screen representation, with the decisions being made always serving to heighten the story of Midnight Express as being a descent into the nightmarish hell that is the Turkish prison / criminal justice system.

The film would clearly appear to be guilty of sensationalising Hayes' prison experience. Dramatic license turns Hayes into an action-hero, who bites out tongues and slays his prison oppressors in his bid for escape. Perhaps more serious than this are some of the more subtle ways in which lighting and cinematography are use to convey the impression of Turkey as alien, exotic and 'other'. Arguably, most neutrals would hold Midnight Express guilty of constructing a 'racist' / ethnocentric portrayal of the Turkish people. Indeed, both Hayes and Parker, have subsequently suggested that they accept that a more balanced portrayal would have been justified. The implication is that if they were to make the film again, then with hindsight, they may have made it differently. However, it is not clear that the film could have modified or abandoned its narrative strategy, and it may be that there is a more fundamental problem at work here than the naivety of the film's director.

Excerpted from Sean O'Sullivan's "Prison Film Series: Midnight Express Revisited," featured on the site of the U.K.'s HM Prison Service

Director Alan Parker Now Thinks...

Alan Parker
Director Alan Parker
The cable-TV station ReelZ Channel featured a documentary on the films of Alan Parker, and this is what he had to say about MIDNIGHT EXPRESS:

"It's the first time, really, that I've become aware of the fact that the responsibility you have when you're making films. The effect of what is in fact just this shot against that shot against this shot all of which is actually make believe for us 'cause often it is and you suddenly realize for the audience, it's not at all, it's real; it has an extraordinary effect on an audience. And I never quite realized that until doing that film, and you realize you do have a responsibility to the audience."

That was his "Spider-Man" moment (With great power comes great responsibility) and must be his indirect way of expressing a little remorse for the terrible damage he has inflicted, along with writer Oliver Stone. (He needed to add, however, that it is not just the audience an influential film director must feel responsibility toward, but also to the director himself, in his attitude toward his fellow man.) As the writer of "A Turkish Nightmare" article put it above, "For those who knew nothing about Turkey this was the real thing: the real Turkey," almost taking the words out of Parker's mouth. (This was the director, we are told in the Billy Hayes part of the article, who refused to humanize the Turks, as such would have "weaken[ed] the impact.") Probably Parker had input to the screenplay, since it was written under his nose. (Parker added: "Oliver came to London and in our outer office there, he used to type away every day, and he wrote a screenplay; and he wrote a very brilliant screenplay, too.")

Paul Smith
"Bluto" meets his end
Paul Smith
Paul Smith, "Bluto" from POPEYE

Paul "Bluto" Smith, the brutal prison guard, rightly raved about what an effective film MIDNIGHT EXPRESS was, and how audiences cheered when Billy Hayes killed Smith's character. (I haven't seen the film in a while, but the clip shown served as a reminder that "Bluto" was dropping his pants moments before he was rushed, ready to rape poor Billy.) Ironically, Billy Hayes revealed in an interview (below) that when the guard was murdered in real life outside the prison grounds, the tormented prisoners all cheered upon hearing the news. (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS expressing truth, at last!)


This comprehensive academic article is a long one, and originally belonged here... making this page top-heavy, and therefore was subsequently moved to its own page. If you followed a link to get here, you'll have to click again right here.

In addition, there was a lawsuit.


Protagonist Billy Hayes' Current Thoughts

In Addition:

Billy Hayes speaks truth on YouTube: Parts 1 and 2

In what appears to be an impromptu interview in Cannes, Billy Hayes tells us that he was fortunate to be transferred to the island prison where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is currently interned. Midnight Express, Hayes goes on to say, was his story, and Turkish people weren't upset until the movie came out. He thought Oliver Stone was "angry," and laments the fact that all the Turks in the film were shown to be bad. ("You don't see any good Turks in the movie," very one-dimensional, like caricatures, and "it hurt" the country.) Hayes adds, save for one, "most of the guards were nice guys," working under dangerous conditions for next-to-no money. In some respects, Hayes states he prefers the prison system in Turkey (once asked to compare prison systems between the USA and Turkey; he hasn't been in an American prison to know firsthand, but knows a lot of people who has) because they lock the door, and you spend your time. "They're not psychologically after you, they don't have that regimented..." (paraphrasing the rest, for example,) in the United States, you wake up at seven o'clock, it's very restricted. In Turkey, "it's much more free. Once you get in, you learn your own way." After he acclimated, he got along. "I didn't have too many problems (other than the fact that he was in jail and missing out on life, and that his family was suffering)."

He reveals the guard who got killed at the end of the movie was the bad guard, the one who "beat the Turkish prisoners very badly." But, of course, he was not killed in real life by Billy. A prisoner who was tormented by this guard (Hamid) did murder him in civilian life, calmly waiting for the police afterwards in a coffee shop. When the news arrived in the prison, everyone cheered, as the guard was hated and feared by all.

ADDENDUM 2-07: The story behind this video interview is fascinating in itself. Advertising man Alinur Velidedeoglu was among the invitees for the showing of LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL in Cannes, and ran into Billy Hayes at the Carlton Hotel. The year was 1999. As a Turkish article explains, once Hayes spoke positively about Turkey, Velidedeoglu wondered whether Hayes would consider speaking on video. Hayes is said to have responded with enthusiasm, mentioning he has been unable to tell his side of the story to the world, and perhaps such an interview may prove to be an outlet.
Billy Hayes with Velidedeoglu.
The interview aired in Turkey, but Velidedeoglu desired to have a wider audience, especially in the West. He then approached European and American media outlets, such as CNN, ABC and the BBC. Their response was along the lines of Thanks, but this matter does not concern us. It was only with the coming of YouTube when Velidedeoglu could find an international audience, or at least the potential for it.

Just like the "Armenian Genocide," and so many of the other endless Turk-smearing charges: you can tell the real facts until blue in the face, but the prejudiced western world simply is not interested. Another example is the "Burning of Izmir":

“There was scarcely a newspaper of importance in the United States that did not editorially lay that outrage at the door of the Turks, without waiting to hear the Turkish version, yet, after it had been attested by American, English, and French eye-witnesses, and by a French commission of inquiry, that the city had been deliberately fired by the Greeks and Armenians in order to prevent it falling into Turkish hands, how many newspapers had the courage to admit that they had done the Turks a grave injustice?” (E. Alexander Powell, "The Struggle for Power in Moslem Asia," 1923)

Regarding Izmir, the West still clings to what they choose to regard as an authoritative book, "Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City," by a biased Armenian author. Shed light on the real facts the author purposely left out, and the prejudiced world will say, "No thanks. We much prefer perpetuating the image that the Turks are the lowest of the low."

prisonflicks features a good review of the movie, with pictures

Billy Hayes Regrets Midnight Express' Slander of Turks

remember seeing Billy Hayes on television after his "escape," and he made a remark to the tune of "I like Turks -- it's their prisons I can't stand." Oliver Stone's Academy Award-winning screenplay certainly deviated from Hayes' book, making the Turks and their culture appear sub-human at every turn.

I would have imagined Billy Hayes, owing to that remark of his that I remember probably back 1975, felt pretty lousy that his story was turned into such a hatchet job. John Flinn of The San Francisco Chronicle was behind a January 10, 2004 article that cast light on Hayes' feelings. This article (here's the original source) has been excerpted below, and does not run verbatim.

The real Billy Hayes regrets 'Midnight Express' cast all Turks in a bad light

"In the history of cinema, has any film done more to blacken a nation's reputation among travelers than 'Midnight Express'? A quarter of a century after its release, people still cite it as a reason for steering clear of Turkey."

The article began as such, later reminding us the film was based on young American Billy Hayes' account of prison life after trying to smuggle 4 1/2 pounds of hashish out of Turkey in 1970, when he was 22.

While the movie was masterfully done, Hayes' opinion is that most viewers come away with the wrong message. " 'The message of "Midnight Express" isn't "Don't go to Turkey," ' he said recently. 'It's "Don't be an idiot like I was, and try to smuggle drugs." "

The now 56-year-old lives in L.A., recently debuting as a film director himself.

"He said he feels awful that the film gave a brutal reputation to the entire nation of Turkey. The cruel and barbaric prison conditions depicted in the movie were accurate, he said, but they were hardly unique to that country. Malaysia, Thailand and any number of other places were -- and are -- just as bad." Hayes continues by stating the story "could have happened in a variety of countries."

He also is reported as saying that he's bothered by the fact that " 'Midnight Express' depicts all Turks as monsters."

"I loved the movie, but I wish they'd shown some good Turks. You don't see a single one in the movie, and there were a lot of them, even in the prison. It created this impression that all Turks are like the people in 'Midnight Express.' ... I wish they'd shown some of the milk of human kindness I (also) witnessed."

William Hayes at 56

While he was forced to stay away for years, thanks to an outstanding warrant for his arrest by Interpol, Hayes is reported as saying that "he wouldn't hesitate to return to Turkey -- if he could. 'I'd love to go back. I really loved that country -- except for the five years I spent in prison. I loved the Turkish people.' "

And here's an interesting fact the article reports... the Turks were cool enough not to report the case to Interpol after he had escaped, nor even after he had written his book. It was only after the film was released, and probably after the repercussions that were felt, that the Turks decided to do something. (Just like in cases with other "Turk haters." For example, the Armenians act, and the Turks react.)

The article tells us that "the warrant expired five years ago, but Hayes has another reason for avoiding Turkey: He fears he'd be held responsible for all the trouble 'Midnight Express' has caused its tourism industry.

'There's no doubt it changed the whole face of Turkish tourism,' he said. 'I'd really like to go back, but I'm afraid about the fallout from people who lost business. It's not fair. The burden fell on people who weren't to blame.' "

The article concludes with the irony that despite the "other" message of the movie (that is, besides the main one of all Turks being bad), some 1,000 Americans are arrested annually in foreign countries on drug charges. "While many are quickly released, roughly 1,600 are currently held in foreign prisons, often in conditions similar to those endured by Hayes."

Holdwater: I'm sure prison conditions were pretty insufferable, but I wondered about Hayes' statement, "The cruel and barbaric prison conditions depicted in the movie were accurate." The film went out of its way to depict a nightmarish and dark "Devil's Island" world, shot in some old barracks in Malta... whereas the prison Hayes stayed in, if what I heard from a radio guest is accurate, was constructed in the 1960s. Probably prison conditions were more like in the hardly pro-Turkish movie "Yol," which -- while no picnic -- depicted a saner world from Midnight Express' hellhole.

In another article, Hayes was asked whether he would like to remake "Midnight Express," and replied that he would decline, since it already has been done. Asked to define wisdom, part of his answer was "Seeing things from many perspectives."

Well, that certainly tells us if there's anything that "Midnight Express" was, it wasn't wise.

A Turkish Article

In a Turkish article written by Yeni Safak writer Ali Murat Güven, entitled "Midnight Express was Unfair to Turks," Hayes reported that he visited the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles, regarding plans to revisit Turkey... after a 35 year absence. It appears he is thinking (now that he is a film director) of producing a show for television that will accentuate the positive, balancing in some manner the damage caused by the movie version of his book.

He further details the regret over the dehumanization of Turks that Director Alan Parker showcased in his 1978 film. Hayes would have preferred examples of the many good-hearted Turks he knew could have been among the heroes of this film. Forget about the "outside," he is quoted as saying, even in prison he got to be friends with many wonderful Turkish people.

Billy Hayes informs us he still speaks Turkish quite well.

He lived a life of mild dread while the Interpol warrant was active, and only began to freely live after the Turkish government became amnesty-minded and dropped the charges in the early 1990s. His wife and mother became very happy with the news.

Hayes tells us the film's presentation was beyond his control and he fears that the Turks would still pin the blame on him, which could derail his hopes of returning, and the good intentions he bears. He reminds us that he really liked the Turks, and he harbors (wonderful memories?); he believes he speaks the language better than most foreigners who live in Turkey, which was at least one good outcome of his five year stint in the joint.

The article reports the Greek and Armenian lobbies had a hand in helping with the film's four million dollar budget, and the Turkish spoken in the film either has an Armenian accent (from the Armenian actors), or is indecipherable. Since its release, the film has been seen in every corner of the world... continuing to work its black magic, regarding the tarnished image of the Turks.

Thanks to Ali Murat Güven, for bringing these articles to light.


A Video Interview with Billy Hayes Featured on YouTube

Representation of the Turkish People in "Midnight Express"

Zaim Dervis
Published in Örnek literary journal, November 1994


Midnight Express, based on an autobiographical book by Billy Hayes, is an unpleasant "true story" about a young American student, who in 1970, had hashish in his possession while attempting to board a plane at Istanbul Airport. The film details Hayes' harsh imprisonment and later escape. According to the advertisements, the film is "the astounding true story, told in Billy Hayes's own words, of those five years of living hell and of the harrowing ordeal of his time on the run." [1] In an "environment of hellish squalor" [2], Billy suffers brutality, filth and the degradation of imprisonment at the hands of Turks.

In this study, I shall analyse the representation of the Turkish people in Midnight Express. Such an analysis may enable us to reinterpret the film in relation to the conditions of its production and reception, in relation to its structural features and organization. Moreover, it may enable us to question or revise our prior understanding of film and therefore alter the horizons of our understanding of ourselves and others.

Our hero, as pictured in the 20th
Anniversary Video-Collector's Edition


In pursuing issues of methodology, I have to point out that the analysis of symbolic forms [3] can be most appropriately conceptualised in terms of a the framework which John B. Thompson describes as depth hermeneutics. Thompson develops depth hermeneutics as a general methodological framework for the investigation of cultural artefacts. For Thompson, depth hermeneutics enables us to show how different approaches to the analysis of culture, ideology and mass communication can be interrelated in a systematic way. In trying to explain the reasons behind the choice of the hermeneutic tradition of thought, he suggests they can be interrelated on two levels. On a general level, hermeneutic tradition emphasizes "the hermeneutical conditions of social inquiry." [4] These conditions arise from the nature of the object domain of social-historical inquiry: The object domain of social inquiry is also a subject domain which is made up of subjects trying to understand themselves and other persons by creating meaningful forms and interpreting the meaningful forms created by others. This means that the object domain of social-historical analysis is also a pre-interpreted domain. From this perspective, the pre-interpreted character of social-historical world differs from the natural sciences: In making a social-historical analysis, we are seeking to examine social phenomena which is already examined or explained by the people who constitutes the social-historical environment in the routine course of life. As Thompson says, we are trying "to re-interpret a pre-interpreted domain." [5] (As we shall see below, this constitutes starting point of our study.)

Beside this hermeneutic condition of social-historical inquiry, on a more concrete level, hermeneutics offers us some methodological guidelines for our inquires as we mentioned. Thompson writes as follows :

The idea of depth hermeneutics is drawn from the work of Paul Ricour, among others. The value of this idea is that it enables us to develop a methodological framework which is oriented towards the interpretation (or re-interpretation) of meaningful phenomena, but in which different types of analysis can play legitimate and mutually supportive roles. It enables us to see that the process of interpretation is not necessarily opposed to types of analysis which are concerned with the structural features of symbolic forms or with the social-historical conditions of action and interaction, but that, on the contrary, these types of analysis can be linked together and , construed as necessary steps along the path of interpretation.[6]

Depth hermeneutics as a general theoretical framework for the analysis of cultural forms in structured contexts has three procedures. First of all we have social-historical analysis. This kind of analysis deals with social historical conditions of production circulation and interpretation of cultural forms. The second aspect of depth hermeneutics can be regarded as formal or discursive analysis. By formal or discursive analysis, we refer to inquiries which aim to study cultural or symbolic forms as complex symbolic constructions which are characterised by an articulated structure. In this procedure, we deal primarily with the internal organisation of symbolic forms with structural characteristics, patterns and relations.[7] The last procedure of interpretation concerns itself with the results of both social-historical analysis and formal-discursive analysis. As we mentioned, the object domain of social inquiry is also a subject domain. In addition, we must stress that the subjects who in part make up the social world are always embedded in historical traditions. In other words, we are part of history and historical traditions. [8] This fact not only indicates my awareness of being Turkish during this study but also constitutes the first step of my analysis. As J. B. Thompson states, if the object domain of our investigation is a pre-interpreted domain, the depth hermeneutical approach must consider the ways in which symbolic forms are interpreted by the subjects who comprise the subject-object domain. Hence, the hermeneutics of everyday life is the starting point of our approach. [9] In this stage, we will take account of the ways in which Midnight Express is interpreted by the western audience. After completing the "hermeneutics of everyday life", we will employ three different analysis which are social-historical analysis (in the section one), formal-discursive analysis (in the section two) and lastly the interpretation of the results of social-historical and formal-discursive analysis (conclusion).

Interpretation of Doxa (Hermeneutics of Everyday Life):

At this stage, an interpretation of the opinions, beliefs and understandings which are held and shared by the individuals who comprise the social world is revealed. In reconstructing the ways in which Midnight Express is interpreted and understood in the varied contexts of social life, we will focus mainly on the Western audience since the film is banned in Turkey.

After its release, people lined up at theatres to see Midnight Express. (The film has been widely and continuously shown since its first release in 1978) The advertisements for the movie ask that you "Walk into the incredible true experience of Billy Hayes. And bring all the courage you can."[10] For Pauline Kael, the people who were familiar with the book and hence knew that most of the extreme scenes in the movie were "invented", could still be effected emotionally, because "it's what they want to see - the worst that could happen, and the depths to which they could be driven."[11] In fact, when Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) attacks to one of the bad Turkish prisoners and, in slow motion, chews off his tongue, the audience cheers. [12] Despite its box office success, there are some who claim that Midnight Express is a racist film [13] and its acceptance depends a lot on forgetting several things :

[Billy] was smuggling hash; Turkey is entitled to its laws , and is no more guilty of penal corruption and brutality than say , the US , UK, France, Germany, etc.; a world tourist can't assume that a helpful father ( played well by Mike Kellin) is going to have the same clout as with some Midwestern politicians; nor can an American expect to be treated with kid gloves everywhere. [14]

Similarly, Pat H. Broeske argues that Midnight Express offers a stern lesson against disregard for a different country's laws and he claims that it is a manipulative, one sided (Hayes's version), and a "modern horror story about the nightmare of an ordeal in a foreign prison".[15] Neal Nordlinger writes about the success of film as follows:

Midnight Express was brought in for $ 2.4 million and Columbia will spend almost $4 million promoting it to a market which likes pictures that pit one man against grim substantial odds; where you despair for the hero ever surmounting those odds; and where such classic conflicts gain credence from the fact that they are based on real life . But most viewers will find Midnight Express a thorough visceral experience, and the credit goes to [Alan] Parker and his ability to commingle the real and surreal visually . [16]

Pauline Kael asks why people are lining up at the theatres to see this picture. She assumes that there are others besides herself who felt squeezed so much that they grew to hate the picture more and more. Moreover, Kael adds that she didn't hope for Billy and his friends to escape, "just for the movie to be over".[17] Similarly Mary Lee Settle who visited Turkey and felt uncomfortable for her "misrepresentation" in the West points out that Turkey "is known only for its mistakes and its brutalities ". [18] She continues as follows :

The Turks I saw in Lawrence of Arabia and Midnight Express were (...) like cartoon caricatures compared to the people I had known and lived among for three of the happiest years of my life . [19]

Long after its release, even David Puttnam (the producer) also accepts that the film is based on a "dishonest book".[20] For Puttnam, the story implies that Billy was innocent; it makes much of his escape, though he was released under an amnesty agreement. [21] Moreover, in 1986, Alan Parker (the director) admits that it was a mistake to call Turkey "a nation of pigs" in the film. He adds that he "should have been smart enough, intellectually and politically, to balance that remark" [22] Roy Connolly, who interviewed Alan Parker, writes as follows:

Alan Parker now candidly admits that he may have got some of Midnight Express wrong. "I was shocked when people said it was anti-Turk, "he says. "We hadn't meant it to be racist. We thought we were making a film about injustice. There are things I would change now, things to do with an intellectual or political maturity that I don't think I had then." [23]

Similarly David Robinson states that Midnight Express is "more violent, as a national hate-film than anything (he) can remember" — a cultural form that "narrows horizons, confirming the audience's meanest fears and prejudices and resentments". [24] But audiences didn't mind this kind of statements about Midnight Express to such an extent that in two years, the film had grossed over +15 million (1980) despite the fact that it was made at a cost of +1.5 million. [25] Moreover the film also won six Golden Globe Awards and an Oscar for Best Film Nomination. [26]

In spite of these contrary assessments from critics, how can we explain the popularity of Midnight Express? At this point, it may be useful to consider the ability of cultural commodities to satisfy some human want. Terry Lovell argues that cultural commodities are structured with the feelings and sensibilities which derive from collective, shared experience, individual desires and pleasures. [27] The pleasure of the text arises from collective utopias, social wish fulfillment and social aspirations. But when we deal with the ability of cultural artifacts to satisfy some human want, we have to consider the penetration of capital into cultural production. In a capitalist society, producer makes profit by manufacturing and selling cultural objects which possess "use value". [28] By meeting the wants which they satisfy, cultural products generate "surplus value". [29] But those wants are not always the independent expression of random and diverse desires of individual consumers. On the contrary, wants in which their production is related to the dominant mode of production are systematically produced. Lovell continues as follows :

The market for commodities is too important to capitalism to be left to consumer whim. Along with capitalist commodity production a whole host of means of stimulating and proliferating wants has been developed. Wants are not natural or eternal , (...) But it may be hazarded that the production of wants is never fully under the control of the dominant class . [30]

In spite of the fact that there is no guarantee that cultural artefacts will secure their ideological effects towards the masses, some of them can be drawn from and articulated within the dominant ideology. On the other hand, capitalism itself generates several requirements for its continuity. Some of these requirements create their effects at the level of individuals, while others produce them at the level of the social collectivity. "The very concept of ideology" writes Terry Lovell "points to another area of the requirements of capitalism". [31] Hence, in the next section of our study, we will have a brief look at the concept of ideology since it refers to the ways in which meaning serves to establish relations of power. [32] During this investigation, we will emphasize that symbolic forms have been used, and continue to be used in the service of power, whether in modern capitalist societies or in social contexts that are removed in time and space. For this reason we will also analyse the western conceptions of Turks since the relationship between East and West can be regarded as an example of relations of domination. For Edward Said, ideas, cultures and histories can't seriously be grasped without their force or their configurations of power also being studied. Therefore the relationship between East and West constitutes "a varying degree of complex hegemony." [33] In the first section, we will also take into consideration the work of Edward Said and western conceptions of Turks. At this point, what needs to be emphasized is that in order to take account of the ways in which Midnight Express is structured, and of the social historical conditions in which it is embedded we must make certain analysis which fall within the methodological framework of depth hermeneutics. In the next section, I shall employ the first phase of depth hermeneutics which is social- historical analysis. My aim will be to reconstruct the social-historical conditions of the production, circulation and reception of Midnight Express.


John B. Thompson points out that the ways in which social historical analysis may be properly examined depend on the objects and circumstances of inquiry. Then he distinguishes between four basic aspects of social contexts and suggests that each of these four aspects defines a separate level of analysis. For Thompson, firstly we should describe the specific spatio-temporal settings in which symbolic form is produced and received. As he states, "Symbolic forms are produced (uttered, enacted, inscribed) and received (seen, listened to, read) by individuals situated in specific locales, acting and reacting at particular times and in particular places, and the reconstruction of those locales is an important part of social historical analysis." [34] Secondly, we have to consider that symbolic forms are situated within certain fields of interaction. Thirdly, we will be concerned with social institutions. At this level of social-historical analysis, we should reconstruct the rules, resources and relations which constitute social institutions and then describe their historical development. On the other hand, analysis of social structure is another part of this level of social-historical analysis. While we describe social structure we shall focus on asymmetries, differentials and divisions in terms of power, resources, opportunities and life chances. Fourthly, we have to deal with social historical analysis of technical media of inscription and transmission. Besides technical inquiry, our analysis must include social contexts in which technical media of transmission is embedded. [35]

Spatio-Temporal Setting

Spatio-temporal analysis aims to reconstruct the locales in which symbolic forms are produced and received by people who act and react at particular times and places. [36] Thompson describes this as "the cultural transmission of symbolic forms" and distinguishes three aspects of this process. First of all; cultural transmission entails the use of technical medium which allows for a certain degree of fixation of meaningful content and reproduction of symbolic forms. In cinema, the basic item for the distribution and exhibition is the master negative and the first print. Ownership of the master negative and first print is enough for distribution and exhibition. The mechanical reproductibility of film creates the fundamental source of profit in cinema industry. As we shall see later on, this characteristic of film contributes much to the formation of the structure of film industry.

The second feature of cultural transmission deals with the institutions in which a technical medium is deployed. Since we will analyse the institutional context later on I will only try to give initial information about the company which produced Midnight Express.

Midnight Express is a Columbia Pictures release of a Casablanca Filmworks Production (1978). It is one of the first films to come from Casablanca Records and Film Works which is noted for its pop music artists such as Cher, Donna Summer and Kiss. [37] The filmmakers are British, but they worked with American financing. (We'll analyse the British film industry later on). The list of moviemakers and the players who worked in the film are as follows:

Producer : David Puttnam and Alan Marshall
Director : Alan Parker
Executive Producer : Peter Guber
Screenplay : Oliver Stone , based on the book by Billy Hayes with William Hoffer
Camera : Eastmancolor
Cinematography : Michael Serezin
Editor : Gerry Hambling
Music : Giorgio Moroder
Production Design : Geoffrey Kirkland
Art Direction : Evan Hercules
Sound : Clive Winter
Costume : Milena Canonero, Boby Lavender
Running Time : 120 minutes
Billy Hayes : Brad Davis
Jimmy : Randy Quaid
Max : John Hurt
Tex : Bo Hopkins
Hamidou : Paul Smith
Mr Hayes : Mike Kellin
Erich : Norbert Wiesser
Susan : Irene Miracle
Rifki : Paolo Bonacelli [38]

The third aspect of cultural transmission is concerned with "space-time distanciation". [39] By transmission, the symbolic forms reach a range of audiences which may be located at different times and places from the original contexts of production. This situation has a variety of dimensions, but what we emphasize here is that mass communication generally constructs a one way flow of messages from the producer to the receiver during the exchange of symbolic forms. In other words, mass communication involves an important seperation between the producer and the receiver, who has little capacity to be a decisive agent in this communicative process. In fact, due to transnational character of the forms of transmission, Midnight Express had the opportunity to reach a wide audience and contribute much to the "terrible Turk" myth as was shown before. An example which indicates both the fundamental break between the producer and the receiver and the relations of power is given by Pauline Kael, while she criticizes Midnight Express. She writes as follows:

This story could have happened in almost any country , but if Billy Hayes had planned to be arrested to get the maximum commercial benefit from it , where else could he get the advantages of a Turkish jail? Who wants to defend Turks? (They don't even constitute enough of a movie market for Columbia Pictures to be concerned about how they are represented ?) [40]

Social Institutions — Social Structure: [41]

Social institutions and social structure constitute a third level of social historical analysis. Social institutions can be described as clusters of rules, resources and social relations established by social institutions themselves. In order to analyse social institutions, we have to examine the clusters of rules, resources and relations and inquire about their historical development. Moreover it is necessary to reconstruct the practices and attitudes of the individuals who work for them.

On the other hand, the analysis of social structure concerns with the relatively stable asymmetries which shape the structure of social institutions. While we try to analyse social structure we shall focus on asymmetries differentials and divisions. Our main purpose is to find out which asymmetries are systematic and relatively stable in terms of resources, power and life chances. This process also requires that we become familiar with the criteria, categories and principles which constitute these differences. At this stage of our study, we will pay particular attention to the relations of domination which characterize social institutions. Thus we will also study the notion of ideology since this approach provides us with a better understanding of the ways in which meaning serves to establish and sustain relations of domination.


For John B. Thompson symbolic forms are not ideological in themselves. The extent to which symbolic forms or symbolic systems are ideological depends on the ways in which they are used in particular social contexts. Thus when we study ideology we are mainly concerned with the social uses and understanding of symbolic forms. [42] Thompson states that ideology is meaning in the service of power. He writes as follows :

The distinctiveness of the study of ideology lies in the latter question : It calls upon us to ask whether the meaning constructed and conveyed by symbolic forms serves , or does not serve, to maintain systematically asymmetrical relations of power . It calls upon us to study symbolic forms in a certain light . In the light of the structured social relations which their employment or deployment may serve , in specific circumstances, to create, nourish , support and reproduce. [43]

Having said this, it is useful to mention an important point about reception of ideology. There is a general tendency to see ideology as illusion and distorted image of the "real". This view inclines us to discern in ideology a cluster of ideas or images which reflect inadequately a social reality that exists independently of such images or ideas. French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser opposes the notion that ideology consists of a collection of distorting representations of reality and empirically false propositions. [44]

Ideology for Althusser does indeed - represent - but what it represents is the way I "live" my relations to society as a whole, which cannot be said to be a question of truth or falsehood . Ideology for Althusser is a particular organization of signifying practices which goes to constitute human beings as social subjects, and which produces the lived relations by which such subjects are connected to the dominant relations of production in a society .As a term , it covers all the various political modalities of such relations, from an identification with dominant power to an oppositional stance towards it. [45]

Beside this, Althusser's well known contribution to the theory of ideology proposes a more dynamic role for the ideological superstructure than had hitherto been allowed. Althusser recasts the classical Marxist model of economic base ideological superstructure and proposes a far more active role in society for the ideological superstructure. According to this model, ideology is "relatively autonomous" of the economic base and determined by it only "in the last instance". Ideology may take the form of systems of representation which can effectively play a political role of its own. [46] In most societies, coercion is not the only way of securing political order. Besides coercion, consent is an active element of securing the social political order. The main agencies for organizing and holding in place this consent are Ideological State Apparatuses. Most important of these are the institutions such as the religious system, education system, family and political system. Art also belongs to the domain of Ideological State Apparatuses. Like other Ideological State Apparatuses, art also contributes to the unconscious formation of individuals by interpellating them in various ways and calling them to take up their role in society. [47] Here, the stress is made upon the fact that this interpellation takes place at an unconscious level and it is a process of socialisation, namely an important condition of social existence within any economic system. For Althusser, individuals are placed as social subjects in complex and imperceptible ways. These ways provide them with the impression of being consistent, rational and free people. [48]

Anette Kuhn states that one of the most potentially interesting and valuable aspects of Althusser's work for a theory of cinema is that it points out a different way of conceiving its ideological function .Firstly, Althusser's work avoids the reductionist model of Hollywood films as mirrors of the capitalist system which produces them. In this context, the notion that there is a total and immediate determination between capitalism and the Hollywood films is criticized. Secondly, Althusser's work also avoids the essentialism involved in a belief in art for art's sake. In this case, the notion that culture can be regarded as independent of its historical conditions is also questioned. Anette Kuhn continues as follows:

The formulation of "relative autonomy" retains the notion of the long term, ultimate determination of the economic ("in the last instance") , whilst resisting a notion of simple direct reflexivity. But the difficulty remains of understanding the precise workings of this intricate and highly mediated relationship between base and super-structure. An objection often made about some of the recent work on film narrative - the theory of "classic realism" for instance- is that it tends to postpone or to ignore altogether the moment of the "last instance", so that the autonomy of the text , in principle "relative", is effectively seen as absolute. This results in increasingly detailed sophisticated analysis of the formal operations of texts which, however, fail to allow any significant role to the material conditions under which they were produced. -a particularly questionable omission in the case of an industrial art- form like the cinema. [49]

Having said this, we can more easily analyse the relationship between cultural phenomena and relations of power and conflict. Following the work of anthropologist Clifford Geertz, Thompson argues that concept of culture can appropriately be used to refer to the symbolic character of social life. But this statement must be supported by an emphasis on the fact that symbolic forms are embedded in structured social contexts which involve relations of power. For Thompson cultural phenomena are symbolic forms in structured contexts, and cultural analysis may focus on the study of the meaningful constitution and social contextualization of symbolic forms. [50] Starting from this point of view, cultural phenomena can be conceived as expressing relations of power, as serving in specific circumstances to sustain relations of power and as subject to multiple, divergent interpretations by the individuals who are effected by them. [51] As a modern form of communication (and one of the most widespread form of communication), cinema has a distinguished place in this context. Cinema is the product of Western countries at the specific time in their history and its emergence cannot be ascribed solely to artistic aspirations. Its emergence is closely related to the profit motive which is expressed through the western capitalism. [52] "Because every film is a part of the economic system" writes Bill Nichols "it is also part of the ideological system".[53] For this reason, it is useful to return to the commodification of cultural forms and have a brief look to the writings of Horkheimer and Adorno.

Horkheimer and Adorno use the term "culture industry" to refer to the commodification of cultural forms which occurred in the emergence of the entertainment industries in the West. Film, radio, TV, popular music, magazines and newspapers are the examples they gave. They argue that standardization of cultural forms was the result of the rise of the entertainment industries as capitalistic enterprises. Another consequence of this process is that it atrophied the capacity of the audience to behave in a critical and autonomous way. Since the cultural goods are manufactured in accordance with the aims of capitalist profit maximization they are designed for consumption by the masses. Rather than their intrisinc characteristics as an artistic form, the cultural goods are determined by the incentive of commodity production and exchange. Hence the cultural goods are standardized and stereotyped in spite of the fact that they generally affect a sign of individuality (i.e. by the star system). [54]

This characteristic of film as a commodity defines the structure of film industry as well. Starting from this principle, Hollywood film industry began to exploit the world market for films from the 1920's onwards. During the early years of cinema Hollywood studios tried to fix the production costs at a level (by controlling all the movie stars and studios which developed efficient and cost effective production methods) since this would allow them to be recouped in the American market, which was biggest in the world. On the other hand, prints sold to the external market were considered as the source of pure profit which allowed the prices to be adjusted to the extent that Hollywood studios could dominate the world market. [55] But before we begin to have a look to the large scale industrialization process of cinema we need to point out that the film industry has a three part structure divided into production, distribution and exhibition. The power relationship between them is not equal. Power in the film industry concentrates on the distribution company. [56] Indeed, finance for making a film today depends upon the negotiation of a distribution deal as a part of a package. Roy Armes writes as follows :

The producer is forced to cede rights in his film to the distributor, since he needs a distribution guarantee to raise the risk capital. The distributor does not , however , need to yield these rights in turn to the exhibitor, since the latter needs only a regular flow of assorted films on short term hire. Power in the film industry therefore resides in the distribution company, which , as a purely financial organization, can be located anywhere in the world : It is an intermediary stage not bound geographically to either studios where the films are produced or the cinemas where they are exhibited. US -controlled distribution companies clearly have no interest in fostering the development of rival film production industries anywhere in the Third world. [57]

As a product of capitalism, the cinema emerged in Europe in the 1890's in the form of a small scale industry. Despite their modest artisanal beginnings, the first film companies competed with each other to control local and international markets. Due to the disruption to European cinemas caused by World War I, American films began to control the world markets. After the War, the Hollywood film industry prepared to develop the structures for organizing the production and merchandizing of films which would form the oligopoly of the Hollywood Studio System.

Hollywood Studio System:

The Studio system originated with the major American film companies and the term is often applied to a specific period of filmmaking between early 1920 until about 1960. By the 1920's, these small number of production companies were vertically integrated [58] institutions, which also had an interest in controlling the distribution and exhibition of films as well. Around 1930, a number of production companies encountered financial problems as a consequence both the economic depression and of the coming of the sound. Due to these factors, they went bankrupt and left the field open for domination by the majors. Between 1930 and 1948, American film industry was controlled by eight companies. "The Big Five" (Warner Bros, RKO, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and MGM) not only had production facilities but also distribution companies and chains of film theatres as well. "The Little Three" (Universal, Columbia and United Artists) were not vertically integrated but since their films had access to the first run theatres owned by Big Five, they were also included in the list of the major film companies. In the 1950's, the studio system began to lose its power because the rise of TV and blacklisting of large numbers of creative personnel due to McCarthyism had effected the structure of the studios. [59] In addition, the relatively cheaper costs of filming on location abroad and the 1948 Supreme Court decision forcing the majors to divest themselves of their theatres played a significant role in this process. During this period, since the studios couldn't meet their payrolls, they chose to divest themselves of personnel and real estate. Furthermore they began to rent their facilities for independent productions -including TV productions.[60]

Today, major film companies are administered by financial conglomerates and the majors themselves play the role of producer-distributors, "financing films produced by independent talents, sometimes renting out their own facilities, and distributing films either financed by themselves or by others." [61] In addition to this fact, we need to add that production, distribution and exhibition are only one part of integrated media empires, which also control TV production and syndication companies, cable distribution networks, home video distribution, record companies, book and magazine publishing, theme parks, etc [62]

A. Kuhn states that in order to draw out the implications for the nature of the films, there are two ways of approaching the Hollywood Studio System as a particular economic institution. First of all, one may look both at the economic organisation and production relations of Studios. From this perspective, we see that both the nature of capital investment and vertical integration would play a decisive role in power relations in the industry between 1930 and 1948: The financial requirements of equipping the studios and theatres for sound (combined with the negative effects of depression in the 30's) caused the producers to seek financial backing especially from eastern banks. Indeed, during the 1930's, all the major companies had made financial organizations and this led to the domination of the Studios by outside finance sources. In this way, the balance of power determining the nature and form of the films shifted to the industry's businessmen rather than creative and technical personnel. The most important criteria for films was that they should secure financial return from exhibition. [63] This situation is the same today. "For Studios," writes Alan Parker "the dollar is everything." [64]

According to Anette Kuhn, the industry's overall economic organization may constitute a second way of approaching the relations of film production characteristic of the studios. Because of the reorganizations which were made in the early 30's, the Studios organized the production process on an assembly line basis. The industrial mass production of commodities constitutes the model for this kind of organisation. Standardisation of the product was the result of these developments. Indeed, a specific way of telling a story in film in which style is subordinated to the needs of the narrative was the first main characteristic of this kind of product standardisation. (Since we will see the characteristics of Classical Hollywood Cinema in Section II, we don't deal with it here.) Secondly, during this period, genre films (gangster, western etc.) were developed as a means of securing standardisation and guaranteeing a return on investment. [65]

Indeed, standardisation is one of the key words which provides us a better understanding about the fact that representation of Turks in Midnight Express is partly caused by the profit motive. On the standardisation of the product, Douglas Gomery writes as follows:

To keep the product flowing and the theatres full, Hollywood needed a regular source and style of films. Each one should be different enough to attract millions of patrons, but still be easily understood and turned out at the lowest possible cost. This regularity of feature film production and style became the cornerstone of the Hollywood film. Historians call this regular style of the Classical Hollywood Cinema.[66]

As we will see in the Second Section the "standardised" Classical Hollywood Narrative is generally motivated by a "goal-oriented individual". In this context, we need to mention that the Classical Cinema assumes that characters serve as the agents of action within the story. The center of the film rests on the decisions and actions of a finite set of characters. Hence, the narration requires goal oriented "good" characters and their counterparts, namely "bad" characters. (i.e. "bad" Turks in Midnight Express who are forces of opposition to the central character's desires and goals) What is important here is that the profit maximisation drive which leads to the standardisation of the product is closely related to the negative representation of Turks in Midnight Express. In the Second Section, we will extensively analyse how the certain conventions of Classical Hollywood Cinema effect the narrative style and the representation of Turks. (Having said this, we also need to keep in mind that the profit motive is not the sole determinative factor over the end product.)

Despite the transformations undergone in Hollywood film industry after 1960's (i.e. New trade practices, conglomerate ownership), none of these changes have had a major effect on the mode of production.. [67] Similarly, the classic style remained the major model for filmmaking despite the fact that there were both recent technological innovations [68] and certain new conventions which adopted from the narrative style of European art cinema. Another factor which indicates that "the new Hollywood" does not aim to change its style is that genres remain in force. [69] Gangster and outlaw films, thrillers, westerns, musicals, science-fiction films, comedies and melodrama are examples to those genres which remain in the "new Hollywood cinema".[70] For Pat H. Broeske, Midnight Express is "a modern horror story". [71] Similarly, Pauline Kael states that it is "an ultimate romantic horror show." [72]


Since Midnight Express is a Columbia Pictures release it is useful to have some idea of the history and the structure of the company itself. Columbia started as a distribution company in 1920 and began to produce films in 1924. But it didn't purchase theatres like other majors in the 1920's. During the 30's Columbia produced low budget supporting features for double bills which hadn't any big stars or prestigious production values. At this time, around 70% of its annual production (50 to 60 films) were in the "B" category. But in 1934, the success of "It Happened One Night" (Frank Capra) and "One Night of Love" (Victor Schertzinger) permitted Columbia to produce "A" feature filmmaking. (Columbia is often considered as an exponent of New Deal type populism due to the films of Frank Capra). During the 1930's and 1940's which were the peak years of the Studio system, (though Columbia had players of its own) it began to contract with stars and directors from other Studios by an arrangement for a specific number of films. It was a leading company to use a unit production system in which several producers controlled and supervised 6 to 8 films per year. The World War II boom enabled Columbia to expand its assets in five years. During this time (in the 50's), since no Studio was allowed to own theatres due to the 1948 Anti-trust decision, Columbia began to challenge the Big Five. [73] When Columbia was confronted with fierce competition from TV in the early 1950's, it began to produce adaptations of best selling books or Broadway hits. Columbia was also the first of the eight majors to enter TV production since its limited financial resources prevented it from investing in widescreen or cinerama. On the other hand, when TV became popular and cinema attendance began to drop by the mid 1950's, the need to differentiate films from TV serials became an important problem to solve. Columbia attempted to solve the problem by using technicolor and Cinema Scope, location cinematography techniques and violence in its films . [74]

Columbia travelled a rocky road in the 1950's and 1960's. The real achievement for it came in the mid 70's (1976-77). In 1973, the company suffered its heaviest ever annual loss and the company changed. [75] New owners employed diversification and moreover they produced blockbuster movies which led the company to success [76]. One of those blockbuster movies was Midnight Express (1978) which was made by British director Alan Parker. Since director, producer, cinematographer, editor, art director and a number of actors were British, before we concern ourselves with other issues, we need to explain the reasons why British filmmakers work with American financing.

Economic Obstacles Of The British Film Industry and "Immigrant British Filmmakers"

Since its early days, the British Cinema has been expected to survive without important government support on a small market. For this reason, the British film industry confronted several crisis. Two big, vertically integrated companies (which are now Rank and Thorn-Emi) established their own studios, but only for a very short time, in 1930's, when they dominated the British production industry completely. Hence, the vital problem for the British Film Industry has been Hollywood. [77] Another factor which created obstacles for the British film industry is that since its earliest days the British cinema market has been supplied with English speaking features from America. This situation also hampered the industry in creating films which reflect British culture and explore matters of concern to British people. [78] The second big obstacle has been TV. The effect of TV has been compounded recently by home video since Britain has one of the highest rates of video cassette ownership in the world. Furthermore, there is an anti cinematic intellectual climate which has failed to support the cinema, because film has a mass culture image as opposed to theatre or opera. In sum, such economic and cultural problems encouraged British moviemakers to leave Britain and seek adequate economic and creative facilities in Hollywood. Tony Richardson, Alfred Hitchcock, John Schlesinger, Karel Reisz, Peter Yates, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, John Boorman, Adrien Lyne, Stephen Frears, Kenneth Branagh and Alan Parker [79] were some of those British filmmakers who went to Hollywood. [80] Neal Nordlinger writes about how Alan Parker joined the Midnight Express project as follows :

Imagine you're Alan Parker, the English director who did Bugsy Malone. You're in New York to discuss a project with Columbia; and walking down the street you run into Peter Guber,, dynamic principal in Casablanca Filmworks and producer of the 1977 summer smash The Deep . Peter says," where are you staying?" You reply ,"At the Plaza. But I'm here to talk about something else". And Peter says, "Fine, I won't talk to you .I'll just send a book over to your hotel."

The book was "Midnight Express", Bill Hayes' story of his incarceration in a Turkish prison for attempted hash smuggling. And that is how Alan Parker came to direct the film of the same name. Well, almost. Parker was definitely taken by the book ("It read like a dime novel , until you realized, 'my god, it is a true story!") and drawn to the idea of making a film about ' cruel prison conditions, injustice, and man's inhumanity to man. [81]

Before he directed Midnight Express, Parker made No Hard Feeling (1973) and Evacuees for TV. Though his third film, Bugsy Malone (1976) established him as a feature director, the enormous success of his fourth film, Midnight Express [82] positioned him to do almost any film he wanted. [83] Actually, this film is "almost bewilderingly different from anything he had done before." [84] As a result, the budget of his next film (Fame) was "eight million dollars as opposed to the 2.8 million that Midnight Express cost and the amazing one million Bugsy Malone was made for." [85] From this perspective, it can be argued that one of the reasons for using excessive levels of violence (together with the negative representation of Turks) in the film may be explained by Alan Parker's drive to make a movie for the international "action" market. Needless to say, Parker's personal motives constitute only one determinant of the negative representation of Turks. [86] It can also be stated that western conceptions of Turks play a determinative role in the negative representation. In the next section, we'll briefly investigate the western conceptions of the Turks which are important in their representation. But before we begin this issue, we need to emphasize the notion of the historicity of human experience since the western conceptions of Turks largely depend on historical traditions. For Hans-Georg Gadamer, human experience is always historical, to the extent that new experience is absorbed in the "residues of what is past". [87] In order to understand the new, our knowledge depends on what is already present. On the other hand, another aspect of the historicity of human experience is that the residues of the past may also provide the conditions to obscure or conceal the present. [88] As we shall see later on, western conception of Orient provides a basis upon which the contemporary western filmmakers assimilate new experiences about the Orient. In the case of Midnight Express, we'll also see that these residues function to obscure or disguise the present.

Western Conceptions Of The Orient And The Turks:

In Marx's work class relations constitute a major criteria in the understanding of the relations of domination in a society. According to Marx, relations of class domination constitute the principal conditions of inequality and exploitation in human societies in general, and in modern capitalist societies in particular. But class relations are by no means the only form of domination and subordination. There are other kinds of domination such as "the structured social relations between men and women, between one ethnic group and another, or between hegemonic nation states and those nation states located on the margins of a global system ". [89]

The relationship between West ("Occident") and East ("Orient") is another example of a relationship of power and domination. [90] For Edward Said, Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and the Occident. It is a Western style of dominating, restructuring and building hegemony over the Orient.[91] Indeed, the two geographical entities (West and East) thus support and in a sense reflect each other. [92] But we have to avoid seeing the Orient as an idea which has no correspondence to reality. As we mentioned before, ideas in some particular circumstances may serve to establish and sustain relations of domination . Edward Said writes as follows :

Orientalism ,.., is not an airy European fantasy about the Orient , but a created body of theory and practice in which , for many generations , there has been a considerable material investment . Continued investment made Orientalism , as a system of knowledge about the Orient , an accepted grid for filtering through the Orient into Western consciousness, just as that same investment multiplied -indeed, made truly productive -the statements proliferating out from Orientalism into the general culture. [93]

In order to explain the strength and durability of Orientalism, Edward Said employs the Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony. For Gramsci, civil society is made up of voluntary affiliations (schools, families etc.) which are noncoercive. On the other hand, political society is made up of state institutions (the army, the court etc.) which may use direct domination and violence. Culture operates within the domain of civil society since its effects work through consent. This framework also includes the fact that certain cultural artefacts can predominate over others. According to Said, the form of this cultural leadership is identified as hegemony by Gramsci. Indeed, hegemony provides Orientalism its durability and strength. In this context, Said argues that Orientalism is never far from the idea of Europe, namely a collective notion identifying the Europeans as against non- Europeans who are inferior ones in comparison with all the European cultures and people. The major component in European culture which can be described as "superiority over others" gave this culture its hegemonic characteristic. [94] Said continues as follows :

Under the general heading of knowledge of the Orient, and within the umbrella of Western hegemony over the Orient during the period from the end of the eighteenth century, there emerged a complex Orient suitable for study (...) Additionally , the imaginative examination of things Oriental was based more or less exclusively upon a sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged , first according to general ideas about who or what was an Oriental , then according to a detailed logic governed not simply by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions , investments, and projections. [95]

Hence, the representation of Turkish people in western literature and cinema is not different from Middle Eastern stereotype. First of all they are attributed negative physical characteristics such as ugliness, dirtiness and moral characteristics so that they are always lustful, fanatical, irrational, cruel, scheming, unreliable, defeated. Their only reason for existence is to pose challenge to the western hero. For this reason, if they have any energy it only provides problems to the hero since the characteristics of this energy are evil. Their countries are passive background to the stories in which all the important and good things are done by Western heroes like James Bond. If they have a problem they are not able to solve it, because a western hero is necessary to solve the problem or at least to show them the way to the solution. [96] In Western literature we can easily find various examples in which Turks are presented in association with negative connotations such as cruelty, religious fanaticism, espionage, dirtiness, drug addiction etc. For example, Simon Shephard writes about the image of the Turk during the Renaissance period as follows:

Turks, Tartars, even Persians constituted the infidel powers which neighboured and threatened European Christiandom. The word "Turk" was mainly used in two ways, as a generic name for an Islamic State with its own characteristic institutions of Government and military; and as a description of behaviour or character— the Turks 'being of nature cruel and heartless'(...) The idea of cruelty was probably produced by the Turks' distant foreignness combined with an absence from their lives of comprehensible Christian ethics, but more importantly by their military threat. [97]

This trend in Early English Stage covers Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlane the Great (1590) and the Jew of Malta (1592), Thomas Kyd's the Tragedy of Soliman and Perseda (1599), Fulke Greville's the Tragedy of Mustapha (1609), John Mason's the Turk (1610), Robert Daborne's Christian turn'd Turke (1612), Thomas Goffe's the Raging Turke or Bajazet the Second (1631), Ladowick Carlell's the Famous Tragedy of Osmand the Great Turk (1657), Nevile Payne's the Siege of Constantinople (1675), Elkonah Settle's Ibrahim the Illustrious Bassa (1677), and Mary Pix's Ibrahim the Thirteenth Emperor of the Turks (1696) [98]

In these plays, one of the important Turkish stereotypes is a Turkish tyrant who separates two lovers by falling in love with the girl (a naive Turkish beauty) who he has kept in his possession through force. But because of the faithfulness to her lover who is a Christian Westerner, she is either rewarded by God with a happy reunion, or she chooses death instead of the Turkish Pasha's love. [99] While she analyses the general characteristics of Elizabethan plays Rana Kabbani writes that "Shakespeare whitewashes Othello by making him a servant of the Venetian State, a soldier fighting for a Christian power, and most importantly, a killer of Turks..." [100] At the 19th century, due to the censorship of British Victorian society, eroticism was transferred either into the world of underground pornography or to "exotic" lands such as Ottoman Territories. Indeed, some European writers chose Eastern settings and characters to satisfy their reader's sexual interests. Kamil Aydin writes as follows :

In fiction, the Lustful Turk (first published in 1828) is an outstanding example of a convention that consists largely of a series of letters written by its heroine, Emily Barlow, to her friend Sylvia Carey. When the heroine sails from England for India in June 1814 , their ship is attacked by Turks and afterwards they are taken to the sumptuous harem. In this epistolary novel, readers quickly encounter bizzare sexual scenes and stories associated with the lecherous and cruel character of the Turkish Dey. All the erotic fantasies are narrated through Emily as she talks to the other enslaved girls in the harem, eg. one of the captives in the harem is a Greek girl named , Adrianti, who tells the tragic story of how her father and brother were slaughtered before her eyes by the Turks. [101]

Similarly Lord Byron employed a Ottoman territory for a horror story and started to write a story about a vampire taking Izmir as the setting. [102] In his Turkish Tales, Leile, Zuleika and Gulnare are presented as beautiful, hopeless victims of a Turkish governor. [103] At the decline era of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish image took another form "which is sometimes demeaning, sometimes critically mocking and caricaturised by Victorian figures such as Bayle St. John, Thackeray, C. Dickens and so on." [104] In his Rowing Englishmen, Charles Dickens writes that, "Oh no! We should have been off anywhere but in Turkey." [105]

This tradition has not changed in the 20th century. For instance, Paul Bowles claims that "if a nation [Turks] wishes, however mistakenly to westernise itself, first let it give up hashish." [106] Ernest Hemingway clearly states his uneasiness with Istanbul since it is very dirty and he adds that "[minarets] look like dirty, white candles sticking up for no apparent reason." [107]

Films have also produced and disseminated particular negative images of Turks. For example, in Lawrence Of Arabia (David Lean) the moviemakers present Turks as corrupt, evil, barbarian, ugly, sodomite peoples by using the point of view of a British army officer. Similarly, in Pascali's Island (James Dearden) Ben Kingsley plays an ugly, bold, bisexual Turkish spy who becomes tragically involved with Charles Dancer's tricksy archaeologist and Helen Mirren's Austrian painter in the middle. Due to his fanatical jealousy and denunciation, the lovers (English archaeologist and Austrian painter) are killed by the cruel, ugly, fat, bribee Turkish Pasha of the island. In Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray,1954), the name of one of the bank robbers is Turkey. [108]

In this context, we need to add that stereotypes about western people are regarded as structurally central in relation with the stereotypes of Turks because stereotypes of Turks are partially defined in terms of or in opposition to western people. [109] For this reason, the dirty, lustful Turk attains at least some of its meaning and force from its opposition to the clean, rational, honest etc. characteristics of western people. [110] In the next Section, while we will try to analyse the effects of classical Hollywood Cinema on the representation of Turks in Midnight Express, we will clearly observe that how certain stereotypes about Turks are employed to contribute to the cause-effect chain in the narrative structure of this film.


The number of possible narratives in cinema are various, but the term of "Classical Hollywood Cinema" refers to a specific way of telling a story in which style is dominated by the needs of the narrative. In this section, the main characteristics of Classical Hollywood Cinema are analysed under subheadings. These are narrative motivated by goal-oriented individual, closed point of view, strong closure, construction of a coherent time-space continuum and character oriented mise en scene. In each of these subheadings, I will try to show how the conventions of Classical Hollywood Cinema contribute to the representation of Turks in the Midnight Express. (Some of the subheadings -i.e. dominance of narrative, centred composition - are excluded from our analysis since they don't provide relevant information for our subject matter.)

Narrative Motivated By Goal Oriented Individual

According to an important assumption of Classical Hollywood Cinema, the action springs from individual characters as causal agents. In other words, narrative is usually motivated by goal-oriented individual and his or her personal decisions, choices and traits of character. The desires of the character are decisive in this context. The desires which are relevant to the narrative set up the goals, then the characters want to achieve these goals and the process begins. The latter goals create short term goals along the way. But there is a counter force which creates conflict. This counter force is another character whose traits and goals are opposed to protagonist's traits and goals. When protagonist and other character try to achieve their goals, they enter into conflict and contribute to the cause -effect chain. Cause-effect implies change. Therefore, the goal oriented individual is a strong source of causes and effects. [111]

In Midnight Express, the main character is Billy Hayes and his goals serve as preconditions for action. Narrative is generally motivated by Billy Hayes and his goals and desires. At the beginning of the film, the audience see him as a slim, handsome, clean, young American who has hashish in his possession while attempting to board a plane in Istanbul Airport. But he is arrested at the airport and put into jail by Turkish police. [112] After his arrest, his desire to get out from a hostile prison environment is a strong source of causes and effects. Throughout the film, Billy Hayes wants to get out of jail by using various methods which include finding a way into a tunnel system running beneath the prison.

On the other hand, there is counter-force that creates conflict. Turks (and even their customs, laws...) are considered as opposing characters that would create conflict. For instance, in Hayes's first trial, the Turkish prosecutor wants a sentence for smuggling rather than possession, a charge which can result in life imprisonment. (In fact, when the sentence comes, his Turkish lawyer tells Billy that he gets off lucky with a four year, two months term.) But later on, the prosecutor feels uneasy with the sentence and this new situation caused by Turkish officials contributes to the cause - effect chain: When Hayes's sentence dwindles to only fifty-three remaining days, a new trial is scheduled, and Hayes now faces a smuggling charge. Speaking out at his trial Hayes states that he has spent three and half years in the prison and he thinks that he has paid for his error. In the same speech, he blames the Turks for wanting to make an example of him. He continues as follows:

For nation of pigs, it sure is funny you don't eat them. Jesus Christ forgave the bastards. But I can't. I hate them. I hate you, I hate your nation and I hate your people and I fuck your sons and daughters. Because they are pigs. You are all pigs.

After his speech he learns that he has received a sentence of no less than thirty years and this means that he has no alternative but to escape. In fact, he finds a way into a tunnel system running beneath the prison with other western prisoners, namely Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid) and Max (John Hurt). After they enter into the tunnel system they learn that the tunnel is a dead end, but they don't give up their trials with the hope of finding another way out somewhere in the tunnel. Unfortunately, the tunnel entrance is discovered by one of the Turkish prisoners, a man named Rifki (Paolo Bonicelli) who is an informer eager to gain an advantage over prisoners by learning anything that might give him leverage. Rifki tells of the tunnel entrance to the prison officials and one of the westerners, Jimmy Booth, is taken away for punishment. Later, Billy Hayes steals Rifki's money for revenge. Feeling angry over the theft, Rifki accuses Max of dealing in hashish. Like Jimmy Booth, Max is taken away by the Turkish guards. Hayes who isn't able to control himself anymore, attacks Rifki and chews off his tongue in slow motion. After this uncontrolled violence, Hayes is put in Section Thirteen, the wing for criminally insane. While he is in this section, he is visited by his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle) who secretly gives him money for his escape. After receiving the money, Hayes goes to a prison official, Hamidou (Paul Smith) and attempts to bribe him so that he will be placed in the hospital, from which he can easily escape. The Turkish official Hamidou makes a sexual advance on him and for this reason Hayes pushes him against a wall where he is impaled on a hook and dies instantly. Then Hayes puts on Hamidou's uniform and escapes. As this synopsis of the film indicates, a goal-oriented individual is strong source of causes and effects in the narrative structure of the Midnight Express. In this context, if Turks are allowed the dignity of having a trait of character in the film, it is only to pose a challenge to Billy Hayes.

Actually, one important thing for the representation of Turks is that Billy Hayes does not come up against a "single" character whose traits and goals are opposed to his. Rather than a single individual, all the Turks (both guards and prisoners) constitute the counter force who oppose Billy Hayes. At this point, it is useful to state that Classical Hollywood Cinema is one of several film traditions which emphasize the creation of round characters [113] to such an extent that its narrative is largely built upon stereotyped roles: Italian Mafia boss, the black servant, wisecracking showgirl, Chinese cook are some examples of round characters which occur in Hollywood films. (Furthermore, we need to add that in Classical Hollywood Cinema, through type casting, actors are selected and directed to conform to type.) [114] Having said this, it can be argued that Midnight Express contributes much to the strengthening of a stereotype, namely cruel Turkish prison guard and prisoner who are both characterized by their dirtiness, ugliness, barbarism and sodomitic tendencies.

Before we analyse the distinguishing features of "Turkish round characters" in Midnight Express, we need to underline that there is no single Turk who can be regarded as an "individual". Throughout the film, we do not have further knowledge about the social, psychological features of Turkish people other than their negative physical or psychological attributes. For example, the film never pauses to ask what the social background of the Turkish prisoners is and what their punishment might mean to themselves etc...Turks are not regarded as people who have distinguishing motivations, goals, personal decisions, choices and traits of character which constitute an "individual" like Billy Hayes. On the contrary, they look like each other since all of the characteristics which they possess are restricted, similar and negative. In Section Thirteen, while other Turkish prisoners conti- nuously turn to the right from the left around a stone, Billy Hayes attempts to turn to the left and for this reason he is warned by one of the Turks, Philosopher Ahmet. Philosopher Ahmet talks as follows:

There will be trouble if you turn this way. A good Turk would be turn to the right. Left is communist, right is good. You see! You must go the other way. The other way is good.

We have already mentioned that through type-casting Hollywood narrative selects and directs actors to conform to type. It is interesting to know that the grotesque Turks of Section Thirteen were drawn from real geriatrics and sick people from a Malta hospital and they were intermixed with actors. [115] In fact, all of the Turks in Midnight Express are ugly and dirty types. The head-guard Hamidou is a huge, bald man with great clumps of hair growing from the rims of his ears. He has eyebrows joining over his nose and he is always sweating. The other guards are similarly ugly, fat, chain- smokers who have moustaches, oily hairs and hairy nostrils. Their clothes are usually ill-fitting. (But we notice that when Billy Hayes escapes in Hamidou's uniform, the clothes "magically" fit his body despite that he is much thinner than Hamidou.) Similarly, the Turkish prisoners who have decayed teeth, unkept fingernails, torn, dirty clothes never wash themselves like Billy and other western prisoners. But we see that Billy and Swede make sport and wash themselves in a steaming sauna which appears in a patch of sunlight despite the fact that they live in the filthy prison. Due to blindness, Rifki's one eye seems to be open even when he sleeps and for all these reasons it is obvious that the audience doesn't waste his or her sympathy on Turkish prisoners. But dirtiness and ugliness are not limited to the guards and prisoners. Even the rich Turkish lawyer who is a fleshy, grinning person with heavily greased black hair can't escape from this categorization. He is shown as a nose picker while he waits Billy for a meeting. Furthermore, he doesn't know how to put on his cravat since we see that his cravat is either too short or there is an ornament near to the top of it which is obviously not at the proper place. Additionally, Billy's father, Mr Hayes (Mike Kellin) says that he has diarrhoea because of the Turkish food he ate and he continues as follows:

I think food is lousy. Crap they sell in those Turkish restaurants. I ran into the toilet. You should have seen the toilets. Anyway I am not taking any more chances. I'm gonna eat at the Hilton every night: Steak, French fries and lots of ketchup.

Beside ugliness and dirtiness, stupidity and ignorance are also common in Turks. At the beginning of the film a policeman opens Billy's shoulder bag and finds a frisbee, but doesn't understand what it is. After Billy explains him that it is a game he bestially hits the frisbee against the shoulder bag. In the next scenes, none of the policemen are able to write the name of Billy Hayes since they don't know English. When they arrest him; instead of taking Billy's photographs simply from the front and profile, they take picture of Billy and themselves while he is standing in the middle of them with his arms full of drugs. After this "big game hunter picture" is taken, Billy pulls off one of his boots, bangs it on the heel and then two plaques of hashish clatter to the floor indicating the fact that the stupid Turkish police is incapable of finding them.

Additionally, the bestiality and insensitiveness which Billy witnesses daily are "natural" characteristics of Turks regardless of being policemen or prisoner. Knifings are common among the prisoners. Child prisoners are also tortured. Jimmy Booth is given a lengthy prison sentence for stealing candlesticks from a mosque. On his first night, Billy is hung up by the ankles and clubbed by Hamidou. When his sentence dwindles to fifty-three remaining days, a new trial is scheduled to make him an example to other drug offenders. Pauline Kael writes as follows:

The director works in xenophobic, melodramatic terms: The Americans, the Englishman and the Swede are civilized and sensitive, and the Turks are bestial, sadistic, filthy. There are no ambiguities, there is no depth. [116]

Sodomy is another notorious Turkish feature which is embedded in Midnight Express. For instance, Philosopher Ahmet confesses that he raped a child. The policemen stare at Billy's naked body with sexual desire on their faces. At the end of the film, Hamidou comes towards him with the interest of sodomy. As he recounts prison life and Turkish culture in his letters to his girlfriend, he clearly states that despite the fact that homosexuality is a big crime here, most of the Turks do it every chance they get. In fact, while his voice continues to inform us about horrors and crimes the audience sees that child prisoners come towards each other with homosexual interest. But we need to mention that in spite of the fact that the original book describes Billy's homosexual affair with a Swedish prisoner; the film shows him rejecting the Swedish prisoner's advances. [117] Parker explains the reason of the rejection as follows:

A kiss for Billy Hayes

To me it wasn't important that it was a homosexual relationship as such. What was important was that there was a moment of tenderness and closeness to another human being. I didn't, therefore, want to lose one half of the audience's sympathy for that character because they thought that he was gay. Which he wasn't. Because of the shorthand that you are forced to use in film — you know, we're talking about a two and a half minute scene — it would have biased the film totally in the wrong direction to make him gay. [118]

Lastly, we point out that one of the important factors which contributes much to the strangeness of Turks is the fact that foreign dialogue (Turkish) is not subtitled. The filmmakers permit players to speak in Turkish since this situation can easily create a strong sense of the strangeness of being in a foreign place for audience and Billy Hayes. Alan Parker points out as follows:

Part of Billy's problem was the alienation because he was surrounded by people speaking a strong guttural language he couldn't understand so he did not know what was going on a good share of the time. [119]

A good example which indicates that even the Turkish language is regarded as "disgusting" as Turks can be found in the scene in which Billy is visited by his girlfriend. In this scene, he sees her in a small booth where the two are separated by a plate of glass. At his urging in Turkish ("Ac"), she unties her blouse, and as he looks at her breasts, he masturbates. Here by letting him use Turkish, he is represented as a person who is heavily effected by this "strange, brutal" culture. In fact, during the scene Susan asks that what did Turks do to him.

Point Of View

In Classical Hollywood Cinema, narration uses a number of options, but "objective" narration is relatively more important among them. A plot which is constructed according to the conventions of this kind of narration confines the viewer wholly to information about characters' external behaviour; specifically what they say and do. In this structure, there is not much to do with perceptual or mental subjectivity. In other words; the plot does not usually reveal the events through what characters see and hear. Moreover, even if we follow a single character, we can have information about different events the character doesn't see. [120]

This is not always true for Midnight Express in which the narration is relatively subjective. In order to be regarded as having relatively subjective narrative structure, a film's plot usually provides us with access to what characters perceive. "Point of view shots" in which we see shots taken from character's optical position are one of the means. The other one is "sound perspective" in which we hear the sounds as the character would perceive them. For Thompson and Bordwell, both sound perspective and point of view shot would offer a greater degree of subjectivity which can be named as "perceptual subjectivity". Moreover if plot enters into a character's mind a greater depth will be obtained. In such a case, the audience may hear an internal commentary revealing the character's inner thoughts or he or she may see the character's inner images. This situation may be named "mental subjectivity". [121]

Both mental and perceptual subjectivity are widely used in Midnight Express and furthermore they play a decisive role in the representation of Turks since a lot of the information about Turks is presented from Billy Hayes's point of view.

In order to see that Midnight Express would offer a great degree of perceptual subjectivity, it is very helpful to look at how the point of view shots and sound perspective are used: Throughout the film, we are shown events from Billy's optical position or hear sounds as he hears them. For example, on his first night, before he's hung up by the ankles and clubbed by Hamidou, Billy Hayes hears trampling feet. Then we see him as he turns his head to learn who is coming. At this point, the director employs the point of view shot of Billy Hayes and through his point of view we will have the information that Hamidou is coming for the first time towards Hayes. Film is full of such perceptual subjectivity: He and the Swiss person are at the window, watching while the Turks torture the children. We hear Muslim prayers as he hears and wakes up from his bed. But the perceptual subjectivity of Turks is quite restricted in the sense that we very seldom hear or see things from the Turk's perceptual vantage point. The exceptional cases to this are those in which they will attempt to harm somebody- especially Billy and his western friends. In such cases we get direct access to their minds: When Rifki reports Max to Hamidou, saying that Max has been dealing in hashish, Hamidou looks at the side on which Max is standing. Then filmmaker uses the point of view shot of Hamidou. Seconds later, terrified Max is led away for punishment. Similarly, Hamidou's point of view is again used at the end of the film when he attempts to sodomize Billy.

By plunging into Billy's mind, the plot also creates mental subjectivity: We hear his voice as an internal commentary revealing various thoughts and have information about his arrest, prison life and Turkish customs. In one such scene, Hayes thoughts are as follows:

To the Turks everything is "soyle boyle" which means like this, like that. You'll never know what'll happen. All foreigners are "ayip". They considered dirty. So was homosexuality. It's a big crime here. Most of them do it every chance they get. There are about thousands of things that are "ayip". For instance, you can stab or shoot somebody below the waist. But not up. Because that's intent to kill. So everybody runs around stabbing everyone else in the ass. That's what they called Turkish revenge. I know that's all sound crazy to you, but this place is crazy.

In addition to these, we hear his father's voice, saying "We'll get you out of here" as Billy remembers that voice. But filmmakers don't use inner images representing Billy's fantasies, dreams or nightmares. Lastly, I need to point out that like perceptual subjectivity, Turks don't have any mental subjectivity either. We depend wholly upon their external behaviour, namely what they say and do.

Strong Closure

Most Classical narrative films end when the major questions are answered. The resolution means reconstruction of a state of equilibrium, a condition which echoes the one which begins the film. At the beginning of the classical films, the fictional world of film reveals a state of equilibrium. Narrative equilibrium accepts that social life is comfortably ordered with everyone in their position. Hence, the resolution is a confirmation of the initial social equilibrium. [122]

The end of the Midnight Express is satisfying because the questions which were posed have been answered. At the end of the film, Billy Hayes escapes from prison. Closing credits report Hayes's return to the United States, and still photographs show us him with his father, mother and Susan. We can say that the freeze frames at the end of Midnight Express lead the audience to approve safe, protected and civilized Western world since motion is so essential to the screen image: When the motion suddenly stops, we are forced to reflect upon a lifeless, still image frozen there on the screen which only seconds before was full of terrifying moving images. Due to this, the viewer becomes more aware of social contradictions and how lucky he is to be an American or Westerner. In this structure, what is implied for the representation of Turks is that they are still embedded in their uncivilized, dirty, brutal, insensitive conditions without any sign of changing them.

Construction of A Coherent Time Space Continuum

Continuity editing, depth of image and synchronic diegetic sound (except music) are the elements which provide proper grounds to construct a coherent time-space continuum in the Classical Cinema. In this section, I will try to investigate how each one of those elements would shape the representation of Turks in Midnight Express

Continuity editing constructs a temporal continuity and a spatial coherence in the narrative structure of films. The 180 degree rule is one of the main rules of continuity editing. According to the 180 degree rule; cross-cutting is alternating between two different places; and framing and joining shots so that the camera remains on one side of an imaginary line which is drawn through characters. Moreover, continuity editing refers to matching actions and eyeline match. Eyeline matches and point of view shots are patterns which suggest what characters are looking at. Alternating between shots of two characters in a dialogue is shot/reverse shot editing. [123] All of the techniques of continuity editing are used in Midnight Express. But in one case, the "match on action" principle is slightly underestimated, because this modification would increase the bestiality of the Turkish guard, Hamidou: On his first day, Billy waits for punishment since he takes a blanket without permission. Then we see that Hamidou enters into the jail and walks towards Hayes and stops in front of him. During this shot, there is nothing in Hamidou's hands. Once the 180 degree line is established, director employs the shot/reverse shot pattern (in medium close-ups) to give the conversation between Billy and Hamidou. In the last one of these shot/reverse shots, Hamidou suddenly hits Billy with his hand and while Billy falls backwards, camera pans with him to show the place where he falls. The next shot is a high angle, long shot taken from behind the Hamidou in which we see that he suddenly has a "magical" stick in his hand. With this "magical" stick, he begins to beat Billy.

Depth of image is another device which is used to construct a coherent time- space continuum. Classical Cinema creates space in various planes through various depth cues. In addition to the usual cues of visual overlap and familiar size, the Classical Hollywood cinematographer employs pattern, colour, texture, lighting and focus to specify depth. [124] These depth cues are extensively used in Midnight Express, but what is important for the representation of Turks is that various depth cues contribute much to the sense of claustrophobia caused by Turks. In the foreground, middle ground and background of the frame, there are various items associated with Turks and these items may be considered as obstacles which isolate Billy from his environment. The trial scene which is shot in a monastery corridor [125] constitute a good example of this. There are columns, a red Turkish flag, iron railings, a sculptured figure of the founder of Turkish Republic, civilian Turks, guards, chairs in the corridor and all of those transform the long corridor to a place full of obstacles. Despite the fact that depth cues are widely used in the trial scene, since there are a lot of items in the foreground, middle ground and background associated with Turks, they create a strong sense of claustrophobia for the audience and Billy Hayes as well. Moreover, the rooms of the prison (especially the Lunatic Asylum) are cramped with beds and bodies to create a similar effect. On the other hand, the most important depth cue in cinema is movement and we also find various examples to the use of movement for creating a negative association towards Turks. For instance, when the guards intent to harm somebody, they usually walk towards the camera and their movement not only creates various planes, but at the same time threatens the audience. Similarly, when Billy is brought to "Sagmalcilar" jail, the police car moves to the camera as if it will crush the audience.

Synchronic, diegetic sound is the last device which helps to construct a coherent time-space continuum. (Diegetic refers to source of sound which belongs to the story world of the narrative. Synchronous sound refers to the temporal relation between sound and image. Another useful distinction for our analysis is made between sources of sound whether they are onscreen or offscreen.) In Midnight Express, use of sound is modelled upon Classical Cinema's use of images. For the purpose of intensification of important sounds and the rejection of unimportant ones, sound technicians articulate the foreground and background voices and noises. At the same time, we need to be aware of the fact that due to the centrality of human characters, Classical Hollywood Cinema gives special emphasis to speech and dialogue. [126] In this context, we will mainly focus on the offscreen, diegetic and non-diegetic use of sound since those have significance for the representation of Turks. In Midnight Express, we can find several examples for this synchronic, diegetic, offscreen use of sound especially if Turks torture somebody either psychologically or physically. For instance, when Max learns that somebody (Rifki) kills his cat, we hear Muslim prayers offscreen. In the airport, before Billy attempts to board the plane, we hear offscreen- diegetic voices of Turkish policemen and assume that some harmful thing threatens Billy and Susan. Indeed, frequent use of offscreen voices contributes much to the feeling that Turks are everywhere and they can watch everything at all times. [127] Beside this, there is also non-diegetic use of sound (i.e. Turkish songs in which they contain a din of arms.) especially in violent scenes. When Billy attacks Rifki and chews off his tongue, we hear a Turkish song. Similarly, when Hamidou whips Jimmy with a leather belt, Jimmy's yells of pain provide the melody to a Turkish song.

Character Oriented Mise en Scene

The term mise en scene refers to the contents of film frame and it includes the setting, lighting, costume-make up and the behaviour of the figures. Mise en scene produces meaning in films, even if only by providing visual information about the fictional world of a narrative. In classical Hollywood Cinema, mise en scene is designed to be relevant to the story and giving information about characters. [128]

Midnight Express is largely committed to portraying Billy Hayes, who is isolated from society by "brutal" Turks. Thus selection and construction of setting help to enhance a sense of such a kind of isolation. For instance, the filmmakers use the walls, ancient wire fences, doors, iron bailings, plate of glasses to provide visual symbols for the social and cultural barriers that separate Billy from the rest of the civilized society. Hence, in the small booth where Billy and his girlfriend, Susan are separated by a plate of glass, he looks at Susan's breasts and masturbates. Similarly, in the trial sequence the scenic designer puts a ventilator in front of a Turkish judge and when it works it resembles a guillotine. Needless to mention, the prison is very dirty: In the Lunatic Asylum, bunks are pushed together in clusters of three and four and a lot of men sleep together on them. Pauline Kael writes as follows:

The prison itself is more like a brothel than a prison; the film was shot mostly in nineteenth century British barracks in Malta, which was turned into a setting worthy of this de Sade entertainment. (It even has a flooded catacomb.)...Misery is so decorative it's almost Felliniesque. [129]

Indeed, the film sometimes turns towards the "surreal" by employing odd, bizarre images over the "realist" background and this "surrealism" is closely associated with the Turks. The Lunatic Asylum sequence constitutes a good example of "surrealism". But there are other scenes which help to enhance the "surreal" feeling. For instance, on his first day in the prison yard, Billy sees screaming little Turkish children who play soccer, wrestlers and their spectators, gamblers, tea-sellers, a dwarf, a man who polishes shoes, two dogs which run after a goat, peacocks, a pedlar, linen for the wash and finally dirty looking policemen pacing back and forth. But "surrealism" is not only restricted to the prison life. The outside world also contains "surrealistic" images. When Billy enters the coffeehouse to inform on the drug-dealer, the moviemakers insert the cooked head of a sheep and an old Turk who tries to eat it. At the beginning of the film, when Billy washes his face in the toilet, the audience notices that there is a picture of the founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on the wall which refers to the myth that "Big Brother is watching you even in the toilet." Lastly, we need to add that Billy and his friends' world are personalised by the use of small belongings (i.e. books, a map, sunglasses, the colour photograph of Susan). But Turkish prisoners don't posses such kind of various small belongings (except knives) since they are not treated as "individuals" in the film.

Hollywood Cinema uses three points lighting system in which three light sources per shot are employed. In this system, three lights are arranged in a near triangular position above the bodies of the actors. The backlight comes from behind and above the player, the key light comes diagonally from the front, and the fill light shines from near the camera. The key light is closer to the player and also brighter than the fill light. Generally, each player in a scene has his or her own three points lighting system. Other fill lights (which are called background or set lighting) fall on the setting or minor characters to illuminate them. One important demand of this three points lighting system is that it requires the light sources to be rearranged every time the camera changes its position to a new framing of the scene. In other words, we have different lighting arrangements for each camera position. Also it is useful to keep in mind that there are various permutations in this lighting system and these are motivated by genre conventions, aesthetic preferences and ideologies of representation. Lastly, we need to state the difference between "high key illumination" and "low key illumination", because these two permutations of the three points lighting system will be very useful to analyse the representation of Turks in the Midnight Express. High key lighting implies a lighting arrangement in which fill and backlight sources are used to create low contrast between brighter and darker parts of the figure. In this arrangement, light quality is generally soft so that shadow areas are fairly transparent. On the contrary, low key illumination creates contrasts and sharper shadows. When we employ low key illumination lighting is hard and fill light is either eliminated or lessened. Hence, the cinematographer produces extreme dark and light areas in the picture if he use low key illumination. [130]

In Midnight Express, low key lighting is usually applied to Turks even if they share the same place with Billy Hayes and other western people. For instance, when Turkish policemen take Billy Hayes' clothes off and stare at his naked body with a grin on their faces, high key illumination is used for Billy. His back, fill and key lights serve to create low contrast between brighter and darker areas on his face. Here, light quality is soft and shadow areas are fairly transparent. On the contrary, the fill and back lights of the policemen are considerably less intense than in high key technique. As a result, shadow areas on their faces remain relatively hard and sharp despite the fact that "the whole film was shot through the (...) soft filters". [131]

In addition to soft filters, smoke is also widely used in Midnight Express as a visual device. Alan Parker states as follows:

We used smoke in nearly every scene. I feel it is a strong visual device; and in many ways as important as filter. In this case it was just incense smoke shot through a special gun so it would diffuse and give a soft feel. Sometimes we used it heavier, which gave certain scenes a feeling of being more diffused than others. But smoke depending on how you use it, can definitely give you a feeling of something being more or less surreal. [132]

For Neal Nordlinger, the "surrealistic" feeling is specially pre-dominant in the prison and in Section Thirteen when contrasted with scenes in which Billy meets with his father. In those scenes, there is a distinguished clarity. [133] Parker also states that he didn't use smoke in these scenes. [134] We need to stress that these "clear scenes" are the scenes in which there are no Turks present. Lastly, I will give an example about expressionistic use of light: When Hamidou comes to punish Hayes on his "notorious" first night, Hamidou's long shadow expressionistically casts on the wall before he enters into the jail and this shadow creates a horror film effect.

Costume and setting are closely related to each other. Setting establishes a more or less neutral background while costume provides the proper grounds to pick out the character who is central to the narrative. In this context, colour design is significantly important. [135] In Midnight Express, there is a strong parallelism between the dark atmosphere of the prison and the dark uniforms of the guards and dirty clothes of the prisoners. Whereas, throughout the film Billy Hayes wears clean, colourful (yellow, orange, blue) T-shirts which provide him traits of "individuality" which we can't find in Turks. In addition to the wraps of Turkish women, the Judge, Prosecutor and Lawyer wear very big rings which enhance the "surrealist" feeling.

Acting is the last element of the mise en scene. Bordwell and Thompson states that since the performance of an actor is part of the overall mise en scene, films contain a wide variety of acting styles. Here, instead of assuming that acting must be realistic, we should consider what kind of acting style the film is aiming at. For Bordwell and Thompson, in order to determine the acting's functions, we need to specify overall formal factors such as narrative causality and genre conventions. Additionally, an actor's performance can be evaluated according to his or her character's function in the context of the film: A good performance doesn't necessarily rely on whether or not the actor looks or behaves as a real person does. At this point, Bordwell and Thompson makes a distinction between performance styles: The performance may be more or less individualised and it may be more or less stylised. [136] They continue as follows:

Often we have both in mind when we think of a "realistic" performance: It will create a unique character, and it will not seem too exaggerated or too underplayed. Yet less individualised and more stylised performance may also be appropriate to the context of a particular film's mise en scene. [137]

At this point, we argue that the performances of actors who play Turks are less individualised and more stylised if we compare them with Billy's and other western prisoners' performances. For instance, the ghost like Turkish prisoners of Section Thirteen don't look or behave as real persons would. (In fact, they are real geriatrics as it is mentioned before.) On Billy's first night in prison, Rifki looks like and talks to him as if he is a demon from hell. In the trial scene, the performance of Turkish prosecutor is highly stylised so that he sometimes resembles the hero of Ivan the Terrible, Nicolai Cherkasov. Hamidou who is always sweating shakes his head as if this is an indicator of his inner conflicts and mental illnesses. But he is not allowed to perform more than this. The director doesn't provide him with the means to strip away the barriers and commingle the depths of his feelings and shape of his body and face. Like other Turkish people, he doesn't transform his face or body into a succession of symbols even for anger and brutality. He simply enters into the frame, walks towards Billy and other western people, hits them, shouts at them with superior, frightening eyes. His body doesn't assume any configurations other than walking, standing and bending. When he moves his hands are ready near his guns as if he will fight in a duel in a few seconds. Also, his voice is always deep and no change occurs throughout the film.

Furthermore, Turks rarely have the chance to use various props (other than cigarettes, guns and "falaka" sticks) in the way Billy and his friends use during their performances: Max uses drugs, Jimmy has a map, Susan reads a newspaper, Billy looks at her photograph to produce more or less individualised performances. Indeed, the filmmaker allows them the chance to create individualistic performances. [138] For instance, in one very lengthy shot which shows Billy at the court he passes from anger, wonder, accusation and tearfulness. He laughs, cries, closes his eyes, becomes morose, shakes his head, changes his voice, looks with anger, uses his hands to accuse etc. Similarly, there is the great scene of hysteria again performed by Hayes when Max is taken away for punishment. When his girlfriend Susan sees Billy in a small booth when the two are separated by a plate of glass she also passes from wonder, sadness and tears in spite of the fact that she is a minor character in the film. [139]


Midnight Express is a terrifying story about a young American student, Billy Hayes who tries to smuggle hashish from Istanbul back to his home in America. The film which is a Columbia Pictures Release (1978) narrates Hayes's arrest and imprisonment in an environment of brutality, filth and degradation. This harsh, violent movie won international acclaim for Alan Parker (the director) and even its critics, who claimed that it is a racist film, could not but admire its brilliance as a piece of film making. [140] At this point, it is useful to state that Alan Parker himself candidly admits that he may have got some of Midnight Express wrong. He said that there are things he would change now, things to do with an intellectual or political maturity that he doesn't think he had then. [141] But despite such kind of statements, due to the transnational character of the forms of transmission, Midnight Express had the opportunities to reach a wide range of audience and contribute much to the terrible Turk myth.

There are two main factors which led to the representation of Turks as terrifying people in this film. One of those factors is Orientalism which is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient (East) and Occident (West). The other factor is the penetration of capital into cultural production. In this context, the profit maximisation motive of Hollywood Cinema and its specific way of telling a story play a determinative role in the negative representation of Turks in Midnight Express. (Having said this, we also need to be aware of the dangers of "reductionism" which assumes that Hollywood films must be regarded as mirrors of the capitalist system which produce them. [142])

Here, it is useful to keep in mind that cultural phenomena are symbolic forms in structured contexts, and cultural analysis may focus on the study of the meaningful constitution and social contextualisation of symbolic forms. [143] Starting from this point of view, cultural phenomena can be conceived as expressing relations of power, as serving in specific circumstances to sustain relations of power and as subject to multiple, divergent interpretations by the individuals who are effected by them. [144]

In this study, we have been mainly concerned with structured social relations between East and West rather than other forms of domination (i.e. relations between the classes, between sexes, between ethnic groups, between individuals and the state,...) since the relationship between East and West is not only another example of a relationship of power and domination [145] but at the same time it is more relevant for our analysis. Edward Said claims that Orientalism is a western style of dominating, restructuring and building hegemony over the Orient. [146] Indeed, Orientalism considers a collective notion identifying the Europeans as against non-Europeans who are inferior ones in comparison with all the European cultures and people. Thus, the major component in European culture which can be described as "superiority over others" gave this culture its hegemonic characteristic. [147] Hence, in this style of thought Turks are attributed negative physical or moral characteristics so that they are always lustful, fanatical, irrational, cruel, scheming, unreliable and defeated. Midnight Express can be interpreted as one example of this thought.

Another important factor which plays a significant role in the negative representation of Turks is the penetration of capital into cultural production. As a modern and one of the most widespread form of communication, cinema is the product of western countries at specific time in their history and its emergence is closely related to the profit motive which is expressed through western capitalism. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, since the cultural goods are manufactured in accordance with the aims of capitalist profit maximisation they are designed for consumption by the masses. Rather than intrisinc characteristics as an artistic form, cultural goods are determined by the incentive of commodity production and exchange. Hence cultural goods are standardized and stereotyped in spite of the fact that they generally affect a sign of individuality. [148] For the reason of profit maximisation, the producers of Midnight Express don't hesitate to show excessive level of violence together with the negative representation of Turks.

The profit maximisation motive of the Hollywood cinema and its specific way of telling a story are closely related with each other. The Classical Hollywood Cinema's specific way of telling a story also plays a structuring role for the negative representation of Turks in Midnight Express. In our study, the main characteristics of Classical Hollywood Cinema which contributed to the representation of Turks were analysed under subheadings. These subheadings are narrative motivated by goal oriented individual, closed point of view, strong closure, construction of a coherent time-space continuum and character oriented mise en scene.

The first of these subheadings, narrative motivated by goal oriented individual, assumes that the action springs from individual characters as causal agents. In this context, narrative is motivated by a goal-oriented individual and his or her personal decisions, desires and traits of character. Desires of the character serve as preconditions for the action in the sense that the desires which are relevant to the narrative set up the goals. Then characters attempt to achieve these goals and the process begins. Throughout this process, there is a counter force which creates conflict. This counter force is another character whose traits and goals are opposed to protagonist's traits and goals. [149] In Midnight Express, the main character is Billy Hayes and his goals serve as preconditions for action. Narrative is usually motivated by Billy Hayes who has usually positive virtues -other than drug smuggling .On the contrary, Turks are considered as opposing characters that would create conflict. It can be argued that Midnight Express contributed much to the reinforcement of a new stereotype, namely cruel Turkish prison guard and prisoners who are characterized by their dirtiness, ugliness, stupidity, ignorancy, barbarism, insensitiveness and sodomitic tendencies.

The second subheading, closed point of view refers to objective and subjective narration in Classical Cinema. Both mental and perceptual subjectivity are widely used in Midnight Express and they play a decisive role in the negative representation of Turks since a lot of information about Turks are presented from Billy Hayes's point of view. But the perceptual or mental subjectivity of Turks is quite restricted in the sense that the audience very seldom sees or hears things from Turk's vantage point.

According to the strong closure principle, most Classical narrative films end when all of their questions are answered. The resolution means reconstruction of a state of equilibrium, a condition which echoes the one which begins the film. Narrative equilibrium accepts that social life is comfortably ordered with everyone in their proper position. Hence, strong closure is a confirmation of the initial social equilibrium. [150] At the end of the film Hayes returns to civilization, but the members of the alien culture, the Turks, are still embedded in their uncivilized, dirty, brutal, insensitive conditions without any sign of changing them.

Continuity editing, depth of image and synchronic-diegetic sound (except music) are the elements which provide proper grounds for the construction of a coherent time-space continuum in the Classical Cinema. First of those, continuity editing constructs a temporal continuity and spatial coherence. But at one instance, the moviemakers break the match on action rule to further emphasize the brutality of Turks. Depth of image is the second device which is used to construct a coherent time-space continuum in the Classical Hollywood Cinema. What is important for our subject matter is that those depth cues sometimes contribute much to the sense of claustrophobia caused by Turks. Synchronic, diegetic sound (except music) is the last device which helps to construct of a coherent time-space continuum. In this context, we need to state that both diegetic and non-diegetic, off screen use of sound have significance for the negative representation of Turks in Midnight Express.

In Classical Hollywood Cinema, mise en scene is designed to be relevant to the story and give information about characters. The term mise en scene refers to the contents of the film frame and it includes the setting, lighting, costume, make-up and behaviour of the figures. When we analyse the first element of the mise en scene, we find that the selection and construction of the setting help to enhance the sense of isolation for Billy Hayes. Furthermore, the setting sometimes turns toward the "surreal" by employing bizarre images over the "realist" background since "surrealism" is closely associated with Turks. Classical Hollywood filmmaking uses three points lighting system in which three light sources (backlight, fill-light, key-light) per shot are employed. In Midnight Express, low key illumination is usually attributed to Turks. The third element of mise en scene, costume, are closely related with setting. Costume provides the proper grounds to pickup the characters who is central for the narrative. In Midnight Express, there is parallelism between the gray and dark walls of the prison and the dark, dirty, torn clothes of Turks. Whereas the filmmakers allow Billy to wear colourful T-shirts in the dark environment. Acting is the last element of mise en scene and I need to point out that the performances of actors who play Turks are less individualised and more stylised if we compare them with the performances of actors who play Westerners since the Turks are not regarded as "individual" as the western characters in the film. On the other hand, the performances of the actors who play westerners are "individuali- sed" to the extent that they can pass from different expressions in a single shot.

Racist ideologies assume a set of justifications for its supporters that "phenotypic variation has some biologically rooted (hierarchially ordered) social and behavioral significance." [151] According to racist ideologies, life opportunities are distributed unequally between the groups and this situation causes racial categories. In fact, there are several criteria of racial categorisation such as "perceived pigmentation, physique, descent, historical or geographical origin, language and religion or other cultural traits." [152] Racism is a system of ideas which lead to inequalities created by above mentioned perceptions. Thus, in the last analysis, it can be argued that Midnight Express is a racist film.

Alfred W.McCoy, The Politics Of Heroin, (New York, Harper and Raw Publisher Inc, 1991)
Anette Kuhn and Susannah Radstone, (eds), Women's Companion To International Film, (London, Virago, 1990)
Bill Nichols,(ed), Movies and Methods,(California, University of California Press, 1976)
Billy Hayes and William Hoffer, Midnight Express, (London, Sphere Books, 1977)
Canan Balkir and Allan M.Williams,(ed), Turkey and Europe, (London, Pinter, 1993)
David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema, (London, Routledge, 1985)
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film art, (University Of Wisconsin, McGraw Hill, 1993)
Douglas Gomery, Movie History: A Survey, (California, Wardworth Publishing Co, 1991)
Douglas Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System, (London, Macmillan Publishers, 1986)
Edward Said, Orientalism, (London, Penguin, 1991)
Ira Konigsberg, The Complete Film Dictionary, (London, Bloomsbury, 1988)
J. Haberman and Jonathan Rosenbau, Midnight Movies, (New York, Harper and Raw Publisher, 1983)
Jim Hillier, The New Hollywood, (London, Studio Vista, 1993)
John B. Thompson, Ideology And Modern Culture, (Britain, Polity Press, 1990)
John Wakeman, (ed), World Film Directors, (New York, T.H. W. Wilson Co, 1988 ) vol II
Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell's Film Guide, (London, Grafton Books, 1987) 6th edition.
Martin Auty and Nick Roddick, British Cinema Now, (London, Penguin, 1991)
Mary Lee Settle, Turkish Reflections: A Biography Of A Place (New York, Prentice Hall Press, 1991)
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic Of Enlightement, (London, Verso, 1993)
Michaele Barret, Philip Corrigan, Anette Kuhn and Janet Wolff, (eds), Ideology and Cultural Production, (London, Croom Helms, 1977)
Mohan J., (ed), The Political Geography Of Contemporary Britain, (London, 1989)
Pam Cook, (ed), The Cinema Book, (London, British Film Institute Publishing, 1987)
Pat H. Broeske, In Magill's American Film Guide, (New Jersey, Salem Press, 1981) vol 3
Paul Bowles, Their Heads Are Green, (London, An Abacus Book, Peter Owen Publishers, 1990)
Pauline Kael, When The Lights Go Down, (New York, Hall Rinehart and Winston, 1980)
Roy Armes, The Third World Filmmaking And The West, (California, University Of California Press, 1987)
Shipman D, The Story Of Cinema, (London, Hadder and Stoughton, 1984)
Terry Eagleton , Ideology, (London, Verso, 1991)
Terry Lovell, Pictures Of Reality, (London, British Film Institute Publishing , 1981)

Andrew Horton, Britain's Angry Young Man In Hollywood: An Interview With Alan Parker, Cineaste, new York, vol 15, no 12 , 1986
Bobbi Leigh Zito, Interview With Alan Parker, Focus On Film, Allen Ayles (ed), Tantivy Press , April 1980
Hamalian Leo and Ara Baliozian, Hemingway In Istanbul, Ararat, Spring 1988, vol 29
Kamil Aydin, The Good And The Bad And Ugly: Western Cinema Images, The Fountain, vol I , no:3 , Winter 1993
Louis Althusser, Lenin And Philosophy, (New York,Monthly Review Press)
Murphy AD, Midnight Express, Variety, 1978, vol ccxci/3 may 24
National Film Theatre Booklet,June 1982
Neal Nordlinger, The Making Of Midnight Express, Filmmaker's Monthly, November 1978, vol 15, no 12, 1986
Roy Connoly, Observer, Magazine,London, 30 May 1982


[1] Billy Hayes and William Hoffer,Midnight Express (London, Sphere Books, 1977) Back Cover Advertisement.
[2] ibid
[3] According to John B. Thompson,the term "symbolic forms" comprises a broad range of actions and utterances, images and texts , which are produced by subjects and recognized by them and others as meaningful constructs.(See, John. B. Thompson , Ideology And Modern Culture,(Britain, Polity Press, 1990) p.59)
[4] John B. Thompson, ibid, p.21
[5] John B.Thompson ,ibid,p.21
[6] John B. Thompson, ibid, p.21
[7] John B. Thompson, ibid,p.21
[8] J. B.Thompson ,ibid , p. 275-6
[9] J. B.Thompson ,ibid, p.279
[10] Pauline Kael, When The Lights Go Down , (New York, Hall Rinehart and Winston ,1980 ) p.499
[11] Pauline Kael,ibid, p.499
[12] Pauline Kael,ibid, p.497
[13] J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbau, Midnight Movies, (New York , Harper and Raw Publisher , 1983) p.198
[14] Murphy AD, Midnight Express, Variety, 1978, vol ccxci/3 , May, 24, p.27
[15] Pat H. Broeske, In Magill's American Film Guide, (New Jersey , Salem Press ,1981) vol 3 , p. 2149
[16] Neal Nordlinger , The Making Of Midnight Express , Filmmaker's Monthly , November 1978 , vol 12 / 1 , p.21
[17] Pauline Kael ,ibid, p.499
[18] Mary Lee Settle, Turkish Reflections:A Biography of A Place (New York , Prentice Hall Press , 1991 ) p. 8
[19] Mary Lee Settle, ibid , p. 8
[20] Shipman D., The Story of Cinema ,( London , Hodder and Stoughton, 1984) vol 2 , p.1103
[21] Shipman D. , ibid
[22] Andrew Horton, Britain's Angry Young Man in Hollywood, an Interview with Alan Parker, Cineaste,(New York), vol.15, no 2, (1986), p.32
[23] Roy Connolly,Observer,(London), Magazine, 30 May 1982, p.29
[24] John Wakeman,(ed), World Film Directors,(New York, The H.W. Wilson Co.,1988) vol.II,p.741
[25] The response of British Press to the film was varied: "Martin Amis found a 'rare physicality in the film which leaves you flattened, harrowed- and fractionally unconvinced.' But Amis thought ,' Parker is not a manipulator.He means what he says.'" (John Wakeman,ibid,p.741)

Some extracts from British press are as follows:"A harsh, violent and compelling film which-despite the controversy it provoked - won international acclaim for Parker and actor John Hurt, and even its critics could not but admire its brilliance as a film-making."(National Film Theatre Booklet, June 1982)"One of the ugliest sado-masochistic trips, with heavy homosexual overtones, that our thoroughly nasty movie age has yet produced."(Richard Schickel, Time)"The film details all [the horrors] so relentlessly on one screaming note that it is rather like being hit in the gut until you no longer feel a thing." Derek Malcolm, The Guardian. (See Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell's Film Guide, ( London, Grafton Books, 1987) p.678
[26] Jonh Wakeman,ibid, p.741
[27] Terry Lovell , Pictures of Reality, ( London, British Film Institute Publishing, 1981) p.61
[28] "...The most appropriate starting point for Marxist analysis of cultural production might be Marx's own categories for the analysis of capitalist commodity production. These are use-value , exchange value, surplus value and commodity fetishism. Commodities have a double existence, as repositories of use value and of value.Use value, the utility of usefulness of a commodity to its consumer, depends on the ability of the commodity to satisfy some human want.Marx's concept of want is not limited to material needs.He says that wants 'may spring from the stomach or from the fancy ' " (Lovell, ibid, p. 56)
[29] Lovell, ibid, p.61
[30] Lovell, ibid, p.61-2
[31] Lovell , ibid , p. 60
[32] John B. Thompson,ibid, p.7
[33] Edward Said, Orientalism, (London , Penguin, 1991) p.5
[34] John B. Thompson, ibid,p.282
[35] John B.Thompson, ibid , p.280 -1
[36] J. B.Thompson, ibid, p.282
[37] Pat H. Broeske, ibid,p.2152
[38] Murphy AD , ibid, p. 27
[39] J.B. Thompson,ibid, p.13
[40] Pauline Kael, ibid , p.499
[41] I don't analyse fields of interaction.
[42] J. BThompson , ibid,p.8
[43] J. B.Thompson , ibid,p.7
[44] Terry Eagleton , Ideology , ( London, Verso, 1991) p. 18
[45] Eagleton, ibid , p.18
[46] Louis Athusser, Notes Toward an Investigation in Lenin and Philosophy, (New York, Monthly Review Press, 1971) p.128-135
[47] Althusser , ibid, p. 135-141
[48] Althusser,ibid, p.135-141
[49] Anette Kuhn, In The Cinema Book, Pam Cook, (ed.) (London, British Film Institute Publishing , 1987 ) p. 243
[50] J B.Thompson,ibid,p.12
[51] J. B.Thompson, ibid,p.135
[52] David Bordwell , in The Classical Hollywood Cinema, David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson, (London, Routledge, 1985) p. 87- 88
[53] Bill Nicholls,(ed), Movies and Methods, (California, University of California Press, 1976) vol.1, p.24
[54] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, "The Culture Industry:Enlightment as Mass Deception", in Dialectic of Enlightement ,(London, Verso, 1979) p 67-120
[55] Roy Armes, Third World Filmmaking and The West, (California, University of California Press, 1987 ) p.37
[56] The 1948 anti-trust decision which introduced by the government required the Big Five (Warner Bros, RKO,20th Century Fox, Paramount, MGM) to divest their theater chains. But this situation was reversed in 1985 due to the economic changes in the Reagan period. After 1985, the majors began to buy theatre chains and for this reason the importance of exhibition rose again. "The acquisitions" writes Jim Hillier "helped the majors to increse their control over which films would be shown, where and for how long, at the expense (once again) of independent producers and distributors." (Jim Hillier, The New Hollywood,(London, Studio Vista, 1993) p.23 )
[57] Roy Armes,ibid,p.37
[58] When a firm owns the production facility, a distribution company and exhibition outlets, it is said to be vertically integrated.
[59] Anette Kuhn, ibid , p. 10
[60] For Douglas Gomery, the transformation of America into a land of suburbs and drive-ins, the innovation of wide screen movies in color, and the integration of film and television industries in the 1950s led to a reformation of the Hollywood Studio System. He writes as follows: "No Studio was uneffected, but only one, RKO, actually went out of business(...)All the other Studios survived.(...) What changed were the rankings.The Big Five and Little Three were no more. After RKO's fall, the remaining seven were equal.They all distributed films and found independent producers to make the films. They all expanded into Television. There was only one new kid on the block, the Walt Disney operation".(Douglas Gomery, Movie History: A Survey,(California, Wadsworth Publishing Co, 1991) p.296
[61] Ira Konigsberg, The Complete Film Dictionary,(London, Bloomsbury, 1988) p.158
[62] Jim Hillier, ibid,p.23
[63] Anette Kuhn, ibid , p.10
[64] Andrew Horton, Britain's Angry Young Man In Hollywood, An Interview With Alan Parker, Cineaste, New York, Vol 15, no. 2, 1986, p.33
[65] Anette Kuhn,ibid,p.11
[66] Douglas Gomery, ibid, p.69
[67] Bordwell , ibid , p. 368-9
[68] ie. Special effects, new camera supports, TV viewfinding, time coded synchronisation, computer assisted storyboarding and expanded multitrack sound recording. (Bordwell,ibid , p. 373 )
[69] Bordwell, ibid , p. 375
[70] Bordwell,ibid,p.375 (On the other hand, Douglas Gomery claims that in the early 1970s, it seemed that the film genre was a dead form in Hollywood. But after the success of Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) and Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) producers decided to make more genre films.(Gomery, ibid, p.430))
[71] Pat H. Broeske, ibid, p.2149
[72] Pauline Kael, ibid, p.499
[73] Douglas Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System, (London,Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 1986) p.161, 172
[74] Anette Kuhn , ibid , p.14-17
[75] Good years of Columbia are 1955-6 and 1976-7. On the other hand, poor years are 1958-9 and 1971-4 (a total loss of some $85.3 million. See, Douglas Gomery, ibid, p. 172
[76] In 1982, Coca-Cola owned Columbia, but sold it in 1987. Now, Columbia Pictures is owned by Sony. (See, Jim Hillier, ibid, p.26
[77] Martin Auty and Nick Roddick, British Cinema Now ,(London, British Film Institute , 1985) p.4
[78] Martin Auty and Nick Roddick , ibid , p. 5
[79] For British accusations that Alan Parker is "sold out" by going to Hollywood, see Bobbi Leigh Zito, Interview With Alan Parker, In Focus On Film,Allen Ayles (ed),(GB, Tantivy Press, April 1980) p.35
[80] Mike Figgis states that there is a British film industry, but it happens to be in Hollywood. He continues as follows: "The reality is that thousands of British artists connected with the film industry, be they cinematographers, writers, actors, designers, now work in the context of the American film industry. I feel that there is a very viable British film industry, but it doesn't have a cohesive national base..." See Jim Hillier, ibid,p.168
[81] Neal Nordlinger,ibid,p. 18
[82] Midnight Express had grossed over +15 million by 1980.
[83] Bobbi Leigh Zitto, ibid, p.5
[84] Wakeman, ibid, p.741
[85] Bobbi Leigh Zitto, ibid, p.4
[86] Alan Parker states that before he began to work with Hollywood, they never had enough money. "We always had to cheat and steal and beg and borrow." See, Bobbi Leigh Zitto, ibid, p.5
[87] John B. Thompson ,ibid, p.277
[88] John B.Thompson, ibid , p.277
[89] John B. Thompson ,ibid , p. 58
[90] Edward Said, Orientalism, (London, Penguin, 1991) p.5
[91] Edward Said, ibid, p. 2-3
[92] Edward Said, ibid , p. 5
[93] Edward Said, ibid , p. 6
[94] Edward Said ibid , p. 7
[95] Edward Said, ibid, p.7-8
[96] Kamil Aydin, The Good, and the Bad and Ugly : Western Cinema Images,The Fountain, vol I, no:3, Winter 1993
[97] Shepherd Simon, Marlowe and The Politics Of Elizabethan Theatre, (Sussex, The Harvester Press, 1986) p.142
[98] Kamil Aydin, "Western Images Of The Muslim Turks Prior To The 20th Century: A Short Outline," In Hamdard Islamicus,Winter 1993, vol xvi, no 4, p. 106
[99] Kamil Aydin ,ibid, p.107
[100] Kamil Aydin, ibid,p.107
[101] Kamil Aydin ,ibid,p.112-3
[102] Kamil Aydin ,ibid, p.113
[103] Kamil Aydin ,ibid,p.114
[104] Kamil Aydin,ibid,p.122
[105] Kamil Aydin, ibid, p.122
[106] Bowles Paul, Their Heads Are Green, (London, An Abacus Book, Peter Owen Publishers, 1990) p.57
[107] Hamalian Leo and Ara Baliozian, Hemingway In Istanbul, Ararat, Spring 1988, vol.29,p.43
[108] For a better understanding of the representation of Turks in Midnight Express, it may be useful to have brief information about relations Turkey and Western countries in the late 1970s.According to Canan Balkir and Allan M. Williams, Turkey's relationship with West are long rooted whether looked at in terms of trade, military power, culture or diplomacy: "These have not always been easy relationships, but they have been critical in shaping the evolutions of Europe and European States, as well as of Turkey itself. Neither symmetry nor constancy has characterised these ties, and alliance between Turkey and Europe has taken many unexpected turns even in the mid and late twentieth century.(...) It can be argued that developments in Turkey, while of course influenced by events in Europe and elsewhere, were to some extent not synchronised with these during[60s and 70s]. At a time of unrivalled internationalisation of economic activities in the capitalist world, Turkey's economic policies remained inward looking. At a time of democratic consolidation in northern Europe,Turkey was twice subject to military interventionism....Whereas the economies of [Western] countries did at least decisively internationalise and industrialise during the 1960s and early 1970s, Turkey's economic as well as its political construction remained differentiated from that of Northern Europe."(See Canan Balkir and Allan M. Williams, (ed), Turkey And The Europe,(London, Pinter,1993)p.3,9) There were also shifts in Turkey's international relations: For example,in the mid 70s, Cyprus crisis (1974) led to some cooling of relations with US and UK.After the military intervention to Cyprus, US Government laid an military embargo to Turkey.Another problem which effected the Turkish American relations at the mid 1970s arised from the attemps of US government to convince Turkey to stop growing opium poppies in spite of the fact that the production is legitimate and "never accounted for more than 7 per cent of world's illicit supply".(Alfred W, McCoy,The Politics Of Heroin,(New York, Harper and Raw Publishers Inc,1991)p.19) But due to the pressures, Turkey banned opium cultivation.
[109] T.E.Perkins suggests that the following characteristics are essential parts of stereotypes:

"A stereotype is:

a) A group concept: It describes a group. Personality traits (broadly defined) predominate.
b) It is held by a group:(...) Cannot have a 'private' stereotype.
c) Reflects an inferior judgmental process: (But not therefore leading necessarily to an inaccurate conclusion.) Stereotypes short-circuit or block capacity for objective analytic judgments in favour of well-worn catch-all reactions.(...)
d) (b) and (c) give rise to simple structure(...) which frequently conceals complexity. (see (e) )
e) High probability that social stereotypes will be predominantly evaluative.
f) A concept - and like other concepts it is a selective, cognitive organising system, and a feature of human thought.(...)

[See T.E. Perkins, Rethinking Stereotypes, In Michaele Barret, Philip Corrigan, Anette Kuhn and Janet Wolff,(eds), Ideology And Cultural Production, (London, Croom Helms, 1977) p.145)

[110] T.E.Perkins,ibid,p.144
[111] David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art, ( University of Wisconsin, McGraw Hill, 1993) p.82
[112] Although this event, the audience continues to sympathise with him since the relatively small amount of hashish he is carrying proved that he is not in the "big leagues". Moreover, the audience also observes that Billy Hayes feels sorry about drug smuggling while he writes letters to his family. Actually, in their first meeting, he wants to be forgiven by his father. Additionally, he is more or less isolated from society by force in a hostile environment in which his helplessness contributes much to the "identification". For instance, he spends his first prison night in a cold cell, and is punished by having his feet beaten when he takes a blanket without permission, the first in a series of atrocities which he will endure or witness.

[113] Beside three dimensional characters.
[114] Bordwell and Thompson, ibid, p. 160
[115] Neal Nordlinger, ibid,p.21
[116] Pauline Kael, ibid, p.498
[117] Andrew Horton, ibid, p.31
[118] Bobbi Leigh Zitto, ibid, p.8
[119] Neal Nordlinger, ibid, p.21
[120] Bordwell and Thompson, ibid, p.83
[121] Bordwell and Thompson, ibid, p.78
[122] A. Kuhn and S. Radstone, ibid, p.88
[123] D. Bordwell, J. Staiger and K. Thompson, ibid,p.55-59
[124] D. Bordwell, J. Staiger and K. Thompson, ibid, p.52
[125] Neal Nordlinger, ibid, p.20
[126] D. Bordwell, J. Staiger and K. Thompson,ibid, p.53-54
[127] One can remember that when a young Turkish police says something in Turkish at the airport ("Ladies and gentlemen, for your security we have to make a search.") the western passengers show their uneasiness since they don't understand what he says. In this scene, we hear their complaints such as "what is he saying?","I don't know". Their feelings are same with the audience, because the audience also doesn't understand anything from this "guttural" language. In spite of the fact that Turkish is widely used in the film, those parts are not subtitled as mentioned before. For this reason, frequent use of offscreen diegetic sound (ie. songs and Muslim prayers) further increases the strangeness of being in a foreign, brutal culture.

[128] D. Bordwell and K. Thompson, Film Art, (University of Wisconsin, McGraw Hill, 1993) p.145-6
[129] Pauline Kael,ibid,p.497
[130] D. Bordwell and K. Thompson, ibid, p.152-7
[131] Neal Nordlinger, ibid, p.20
[132] Neal Nordlinger, ibid,p.20
[133] Neal Nordlinger, ibid, p.20
[134] Neal Nordlinger, ibid,p.20
[135] D. Bordwell and K. Thompson, ibid, p. 151
[136] D. Bordwell and K. Thompson,ibid,p.159-160
[137] D. Bordwell and K. Thompson, ibid, p.160
[138] For further information about the performances of the western characters, see Pauline Kael, ibid, p.498
[139] Authorship is beyond the scope and intent of this study. But, it is interesting to have a brief look to the other films of Alan Parker for the representation of black characters. In Parker's next film, Fame(1980), there are Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans, negroes who are driven by the vanity of success. At the end of Fame, "Irene Cara, a racially mixed singer who played a student named Coco Hernandez, sang a song from Fame at the next Academy Awards ceremony, it was like a triumphant recognition of Third world talent in the Oscar-lit, mass media mainstream (...)" (J. Haberman and Jonathan Rosenbau, ibid, p.198) J. Haberman and Jonathan Rosenbau writes as follows: "It was a curious fate, in a way, for a director whose previous hit film, Midnight Express, encouraged xenophobia, self-righteous all American patriotism, and homophobia with equal fervor. Could Fame — all proportions guarded admittedly inflated — be read as Parker's Intolerance; that is, his response to the outcries against the virtual racism of Midnight Express, his Birth Of A Nation?"(Ibid,p.198) But, we observe that in his another film, Mississippi Burning (1988), the black characters are again turned into a two dimensional backdrop for white heroes. In other words, they can't manage their own story and all that is good is done by the Western-white characters.

[140] National Film Theatre Booklet, June 1982
[141] Ray Connoly, ibid,p.29
[142] Anette Kuhn,in The Cinema Book, Pam Cook,(ed) (London, British Film Institute Publishing, 1987) p.243
[143] J. B.Thompson, ibid, p.12
[144] J.B. Thompson,ibid,p.135
[145] Edward Said, ibid,p.5
[146] Edward Said, ibid,p.2-3
[147] Edward Said, ibid, p.7-8
[148] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, ibid, p.67-120
[149] D.Bordwell and K. Thompson, ibid, p.82
[150] A.Kuhn and S. Radstone, ibid, p.88
[151] Susan Smith,"The Politics Of Race And New Segregation" In J. Mohan (ed), The Political Geography Of Contemporary Britain, (London, 1989) pp 152-3
[152] Susan Smith, ibid, p153

© Holdwater


James Elliott said...

Reading some of this makes me want to blow my brains out. Why do people have to write so friggin academically. It is really terrible to read.

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