Tall Armenian Tale


The Other Side of the Falsified Genocide


First Page


Major Players
Links & Misc.



Mahmut Ozan
Edward Tashji
Sam Weems


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.


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