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
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
perceptive IMDb Commentary
"Midnight Express": A Turkish Nightmare
Weems reaction to a TV broadcast
Ozan excerpt on prisoner welfare
6) A Case
of Maladaptation...Guilty As Charged!
7) Director Alan Parker Now Thinks...
9) Links for Hayes' current thoughts; video
Express is not only racist, it’s anti-human.”
Elia Kazan, the New York Times, February 4, 1979
article is from tetedeturc.com/Midnight-express/intro-ME_anglais.htm#Le
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
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
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,
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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!".
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"(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
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
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
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS - TNN 15 MINUTES OF FAME
From: Sam Weems
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
THE TWO MIDNIGHT EXPRESS'ES: THE EVIL ONE AND THE REAL ONE — A
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.'
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
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
Excerpted from Sean O'Sullivan's "Prison
Film Series: Midnight Express Revisited," featured on the site of the
U.K.'s HM Prison Service
Alan Parker Now Thinks...
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:
|Director Alan Parker
"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.")
meets his end
|Paul Smith, "Bluto"
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,
OF THE TURKISH PEOPLE IN MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
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
Billy Hayes speaks truth on YouTube: Parts 1 and
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.
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.
|Billy Hayes with
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
“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."
features a good review of the movie, with pictures.