I remember seeing Billy Hayes on television after
his "escape," and he made a remark to the tune of "I like Turks
-- it's their prisons I can't stand." Oliver Stone's Academy
Award-winning screenplay certainly deviated from Hayes' book, making the Turks
and their culture appear sub-human at every turn.
I would have imagined Billy Hayes, owing to that remark
of his that I remember probably back 1975, felt pretty lousy that his story
was turned into such a hatchet job. John Flinn of The San Francisco
Chronicle was behind a January 10, 2004 article that cast light on
Hayes' feelings. This article (here's the original source) has been excerpted below, and does not
real Billy Hayes regrets 'Midnight Express' cast all Turks in a bad light
"In the history of cinema, has any film done more to blacken a
nation's reputation among travelers than 'Midnight Express'? A quarter of a century after
its release, people still cite it as a reason for steering clear of Turkey."
The article began as such, later reminding us the film was based on
young American Billy Hayes' account of prison life after trying to smuggle 4 1/2
pounds of hashish out of Turkey in 1970, when he was 22.
While the movie was masterfully done, Hayes' opinion is that most
viewers come away with the wrong message. " 'The message of "Midnight
Express" isn't "Don't go to Turkey," ' he said recently. 'It's "Don't
be an idiot like I was, and try to smuggle drugs." "
The now 56-year-old lives in L.A., recently debuting as a film
"He said he feels awful that the film gave a brutal reputation
to the entire nation of Turkey. The cruel and barbaric prison conditions depicted in the
movie were accurate, he said, but they were hardly unique to that country. Malaysia,
Thailand and any number of other places were -- and are -- just as bad." Hayes
continues by stating the story "could have happened in a variety of countries."
He also is reported as saying that he's bothered by the fact that " 'Midnight
Express' depicts all Turks as monsters."
"I loved the movie, but I wish they'd shown some good Turks. You don't see a single
one in the movie, and there were a lot of them, even in the prison. It created this
impression that all Turks are like the people in 'Midnight Express.' ... I wish they'd
shown some of the milk of human kindness I (also) witnessed."
Hayes at 56
While he was forced to stay away for years,
thanks to an outstanding warrant for his arrest by Interpol, Hayes is reported as
saying that "he wouldn't hesitate to return to Turkey -- if he could. 'I'd love
to go back. I really loved that country -- except for the five years I spent in
prison. I loved the Turkish people.' "
And here's an interesting fact the article reports... the Turks were cool enough not
to report the case to Interpol after he had escaped, nor even after he had written
his book. It was only after the film was released, and probably after the
repercussions that were felt, that the Turks decided to do something. (Just like in
cases with other "Turk haters." For example, the Armenians act, and
the Turks react.)
The article tells us that "the warrant
expired five years ago, but Hayes has another reason for avoiding Turkey: He fears
he'd be held responsible for all the trouble 'Midnight Express' has caused its
'There's no doubt it changed the whole face of Turkish tourism,' he said. 'I'd
really like to go back, but I'm afraid about the fallout from people who lost
business. It's not fair. The burden fell on people who weren't to blame.' "
The article concludes with the irony that
despite the "other" message of the movie (that is, besides the main one of
all Turks being bad), some 1,000 Americans are arrested annually in foreign
countries on drug charges. "While many are quickly released, roughly 1,600 are
currently held in foreign prisons, often in conditions similar to those endured by
Holdwater: I'm sure
prison conditions were pretty insufferable, but I wondered about Hayes' statement, "The
cruel and barbaric prison conditions depicted in the movie were accurate." The
film went out of its way to depict a nightmarish and dark "Devil's Island"
world, shot in some old barracks in Malta... whereas the prison Hayes stayed in, if
what I heard from a radio guest is accurate, was constructed in the 1960s. Probably
prison conditions were more like in the hardly pro-Turkish movie "Yol,"
which -- while no picnic -- depicted a saner world from Midnight Express' hellhole.
article, Hayes was asked whether he would like to remake "Midnight Express," and
replied that he would decline, since it already has been done. Asked to define wisdom,
part of his answer was "Seeing things from many perspectives."
Well, that certainly tells us if there's anything that
"Midnight Express" was, it wasn't wise.
A Turkish Article
In a Turkish article
written by Yeni Safak writer Ali Murat Güven, entitled "Midnight
Express was Unfair to Turks," Hayes reported that he visited the Turkish
consulate in Los Angeles, regarding plans to revisit Turkey... after a 35 year
absence. It appears he is thinking (now that he is a film director) of producing a
show for television that will accentuate the positive, balancing in some manner the
damage caused by the movie version of his book.
He further details the regret over the
dehumanization of Turks that Director Alan Parker showcased in his 1978 film. Hayes
would have preferred examples of the many good-hearted Turks he knew could have been
among the heroes of this film. Forget about the "outside," he is quoted as
saying, even in prison he got to be friends with many wonderful Turkish people.
Billy Hayes informs us he still speaks Turkish
He lived a life of mild dread while the
Interpol warrant was active, and only began to freely live after the Turkish
government became amnesty-minded and dropped the charges in the early 1990s. His
wife and mother became very happy with the news.
Hayes tells us the film's presentation was
beyond his control and he fears that the Turks would still pin the blame on him,
which could derail his hopes of returning, and the good intentions he bears. He
reminds us that he really liked the Turks, and he harbors (wonderful memories?); he
believes he speaks the language better than most foreigners who live in Turkey,
which was at least one good outcome of his five year stint in the joint.
The article reports the Greek and Armenian
lobbies had a hand in helping with the film's four million dollar budget, and the
Turkish spoken in the film either has an Armenian accent (from the Armenian actors),
or is indecipherable. Since its release, the film has been seen in every corner of
the world... continuing to work its black magic, regarding the tarnished image of