27 July 2017 | OChrist
Fans of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS & riveting documentaries are in for major treat
In a perfect world, Sally Sussman and Anthony Morina, the creative team behind this often-astonishing non-fiction festival hit, would be under contract to HBO, Netflix, Amazon Video, or another cool cable channel or streaming movie service, and allowed to choose any well-known film based on real people and events in modern history as their launchpad for a series of documentaries like this one. I'd eagerly gobble up every single one.
As a huge fan of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, the 1978 Alan Parker blockbuster about a young American, Billy Hayes, notoriously tossed into a hellish Turkish prison when he's caught with hashish while trying to board a flight home, I've seen the movie many times since its initial release -- when my dad rocked my 11-year-old world by driving us to Waterville, Maine, on a school-night, to see it on the big screen. Yet until a few days ago, when a friend's lucky invitation to MIDNIGHT RETURN's premiere theatrical run at Beverly Hills' Music Hall (it's next playing on the big screen in Palm Springs, which is obviously the better way to catch it), I had no clue that Parker's brutal, electrifying, nerve-shredding suspense classic was just the opening act of an outrageous and controversial saga that stretched over 40 years.
I don't want to give away any of the surprises Sussman and Morina weave into the doc, and the tale of what happened to Hayes before, during and after Parker's adaptation of his memoir is so fascinating and expertly structured, it's not until after viewing MIDNIGHT RETURN does one realize what a feat of storytelling Sussman and Morina have pulled off, juxtaposing vintage news clips, scenes from MIDNIGHT EXPRESS and a slew of jaw-droppingly candid original new interviews with Hayes, Parker, producer David Puttnam, Oliver Stone (who won an Oscar for his EXPRESS screenplay and is a priceless part of the story) -- and a well-chosen sample representing the apparent millions of Turks (and Turkish-Americans) for whom Hayes has been a living Satan and MIDNIGHT EXPRESS is apparently the greatest scourge ever committed against Turkey! This bizarrely fervent controversy began with Parker and Hayes bringing the film to Cannes for a sneak-premiere in 1978 and continues to this day because of its "overwhelmingly negative" portrait of Turkey and Turks, in other words the country which sentenced Hayes to an appallingly severe incarceration, and the people at the prisons who abused him to the brink of madness and death. Did anyone expect a different portrayal? Oh, just you wait...
Without relying on the tempting crutch of spoken narration, Sussman and Morina spin out this epic story, spanning five decades and many personal and sociopolitical viewpoints, with total clarity, sophisticated wit and a driving pace that manages to match the legendary nail-biter that inspired it. It's one of the most compelling movies of any genre that I've seen in the last ten years.