Monday, October 26, 2009

Turkey's Rich History Attracts Film Director

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
Hartford Courant

October 25, 2009

Born in England, Alan Parker knows a thing or two about traveling. The acclaimed director of "Evita," "Angela's Ashes" and " Mississippi Burning" has vacationed around the world. But ask the 65-year-old what his most memorable trip was, and he'll answer, " Turkey." That is where the director filmed part of his controversial 1978 film "Midnight Express." The Blu-ray version of the classic movie is now available ( Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) and includes some of Parker's observations and photographs from the filming.

Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?

A: I love places like Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Venice, Dublin, Marrakech, Berlin and Leningrad. But visiting Turkey was an experience. It's a modern world mixed together with ancient history. If you're interested in history, how could you not want to visit Troy, Ephesus and Gallipoli? The food is very good there, but go easy on the national drink, raki. It's 45 percent proof, so add lots of water.

Q: How do you try to fit in when you're a tourist?

A: Smiling a lot always helps. English will get you by, unless you're really off the beaten track. Always remember that raising your voice will not help them understand any better. If you want one Turkish word, then "thank you" might go a long way: Teh-shek-kewr-eh-deh-reem.

To be honest, the story of "Midnight Express" wasn't too popular in Turkey when I first visited, so I was a low-key traveler with my hat pulled down over my face, clicking away with my camera. But I was just fascinated by the place. Istanbul has been the meeting point where East touches West for centuries, and you can feel the energy of this cultural collision just walking through the city. When I went to scout in Turkey before making the film, the country had an edgy, somewhat scary but exotic feel that had nothing to do with any European city I had visited.

Q: What observations have you made about American versus European travelers?

A: I think Europeans tend to travel more than Americans. After all, in the time it takes to travel from Los Angeles to New York, the same journey in Europe would take you through 20 countries.

Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A: Camera, notebook, iPhone, lots to read and Zantac. It's amazing how little you actually need if you analyze it. On the plane, I used to give myself a hernia with my heavy carry-on bag containing dozens of scripts and books to read, and I never touched them. An iPod and one light paperback is all you need on a plane. The best advice about bags is never to have bags too big or too heavy that you couldn't carry them yourself in an emergency.

Q: What is your worst vacation memory?

A: When "Midnight Express" came out, it didn't go down too well in Turkey, and I was on a list of undesirables. But Turkey now has a thriving tourist industry, and my children have had wonderful holidays there.

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