Fri 21 Sep 2007 11:02 PM
In between heaping handfuls of artificial-butter flavored popcorn film critics will argue the merits of cinema until their faces turn blue and their arteries clog with smegma. Despite the insulting utterances of these arrogant fiends who’ve no business orating anywhere other than from the depths of the dumpsters where they belong there comes from the horde rare observations which blind by virtue of their sheer brilliance. The particulars escape me, possibly severed from my retrievable memory by my own mind, but I once witnessed one such studio crony escape the tired opinions of his rank and question: do films from bygone eras appeal to modern audiences because of their inherent achievements or because of a collective nostalgia?
When I was growing up my summers were often spent falling asleep on the couch watching TV20 before the rape and pillage perpetrated by the WB. Original Star Trek episodes aired at midnight and, if you could stand the excitement, The Untouchables (starring Robert Stack as Elliot Ness, narrated by Walter Winchell) followed. More than anything (certainly not syndicated episodes of Perry Mason which my sister loved to watch) I think that this constant exposure to hard-nosed G-men tommy-gunning rum-runners for God and country eventually relinquished my dependence on color when watching movies. The show, which originally aired from 1959-1963, was shot on film, expertly lit and well crafted. The dialogue and acting was, admittedly, less refined but that’s hardly important when you’re eleven and get really excited when people are riding running boards through the streets of Chicago shooting up speakeasies.
As I’ve never really gotten over the cheap entertainment of pulp I still find a fair share of detective stories and back-lot productions to kill my life an hour at a time. The deeper you dig the worse you find but my tolerance for crap of this kind is far greater than that which is churned out these days. Bad acting, insulting plots, dialogue a deaf-mute could’ve written and cheap sets are just part and parcel of the experience. You forgive the movies because they come from another time and another place and your irritations are washed away by stylish old cars and trench-coats, smokey diners, cheezy swing-bands, wise-cracking cabbies and roustabouts working the pier. And the dames? Ah, the dames!
It could have just been an honest geek-fixation but I started to get pretentious and watching movies with subtitles. At first I just assumed this interest came as a result of my obvious superiority in matters of taste and intelligence but after hearing some snobby poppycock on the television about nostalgia as a spice I started scrutinizing these nickel and rupee three reel deals a little more, trying to look through the exotic for the inexcusable faults which anchor our major productions to the bottom of the bowel. There’s been some success: recently a Russian movie which made the rounds and earned rounds of applause on the indie/arthouse circuit earned nothing but my displeasure because of obvious pandering, shallowness and exploitation. I don’t want a Russian movie made for an American audience, I want Russian movies about fucking Russia for Russian audiences. I want quality, taste, intelligence, emotional resonance! Maybe if I read the back of the boxes before I borrowed these things I could spare myself some wasted evenings but that’s a no-no unless it’s a documentary…
The Turkish film “Journey to the Sun” isn’t great by any measure. The acting comes courtesy of, reportedly, amateurs culled from the streets and there’s little doubt in my mind that this is true. Overall the story is serviceable but elements can cause involuntary cringing (particularly the cheap, pre-fab romantic sub-plot) and not the empathetic embarrassment you get from “Rushmore” but the revulsion of seeing old 1940’s melodramas still seeping into film. Loose ends are tied together a little too cleanly with convenient twists cropping up at just the right time, reaching across the table for the salt and maybe that gravy’s gonna slop and stain the linens. There’s little room for directorial detatchment but even allowing political content there’s ways to make a movie without having your thumb in the frame. It’s not a great movie at all but I would sit and watch it again this very evening.
There’s a little window in my living room, a window into the world. It’s the streets of Istanbul and not the streets they have in tourist pamphlets or posters in travel agencies. It’s peeking in on people struggling to survive, struggling for identity and struggling to be. Through it you see the news, you see history, you see things that make you feel richer for having witnessed and you feel ashamed for not throwing open the sash and screaming. Not to reveal too much but this is a movie about two people who’ve moved from their impoverished provincial towns to the big city, one from the east and one from the west. One knows the score and one’s about to learn the hard-way that life isn’t just unfair but it calculatingly fucked. One’s a Kurd and one’s a Turk but the difference suddenly becomes negligible.
The film’s writer/director, Yesim Ustaoglu become a filmmaker while working as an architect. With some short-films for which she won some awards under her belt she eventually dedicated herself to a feature film, 1994’s The Trace. Turkey became more volatile as Kurdish separatists and government troops became increasingly engaged in what would amount to war and Ustaoglu, being from eastern-Anatolia, decided to focus her lens closer to home. In interviews after the film’s screening in various festivals Ustaoglu talks about how she became increasingly depressed and
despondent about the second-class status of Kurds and wanted to understand more about how things had come to be the way they are today. From her research and reading came the script and eventually the movie. Her reasoning is my favorite thing about this movie, but also a reminder that I don’t know shit about shit… (more…)