Wednesday, February 15, 2006

American Heavies in Anatolia


If You Want a Film to Fly, Make Americans the Heavies” is a depressing look at a movie that’s breaking box-office records in Turkey:

ISTANBUL, Feb. 13 — The crowd cheered, clapped and whistled as the Turkish agent plunged the knife into the chest of the enemy commander.

"Valley of the Wolves — Iraq," which opened last week in movie theaters in Turkey, Austria and Germany, is a Rambo-like action story involving Turkish gunmen who seek revenge against a tyrannical occupying army.

In this version, however, at $10 million the most expensive movie ever made in Turkey, the enemy is no oppressive third-world dictatorship. The commander's name is Sam — as in uncle — and the opposing forces are the Americans, who are being punished for offenses against Turkish as well as Iraqi pride and honor.

The commander, Sam William Marshall, played by an American actor, Billy Zane, is a sociopath, killing people without a second's thought and claiming that he is doing God's will. While fictional, some of the movie is based in part on real events, and many of the scenes elicit knowing looks from the audience. The opening sequence portrays an incident that made headlines here in 2003, when a group of Turkish special forces soldiers in Iraq were taken into custody by American marines. The Turks, mistaken for insurgents, were handcuffed and held with hoods over their heads, which rankled many Turks.

Other scenes show ruthless marines killing Iraqis and soldiers mistreating inmates at Abu Ghraib prison, as well as an American Jewish surgeon, played by Gary Busey, who takes what look like kidneys from inmates during surgery to New York, London and Israel — all, according to the screenwriter, Bahadir Ozdener, inspired by real events.

I suppose I should see this movie the way one Turk quoted in the article does: as a blip on otherwise solid U.S.-Turkish relations. I should also remember that U.S. portraits of Turkey can also be narrowly drawn—ever seen Midnight Express, also “inspired” by real events?

But still: Turkey, nation of Ataturk, home of the last true Islamic caliphate, a country with millions of son and daughters living in Europe, vying for entry to the European Union, whose heroic Korean War veterans changed national politics with the new perspectives they brought home. ... and conspiracy theories about “Jewish” medical experiments.

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