Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 21, 2006 9:30 am 
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Instructive musical mélange from Istanbul via Germany

Akin’s prize-winning 2004 movie Head-On/Gegen die Wand depicted the appealingly chaotic world of a self-destructive but dynamic Turkish-German rocker named Cahit (Birol Ünel). This documentary is an offshoot of Head-On and explores the range of music one might find in Istanbul today if one were as energetic and curious as German avant-rock musician Alexander Hacke of the group Einstuerzende Neubauten (who arranged the sound track and performed some of the music for Head-On) and had the assistance of a film crew and Turkish speakers provided by director Akin. You get everything from rap to the most traditional Turkish classical song, with rock, Kurdish music, and Turkish pop in between. It’s as chaotic and open-ended a world as Cahit’s, one where East is East and West is West but the twain—somehow—do meet.

Like Istanbul itself, which sits on the edge between Europe and Asia and brings the two worlds together while remaining sui generis, this is a mélange that includes Turkish pop, Turkish traditional songs, Kurdish laments, Roma jazz musicians and group of street buskers (Siyasiyabend), lively and offbeat shots of Istanbul street life, and some talk on camera about synthesis and some personal and musical history by singers and musicians. Working out of the Grand Hotel de Londres in Istanbul’s Beyoglu quarter where Cahit stayed at the end of Head-On while looking for his beloved, Hacke roams around the city with crew and equipment interviewing people and recording their music.

He begins with some loud rock by the “neo-psychedelic” band Baba Zula – these are musicians he bonded with while putting together Head-On’s score and he stands in here for the absent bassist -- and by Turkish (including brave female) rappers – thus causing some oldsters to walk out of the theater early on and miss the predominantly tuneful and easy-to-listen-to sounds that makes up the bulk of the film. (Head-On’s narrative excesses were tempered periodically by musical interludes performed by a traditional Turkish orchestra sitting outdoors on the other side of the Bosphorus.)

Hacke gives us the opportunity to meet and hear performances by some of the best known living Turkish singers, including Müzeyyen Senar, a lady in her late eighties whose aging, elegant musicians remind one of the way the great Egyptian songstress Umm Kulsoum used to perform. Hacke gets songwriter-movie star Orhan Gencebay to do a striking solo on the long-necked oud he’s written all his songs on, and persuades the now elusive great Sezen Aksu to do a special performance of one of her most famous songs, “Memory of Istanbul.” This is a coup, and so is the lament by a beautiful Kurdish songstress Aynar recorded in a bath whose acoustics are spectacular, if only they could have turned down the heat – singer and musician’s faces stream with sweat. There is also a young Canadian woman, Brenna MacCrimmon, fluent in Turkish, who sings Turkish traditional folksongs with expression and fervor. The sound mix is of high quality throughout. One would like to see a sequel; many great exemplars of Turkish popular and classical music have necessarily been left out.

Film released summer 2005 and shown at festivals in 2005 and 2006. Opened at the Angelika Film Center in New York City in June 9, 2006.

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