Guney Toons

From an old 1983 issue of Sight & Sound ~

“Don’t feel so bad, Ylmaz, they say that film you’re directing at the moment is going very well.”

To make sense of this, you have to know that Kurdish filmmaker Ylmaz Guney was credited with directing a film while serving a sentence as a political prisoner. Of course, well-meaning liberal middle-class people found this very moving and admirable. The cartoonist, wickedly, is just amused by the absurdity of pretending to direct a film while being banged up in the stripy hole.

I always felt that the artist knew he was kind of being an asshole about this, and that’s what contributed to my indecent amusement at the cartoon. But the more I know of the cartoonist, the less sure I am that he was aware. Certainly, as the director of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, he should have been aware that a Turkish prison sentence is no laughing matter.

Welcome to the cartoons of Alan Parker.

The first reference in this one is Guney again, the second is Werner Herzog, the third I don’t know and the fourth is either (a) every Coppola film, ever, or (b) I don’t know.

Again, the real target is middle-class arthouse filmgoers. I dunno, maybe there aren’t enough cartoons about middle-class arthouse filmgoers. Parker seems to regard them as a worthy target for his satirical pen.

But I thought you’d find this one most interesting of all. “THE FILM CRITIC, FROM THE DIRECTOR’S POINT OF VIEW” probably would be published today, in anything but a tabloid.

“I can only describe it as trying to run a four minute mile with an alcoholic poodle snapping at your ankles and with the ever present fear that David Robinson and Alexander Walker will jump on you in the showers.”

Somewhat homophobic, Alan. I’m also unsure why it’s so INCOHERENT. The title tells us one thing, but the subject of the speech by the baggy man isn’t “the film critic,” it’s “the act of directing a film.” I half-suspect the incoherence is deliberate, a way to divert attention away from the more poisonous elements of the cartoon. “FROM THE DIRECTOR’S POINT OF VIEW” certainly tries to cast the whole thing in a subjective, and yet impersonal light (it’s not Parker himself’s point of view, necessarily, you see).

“Homophobia” is a particularly apt word here, since fear rather than hatred is very obviously at the heart of the text. Parker fears being bummed alive in the showers, yes, but he also fears, in a less symbolic way, being reviewed by gay men who may see things differently from him and not appreciate his directorial choices in PINK FLOYD’S THE WALL or BUGSY MALONE. Does he also fear being reviewed by women, Indians, or anybody who isn’t a baggy, angry man from Islington? Maybe so.

But the confusion goes deeper. The “alcoholic poodles” are presumably meant to be film critics, but then two real human critics turn up to anally violate Alan Parker in the showers, which he fears yet somehow also craves (I’m interpreting freely). “Alcoholic” is simply fair comment on a lot of newsprint critics and journalists, especially at that time, and “poodle” seems like an apt description of the late Alexander Walker in particular: angular, petulant, white-haired and bouffant. But how can he be simultaneously a snapping poodle and a shower rapist? I can’t really fit both images of Alexander Walker together into a single concept of him. Unless Alan Parker wants me to imagine his wet, quivering body being anally violated in the showers by a giant, man-sized poodle with Alexander Walker’s face, sinking its sharp little teeth into his pink, fleshy shoulder, as Ken Russell tries vainly to repel it with a rolled-up copy of the Evening Standard. And why would Alan Parker want me to visualize that?

If you’re reading this, Alan Parker, get in touch and explain.



29 Responses to “Guney Toons”

  1. I am not Alan Parker and would not presume to explain. But I assume you’ve seen A Turnip-Head’s Guide to the British Cinema?

  2. Yes, though not since it was on. I’d love to get a copy. I remember it being very entertaining, and problematic in a few areas.

    Turning down the sound on Sebastiane and playing Danny Kaye singing “The King is in the Altogether”…

    Derek Jarman: “I quite like some of Alan Parker’s films. I liked Midnight Express. But whenever I meet him he’s always terribly rude to me.”

  3. I recall Alan Parker rising on a Wurlitzer to drown out something. Plus of course there was Richard Attenborough adding a coda to his own programme in that series specifically to deal with Parker. The ensuing conversation between Attenborough and Lindsay Anderson about Parker’s comments generated the greatest look of disdain ever to cross the face of a film director in the twentieth century. All of this on national television. You don’t get this stuff with Claudia Winkleman.

  4. What DO you get with Claudia Winkleman? Mascara, and lots of it.

    Yeah, Parker’s wurlitzer drowned out the head of the BFI talking about structuralism.

    Parker’s piece did proffer a more solid vision of British cinema than either Anderson or, certainly, Attenborough. But its very solidity was part of the problem with it.

    I recall Parker saying “If Peter Greenaway makes another film in this country I’m taking my children to be educated in America,” a rhetorical feint later appropriated by rich Tories afraid of paying more tax under Labour, and to which the only possible answer is “Sure, if you like.” I think maybe he followed through on his “threat,” at any rate last I heard his son lived in New York.

    I’m with Derek Jarman: I do quite like some of Parker’s films.

  5. Bruce Robinson after watching Angela Ashes “a lady asked me what I thought and I said ‘Well, it’s all wallpaper and no wall.’
    And she’s the fucking producer.”

    Sarah Turner, early 2000s “There are two things wrong with British cinema…and they’re both Alan Parker”

    I do like some of Parker’s films, but I can’t stand some of the others. David Gale in particular, and I can’t watch Mississippi Burning knowing some of the facts behind the story.

    Other highlights from his time as a turnip head include calling Bresson’s L’Argent “the work of an old man…unbearably boring” at Cannes (Fine if you don’t like it but show a little respect).
    And his slanderous jibes about Anderson and Schlesinger directing adverts.
    (Though I liked his chutzpah for introducing If… at the BFI and mentioning getting sued)

    And now I’m remembering his time at the Film Council…oh dear.

    Shoot the Moon and The Commitments were good though

    Ironically now that British cinema could use a dissenting turnip head, he’s gone quieter than Peter Greenaway.

  6. Parker always seems to be very aggrieved by people continuing to make movies into older age — as with the Bresson complaints he got very worked up about Kurosawa’s Dreams at another Cannes festival, and vowed to stop making films when he reached 60 or so. To my great surprise, given his rhetorical excesses, he has held to his vow.

    I wouldn’t dare mention Manoel de Oliveira in Parker’s presence.

  7. He’s aggrieved by a great many things…

    To my shame, I don’t know about the slander thing. Do tell!

    Mississippi Burning was a very rare case of me taking against a film from its very first shot (the drinking fountains: an anti-segregation commercial complete with Nazi skinhead white kid and angelic black kid). Oddly, the film gets a mention in Frank Langella’s memoir, as Tony Curtis demolished it at a private screening at Blake Edwards’ house. “They played it so fucking safe. Lousy studio bullshit.”

  8. I don’t think it’s necessarily his vow, because he’s had several projects that got cancelled.
    Ice at the Bottom of the Ocean with Charlize Theron was announced 6 years ago and there was also an adaptation of Haroun’s Sea of Stories that went nowhere.

    I gather his speech at Oxford this year was mainly about the problems funding medium budget projects.

  9. I’m being somewhat sarcastic! I trust Alan Parker about as much as I trust a footballer who signs a contract and then says he’s wanted to play for Name-the-Club-Who-is-Overpaying-Him since he was a wee lad.

  10. Yes, Alan Parker seems like a crass and obnoxious twerp, to put it politely…but he did make ANGEL HEART, one of the greatest fantasy/horror films of all time!

    I remember seeing it in the 80s and thinking how racist it was to show black children tap-dancing in the streets of New Orleans. But I went there a few years later and what did I see? There are times when life itself is considerably less PC than we like to imagine.

    But seriously, any man who could make that film must be a genius of a sort.

  11. Alan Parker insulted them on an epsiode of Omnibus in the early 80s
    According to Parker before he and his expert mates came on the scene, people like Anderson and Schelsinger “ran around pretending to be directors…saying things like ‘turn over’ and ‘one more time darling’ then ran off home counting their fivers.”. Nice
    Anderson and Schlesinger demanded an immediate retraction and compensation and got it, I gather. Parker didn’t shy away from menioning this at the BFI but still chuckled at his “joke”.

    In Take 10 Jarman makes a point of calling Parker a ‘sweetie” in real life. I’m not sure how serious he’s being.

  12. There were a couple of times during Mississippi Burning when I wanted to leave the theater, out of embarrassment. I cringed more than once, and I didn’t exactly feel rewarded that I made it to the end.

    I liked The Commitments enough to refuse to believe it was the same guy who directed MB, Alan Parker being a common enough name.

  13. The Commitments is delightful, as I recall. Bugsy Malone is pretty fine too.

    Didn’t care for Angela’s Ashes or The Road to Wellville.

    Have no idea what I’d think of Birdy, Angel Heart, Shoot the Moon of Pink Floyd’s The Wall if I saw them now, but they all had good things.

    Never saw Fame, though I did just watch the Lucio Fulci version, Muderock (sic), which benefits from a much higher body count.

  14. The Commitments is still excellent to my mind — the occasional excess of miserabilism but it’s a strikingly good portrait of pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland, and Parker mostly lets Roddy Doyle’s source material work its charm. I still remember the excitement we felt watching a film that seemed to be about a place we actually recognized as our own (unlike, say, My Left Foot or The Field, since they were set in the past).

  15. And Parker’s style, which combines a sense of grit with a taste for gloss, seems well-suited. The movie has more vibrancy than the Frears follow-ups (the music helps, of course).

  16. Homophobic indeed. He and fellow-phobe Oliver Stone rewrote the real story of Midnight Exress to make the gay anti-hero straight. He was played by Brad Davis — who died of AIDS.

    Parker is also a racist, turning the FBI into heroes in Mississippi Burning, the truth being ENTIRELY OTHERWISE!

    He simply couldn’t stand to have African-Americans be the heroes of our own stories.

  17. Stone was accused of racism of the portrayal of Turks in Midnight Express, Cubans in Scarface and Chinese-Americans in Year of the Dragon. And some of us feel he pandered to stereotypes of Cimmerians in Conan the Barbarian.

    I think the racism of Mississippi Burning has a lot to do with the perception of what is commercial, but of course to allow box office considerations to rewrite history in favour of white characters and institutions is no less objectionable than to do it on more ideological grounds.

  18. The Parker film is the only one that really enhances the source material — Frears sort of compresses Doyle’s energy, and the best of the set pieces still read way better than they look. Well, except maybe this one —

    That’s pretty much how I remember it, complete with opinions offered by people who’d never watched a game of soccer before. Ah, 1990.

  19. Colm Meaney, very good actor. But this involved football, so most of it was just a sort of white noise to me.

  20. Hehe, that’s kind of why I posted it ;) Honestly, even if you’re into football it is probably boring as hell if you’re not Irish.

  21. The FBI is and was a racist org. working in full cooperation with the KKK.

  22. No argument here. The implied idea that Hoover was pro-civil rights is pretty farcical.

  23. It has been a long time since I saw it but I remember wondering why Midnight Express didn’t engender the horror that I assume it was supposed to. After all the main character isn’t exactly innocent of the crime he is accused of (hence we don’t have the ‘wronged man’ thing going on to create sympathy) and I assume that being in jail anywhere for an extended period is pretty awful.

    But mostly a Turkish prison looked quite fun – the lead even gets to cop off with John Hurt in a steamy bathroom! (Presumably that is what Parker felt was the ultimate horror?)

  24. It would be interesting to compare and contrast Midnight Express with Yilmaz Guney’s The Wall some time though.

    Since he seems interested in filmmaker’s working from captivity, I wonder what Alan Parker’s take on the Jafar Pahahi and Mohammad Rasulof situation would be. Presumably similar to the Guney one.

  25. The gay sex in Midnight Express is portrayed as beautiful: the one thing of humanity in that hellhole. I always slightly wondered if, in back of that, was an assumption that “this is what our hero has been reduced to, when this is the only beautiful thing in his life.” That would certainly be in keeping with the general tone of the film.

  26. Cue Jonathan Rosenbaum on MISSISSIPPI BURNING for some really “this is how to do it” righteous outrage:

    I always thought EVITA and LIFE OF DAVID GALE were kind of evil too, now that I think about it.

  27. Roger Ebert skewered The Life of David Gale pretty neatly. I still haven’t seen it: though the critical reviews avoided overt spoilers, I could infer pretty much what happens.

  28. Gay sex in Midnight Express?! Was I perhaps asleep at the time?

    The one thing I remember is Brad Davis hitting the showers au naturel with a fellow prisoner, the steam rising, the screen going all soft-focus and the synthesisers starting to soar…and then Brad putting the other guy off with a chaste shake of his head!

    Of course, pleasure – sexual, aesthetic or otherwise – would be totally out of place in that horrendous film.

    Oh, but The Road to Wellville is a masterpiece! It’s perhaps the definitive expose of health fads and the ghastly industry that has grown up around them.

  29. But all the satiric content comes from the book. Apart from shooting it in a near sepiatone desaturated look, what has Parker done with it? Softened the tone considerably, I’d say. He did get an “interesting” turn from Hopkins, I must say — a genuine departure for an actor who tends too often to mine the same approach for many films in a row.

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