Recently I happened to catch a viewing of a 1978 movie called "Midnight Express." It's the story of Billy Hayes, who was caught trying to bring a bit of hashish out of Turkey and back to America, and was given a life sentence for his stupidity. I'd heard of the movie -- the Let's Go guide book, which was my Bible when I was traveling around Europe in college, suggests you watch this film if you're even thinking about any drug shenanigans, which I was not -- and it had always been on my list of films to see. I'm a huge fan of 70s films, the golden era of auteur directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich. They just don't make 'em like they did in the 1970s (or the 1940s or 1930s, for that matter) anymore.
But, somehow, I hadn't gotten around to seeing "Midnight Express." When it happened to come on the Ovation channel, I wasn't really in the mood for a dark, depressing film (I'd been channel surfing during a commercial for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," so that gives you an idea where my head was at.) But I thought I'd give it a few minutes.
Wow. Just wow. Can I say I did not change the channel? Not only did I not change the channel, but I kept it on through half of the reprise showing that followed. This is, FLAT OUT, one of the craziest ass movies I have EVER seen, and I've seen a lot of crazy ass movies.
The movie is directed by Alan Parker from a script by none other than Oliver Stone. The movie made their careers. But it also catapulted to fame the lead actor, Brad Davis, who plays Billy Hayes, the real-life man who spent 10 years in a Turkish prison before managing to escape and make his way back to the U.S.
When Davis's pretty mug first came on screen -- the baby blue eyes, the chiseled jaw, the perfect nose -- I thought he looked uncannily like Brad Pitt. It really is uncanny. But I also thought, for just a split second, "This guy is going to ruin the film." Because he is WAY too pretty to be in a Turkish prison. He's just WAY too pretty to be anything other than a Calvin Klein model. I figured his acting would probably be a bit subpar.
Oh man, was I wrong! This guy. I don't know. This is, hands down, one of the best performances I've ever seen. Hell, it might be THE best performance. This guy is Al Pacino in Brad Pitt's body. (And, at least according to Wikipedia, Brad wasn't even nominated that year for Best Actor. Which tells you everything you need to know about the Oscars.)
But I also knew something else. Looking at him, at the spark of craziness in his eyes, at the rawness of his performance, I thought, "Something is off here. I get the feeling this guy isn't entirely acting." So during the commercials, I began doing research on him. And, sure enough, the guy had a tragic life, and it ended even more tragically, at a mere 41 years old, after he deliberately took his own life to end his suffering from advanced AIDS. He was a drug addict and alcoholic, though he managed to get clean, but not before he contracted AIDS. He'd also had a horrific childhood, with physical and sexual abuse from disturbed parents.
His wife, Susan, wrote a book about him after he died, called, "After Midnight: Life with Brad Davis." At the time it came out, it caused a bit of controversy because Susan adamantly states that Brad was not gay or bisexual, while many in the gay community claim he was. I have no idea. Doesn't matter.
The point is, this guy, Brad Davis, was a tortured soul -- and that really came through in his performance in "Midnight Express." He had the face of an angel, the body of an Adonis, the raw acting power of Brando, and the soul of Van Gogh.
I'm not exaggerating. If you haven't seen "Midnight Express," check it out.