When Gegen Die Wand a.k.a Head-On won the top prize at the Berlinale back in 2004 something rather unusual happened - both critics and fans instantaneously agreed that German cinema had made a triumphant return on one of Europe's biggest stages. Surprisingly it was an ethnic Turk born and raised in Hamburg, the city where the Beatles released their first commercial recording, who made it possible.
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005), Fatih Akin's latest film, follows the steps of Alexander Hacke, bassist for the little known in America Einstürzende Neubauten, as he visits Turkey hoping to learn more about the country and its music. As he wanders around the streets of Istanbul the German discovers a world where past and present coexist in harmony.
Skipping between traditional Turkish music, trendy electronica, a surprising socially-aware rock scene, and finally a vibrant hip-hop movement Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul gets deep under the skin of a city with plenty to offer. In fact, in my opinion what this German documentary shows through its dissection of Turkish music is a much more complex view of a country trapped on the crossroad between Europe and Asia.
Despite of the glorious reviews Fatih Akin and his film gathered abroad however in Turkey many expressed dissatisfaction with the "oriental" depiction of their state. As it seems the focus on Turkey and its struggle to become a member of the EU as well as the plight of the Kurds to have their cultural heritage preserved might have opened up a few old wounds. Religion, politics, history, there is indeed plenty here that relates to Turkey's controversial past.
Put aside all the negative sentiments however and what we have here is one of the best and most complete music documentaries I have seen in a very long time. The bustling music scene of Istanbul which Fatih Akin's camera has captured marvelously feels every bit like Manchester from the early 70s. The excitement, the realization that something important is in the making, the desire to create is everywhere. Baba Zulu, Orient Expressions, Replikas, Mercan Dede, Ceza, the list of amazing performers gracing this project goes on and on.
Finally it is worth listening to the comments of a group of young Turks who speak about growing up in a Muslim country willing to become "modern" (in Turkey the army was and still is a guarantor for the democratic process). They talk about the government's notorious ban on broadcasting Turkish music during the early 1920-1930s, the suppression of minority groups and their culture, the desire to become "European". Then they talk about their music, how they feel that this is "their time", how they want to make a change, how they do not want to imitate what others have created. Are they succeeding? I certainly think so!
How Does the DVD Look?
I picked up this Canadian release by Mongrel Media hoping that it might be different, providing a proper transfer. Wishful thinking! It is an exact replica of the US release by Strand Releasing. So, my comments remain the same:
Those of you hoping for a solid R1 release, or at least a decent one, will be gravely disappointed!! Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Crossing The Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul suffers from just about every possible conversion issue you could think of. First of all this is a direct port of the German PAL master with quickly added up and burnt-in English subtitles, which as you probably already guessed means that you will have to deal with a good amount of "ghosting"! Yet, that is not all. The colors are quite shaky even though at first they seem deceivingly good: they are not! There is plenty of color-bleeding here and on a large TV-screen the lack of proper progressive treatment is painfully obvious. Contrast is somewhat decent but detail is, as described above, a complete mess. Finally, I noticed a minor shimmering which further enhances the negative effects from the PAL-NTSC conversion.
How Does the DVD Sound?
The only difference here is that instead of "fixed" English subs (which you will encounter on the Strand release) you can now pick between French or English subtitles.
Presented with a Turkish-German 2.0 track (and bits of English) the sound mix is acceptable but that is as much as I could say about it. With the rich music score and a beautiful selection of folklore and modern "live" performances I am baffled that the R1 distrib did not opt for a more elaborate 5.1 mix. Even though one exists!!
Absolutely nothing! What a shame considering that the UK disc offers much more!
The best documentary feature I saw this year, period!!
And what a disappointing North American release!! The Canadian release by Mongrel Media is also PAL-sourced. I am going to recommend this film just because I think that IT MUST be seen. If you are however region-free and wish to own a copy of it the UK edition by Soda Pictures should be your first and only choice!