MaltaToday | 03 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 03 August 2008

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30th anniversary screening of Midnight Express to be held as part of Evenings on Campus

There’s a remarkable eeriness to the sound of Joe Zammit Cordina’s sharp, short orders to a sweating Brad Davis at the Luqa airport customs desk.
To the Maltese viewer, the speech in the famous customs scene in Midnight Express should never have been in Maltese, but in Turkish, as it was a Turkish customs official that Zammit Cordina was acting out.
But so it came to be that the meaningless frisbee unearthed by Zammit Cordina from inside Davis’s holdall, prompted the famous question: “Dan x’inhu… ballun?” (What’s this… a ball?). Only to be capped off by the less than enlightened response of his customs colleague: “Dik hija logħba Amerika. Baseball.” (That’s the American game, baseball). If only the rest of the world knew.
Midnight Express, the film based on American Billy Hayes’ true account of his escape from a Turkish prison, was filmed almost in its entirety in Malta, where the disused Fort St Elmo was turned into an Ankara hell-hole.
In 1977, it gave Maltese extras working on the set an unprecedented windfall. They were paid a princely Lm11 every day – almost a week’s salary back then. Dozens stood in as mental patients inside a Turkish prison’s asylum. When filming was wrapped up, many of them could afford to buy a car with the money they had earned over a month and a half of filming.
One of those extras was Spiridione Sant, the last ‘politician’ ever to give corner meetings decked in a boiler suit in his eccentric one-man electoral campaigns.
Veteran actor Charles Thake also had a non-speaking part as the clerk in a Turkish courtroom. Tony Cassar Darien is stamping passports.
And Joe Zammit Cordina is the instantly recognisable customs officer, who eyes Brad Davis suspiciously as he rummages through his bag.
With its cast and well-known locations, Midnight Express is perhaps one of those films with a special place inside Maltese film buffs’ hearts, from the opening scene inside the old Luqa airport, to the closing sunset behind the Valletta skyline. Like other films shot on the island, such as The Malta Story or Pulp, Midnight Express is a reminder of the past as well.
Thirty years later after the release of Midnight Express, the film will be screened on its anniversary at the Old University building in St Paul’s Street, Valletta, as part of the annual Evenings on Campus organised by the Koperattiva Kulturali Universitarja and Cinema Forum Group.
A discussion will precede the screening where a panel will discuss the actors, film locations, and the fantastic Giorgio Moroder score that resonates throughout the film.
Billy Hayes, the young American tourist convicted to 30 years for attempting to smuggle hashish out of the country, was portrayed by Brad Davis. Notable actors included John Hurt and Randy Quaid.
The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Adapted Screenplay – penned by Oliver Stone – and Best Original Score.
The screening takes place on Friday, 8 August, at 8:45pm.

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