Thanks to the newly opened Living Room Theaters across from Powells Books downtown I managed to catch the documentary “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul” on the (relatively) big screen. In fact I got an entire screening room to myself. I had missed it when it showed in Portland in the past. The film takes its name from a quote featured early in the film claiming that Istanbul was a bridge used by 72 different nations. The film follows Einstürzende Neubauten bassist Alexander Hacke as he records a variety of Turkish (and Roma, and Kurdish) musicians in Istanbul and some outlying regions in some attempt to get to the heart of the music of Istanbul. Even though he finally manages to make an intimate recording with Sezen Aksu he still feels like he only scratched the surface by the end of the movie, and I agree.
Other than the impressive Istanbul Style Breakers b-boy crew, the only hip-hop moments in the film are with Ceza and his sister Ayben. Ceza is a truly impressive rapper, both for his technique, and his insistence on rapping about things that matter, and not the stereotypical subjects. I was familiar with his work through a few compilations, and had been putting off importing his own CDs, but seeing him in the movie has changed that, and I will definitely be pursuing more of his music in the future. The movie didn’t feature the female Turkish rapper Sultana, but instead featured a brief rap by Ceza’s sister Ayben dissing Turkish-Germn female rapper Aziza-A.
The rock bands in the film were OK, but I was most interested in the Roma jam session in Kesan with Selim Sesler, an absolutely sick clarinet player. The men in the bar were so drunkenly happy with his playing that they took time to rub his bald head or kiss him as he played. He has a CD out called “Road to Kesan: Turkish Rom & Regional Music of Thrace” which I am eager to hear. At one point he was tapping his clarinet to bring out unusual tones that reminded me of a free jazz player. Awesome. Selim Sesler was featured in three different combos in the film. I also loved the Kurdish singer Aynur. Beautiful dirges of suffering. I learned that from 1980 to 1990 singing in native languages of minorities in Turkey was forbidden. There were some great street musicians, an incredibly rare office performance by Orhan Gencebay playing his saz (along with some of his campy vintage film clips), and the aforementioned intimate session with Sezen Aksu, the Queen. (She gets her own early film clip showing her as a seriously smoking young babe.) The movie is by no means comprehensive in its approach, but it manages to gather up quite a few unique moments amongst its footage. I have read some criticism by Turks that blast the film for what they see as a tired “East meets West” approach to viewing Istanbul. You’d have to lay the blame for that at the feet of Turkish-German director Fatih Akin.