They made movies about my life
March 12, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Well, I don’t mean that someone actually based their movies on me. But there are several films that parallel my experiences so perfectly that it’s eerie. I’m sure you’ve had the same feeling. They made movies about my life, but they made them about yours too.
Another caveat is that the two movies I’m going to talk about are similar to my public life, the one I present as the author of Ghosts and Ballyhoo, Chasing the Last Whale, and Hallucinabulia: the Dream Diary of an Unintended Solitarian. So far the best blurb for my work is this.
Literary self-mutilation has never been so rewarding.
Solo artist and “Weird Al” Yankovic band
To get such perceptive praise from a musical genius and wordsmith like Stephen Jay is humbling.
And although there’s a movie that illustrates the details of my private life, I won’t give you the title. Head-On and Transylvania are cousins of the Ghosts Trilogy, which is an art project, not an Oprah gut-puking-up session. As I’ve said before, I prefer to conceal rather than expose. That makes the work more memorable.
Of the two films I mention in this post, Head-On expresses best what I wanted to get across in my books. Despite being a deeply tragic film on many levels, it’s not pessimistic. The protagonist—the brilliant Birol Ünel—is a disaster, a loser with no prospects. He meets the most charismatic woman of his life, played by Sibel Kekilli. Her performance is spectacular on its own, but in this film she is the Cardinal Ghost, the main character of Ghosts and Ballyhoo.
Some details are different. My relationship with the Cardinal Ghost was not a marriage of convenience, I hadn’t suffered the death of a loved one, religion played no part in our story, and I committed no crimes in Carmen’s name. But almost everything else matches up quite well.
It’s Kekilli who makes this a stunning film for me. The actress has a checkered past that continues to dog her, and after Head-On she had cosmetic surgery that in my opinion didn’t improve her face. I preferred her the way she was, with her big, lumpy nose and pointed chin.
Still, her physical transformation is apt, as it applies to Ghosts and Ballyhoo. In Head-On, she personifies the reason a man would be unable to move beyond a relationship. But it’s not her looks; it’s her. The intelligence, humor, quirkiness, pathos, sweetness, and pain are what make her a ghost that defies all efforts to exorcise. She doesn’t want to be a phantom, having purged herself of the history she shared with the man and built a new life for herself.
By doing so she creates a void in Birol Ünel that renders him paralyzed. This wasn’t her intention, but her very existence and the connection they once had now dominate his entire consciousness. She’s always there, even when she isn’t. He sees everything through the prism of Sibel Kekilli.
It’s a fantastic film, though profoundly sad. The continuous mistreatment of Kekilli is unbearable.
Transylvania, on the other hand, is much more ambiguous. It allows us to decide for ourselves how it ends. I prefer the positive interpretation. While I don’t require happy endings, I also oppose look-at-me statements of faux-nihilistic, hipster cynicism. Head-On isn’t a pleasurable experience, but it’s also not contrived. Sometimes happy endings are simply beyond our reach.
Coincidentally, Birol Ünel also stars in Transylvania, along with Asia Argento. I’m a sucker for dark-haired, intense, funny, troubled oddballs.
The film’s tie-in to the Ghosts Trilogy is the theme of going deeper and deeper and deeper into trouble, getting lost in foreignness and not knowing if what’s happening is real or a product of your own insanity.
Surprise plays a major role in Transylvania. You think you know what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t. People are often kinder and more humane than you expect. I like that, and I tried to emphasize it in my books.
Transylvania also taught me that certain parts of Romania may as well be Mexico. Heavyset, olive-skinned men wear black cowboy hats, dance to wild music that has deranged horn sections, and even commemorate death with folk-art skull imagery.
Music like this is heard every weekend in my part of Southern California, except the players are ranchera bands, not gypsies.
If you’ve read the Ghosts Trilogy, watch Head-On and Transylvania to see on film what I was trying to convey. And if you haven’t read any of the books, watch the movies.
Hopefully that’ll make you want to read the books. Maybe you’ll see aspects of your own life in the movies and on the page.
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