The director of Head On and Soul Kitchen on Moroccan singer-songwriters, thousand-page novels, and the only movie Marlon Brando ever directed.
Born in Germany and raised by Turkish immigrants, director Fatih Akin is known in arthouses for Head On and The Edge of Heaven, movies about subcultural lifestyles within larger cultural clashes. They have a distinct tone and feel — they're Arab-European stories with a sex-drugs-and-punk vibe. But Akin, whose acclaimed comedy Soul Kitchen hits American theaters this Friday, is a man of many interests. We sat down with the affable filmmaker to discuss Spaghetti Westerns, hip-hop, and the only movie Marlon Brando ever directed.
Well, I've been into Westerns, because I'm working on one, actually. So, I see a lot of Westerns these days, and there's a lot to discover: European Westerns, American Westerns, even Turkish Westerns. But one film I've really rediscovered — I'd seen the film before, but I saw it again and it blew me away — is One-Eyed Jacks by Marlon Brando. It's the only film he directed. Stanley Kubrick was to direct it, but Brando fought with him and decided to do it himself. It's so beautiful, so well-shot. It's a Western that takes place on the seaside. Normally, you know, Westerns take place in dry land, desert, canyons. But this one's set against the Pacific Ocean. There's a legend that says Brando would wait hours for the perfect waves, like a surfer. But when you see the film, it's like a painting, with the light, the waves, and Brando's costume. In a way, the Brando film is the first Spaghetti Western without being a Spaghetti Western. You know, the Spaghetti Western icon in popular culture is Eastwood. But in a way, Brando did that ten years before.
These days I'm more into jazz. I think it has to do with growing up. Since I was a teenager, I listened to hip-hop. Sooner or later, you trace the roots of hip-hop, and you get led to jazz. Artie Shaw seems to be like the soundtrack of my life. Even in his more melancholic tracks, there seems to be a positive mood. It's different from the music we're listening to right now in this hotel lounge. This music is like carpet. But if Artie Shaw were playing, we could sit here and talk, and we could still have a good conversation, but the carpet would be better.
Handmade, Hindi Zahra
She's a great singer-songwriter with I think a Moroccan background. She lives in Paris. Yet she has a political resistance to singing in French. She sings in Arabic and English. She's in the tradition of European singer-songwriters like Manu Chao or Charlotte Gainsbourg. Somehow, France was always out of my musical map. I mean, there were always interesting electronic artists like Daft Punk and Air. But Zhara's melange of the Arabic and the European has its own sound, its own power, and its own meaning, in a sense. It's not just music. It's like flamenco in a way; it's more physical music.
The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, Franz Werfel
I read a lot of books these days about the relationship between Turkey and Armenia. One book I read this year was The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. It's like 950 pages. I feel like I've been reading it my whole life — it's not a book, it's a whole library, man! Werfel has great literary skills, but he's never like, "Look at the way I'm writing." He's more interested in the material he's writing about, instead of how he writes. I don't have the patience, or time — it's the world we're living in — to get down into the style of how somebody's writing. That's why I read more nonfiction than fiction. The Werfel novel is fiction, but it's historical and well-researched. The guy did his homework.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
I'm not interested in creating a style as a director. I start to get bored if a filmmaker has a certain style and needs to have this "touch of a director" on his movie. I try to avoid "touch." I don't want to be touched. Eastwood never has touch. He has a script and says, "What's the best way to tell this story? The simplest way, the shortest way, the easiest way to tell it?" Practical. Very American, you know? In those terms, I'd like to be an American director. Be practical. Don't be frou-frou, like, "Look what I can do with the camera." In The Outlaw Josey Wales, you see Eastwood's influences — Sergio Leone, obviously — but he breaks it up. He really works with American realism. The Civil War, the relationship with Native-Americans — he deals with all of it without ever getting pretentious.