Billy Hayes spent most of the seventies in a Turkish prison after trying to smuggle hash out of the country. His experiences were made into the film Midnight Express, which starred the late Brad Davis, and he is now a happily married film maker living and working in LA.
His 2002 directorial debut was with the film Cock and Bull Story, a violent but earnest tale about a sexually confused boxer and his friendship with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.
Billy spoke with Mark Adnum in March 2003.
MARK ADNUM: Billy, my first love was Brad Davis as yourself in the 1976 film Midnight Express. It’s a performance that’s had an impact on a lot of people. What response have you had to it, at the time of the film’s release, and over time in the almost thirty year’s since?
BILLY HAYES: I loved what Brad did because his heart was into it. He touched people, like yourself, for example, and that’s what I still want to do—affect people and change the world in whatever small or large way I can.
MA: Most people, when they think of “Billy Hayes”, imagine Davis, the sexily suicidal movie star who doesn’t resemble you physically or otherwise. Apart from your book, your profile is limited, and the film didn’t stay true to all the facts you detailed in your memoir. What’s it like to have a partly-fictionalised reputation, personified by someone else?
BH: My reputation, like all of us, is a Rashomon-like portrait. All I can do is try and stay true to my heart, which guides me. The fictionalized part is due to the film’s liberties, the book’s inability to say everything I wanted, although it’s a fairly accurate rendition of who I am, or rather, who I was. Hopefully one is constantly growing and changing…
After Midnight is the hard to find memoir of Susan Bluestein Davis, who was married to Brad Davis, star of Midnight Express and Querelle. In it, she details the last years of Brad’s life as he finds out he’s HIV positive, conceals his condition from Hollywood decision makers, and ultimately dies of AIDS.
A must for fans, and historians too. Get a copy here.
Brad Davis (pictured above in a still from Chariots of Fire) doesn’t appear in the celebrated opening scene of the film, which is set around the 1924 London Olympics.
The opening scene lands at magnificent rather than transcendent, since the close-ups on the actors can trigger the odd cringe, subtracting just slightly from the majestic force of the sublime music by Vangelis (who duly won an Oscar for his work):
Kind of appropriately for a movie about a mysterious sailor, Querelle took on a new identity at each new port. The original French poster, above, lets the oblique oranges and pinks of a angsty post-murder dawn spill over a seductive image that is free of instructive or explicatory taglines. Fans will instantly recognise the beautiful Brad Davis and Querelle’s flick-knife - which doubles here as some kind of lightsaber cock - and his sexy singlet and pom-pom hat. Rolf Zehetbaur’s over-the-top set design that reconfigured pier pilings as gigantic stone cocks replete with balls at the base is given major eye space.
In Germany (below) however, a misleading still hovered above the title and the tagline “A pact with the Devil”. Querelle’s main crime wasn’t jewel theft, and the confused look on his face suggests he has a conscience, another error. Any volk who stumbled into a screening expecting a linear narrative about a good sailor and some missing strings of pearls would have received Querelle like an unexpected splash of cum in the eye:
Helen Mirren’s lovely coffee-table book, “In The Frame, My Life In Words and Pictures”, is full of lengthy anecdotes and fabulous photos from her private collections. After the obligatory toddler pics and stories about her anti-Czarist Russian father etc., the book launches into yet more interesting territory with Helen reflecting on and sharing candid pictures from her early days on the stage (with a young Bob Hoskins, for example, or getting trussed up into bondage gowns on the set of early Peter Greenaway films).