Crossing the Bridge: The Sounds of Istanbul

“Crossing the Bridge,” a documentary from German-Turkish director Fatih Akin, is an enjoyable primer on the sound of today's Istanbul, a kind of a sonic tour with Einstuerzende Neubauten guitarist Alexander Hacke as our guide.

No doubt, music lovers will champion this idiosyncratic docu (the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Istanbul is not its music), but the film offers an intermittently engaging panoramic view of the rich and diverse in the Islam-dominated city that, like other cities, is undergoing change due to political, demographic, and labor forces.
Akin, 33, is nothing if not versatile, having recently made the brilliantly intense “Head-On,” an intense anatomy of the turbulent sexual and social relationship between two outsiders in Istanbul.

After winning the National Society of Film Critics and the Berlin Film Festivals Golden Bear for “Head-On”, German-born Turkish director Akin explores the thriving music scene of Istanbul, the great metropolis located at the crossroads between East and West.

The docu's assumption is both intriguing and universal, namely, if you dig deep enough beneath the everyday surface of any modern city, you're likely to discover an extremely rich music that defines the city's heritage and inhabitants. This is particularly the case of Istanbul, a city with rich history and culture, where East meets West literally on the banks of the Bosporus.

“Crossing the Bridge” played as an out of competition selection slot of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival (it was not in competition because Akin served on the main jury that year) and it's now being shown theatrically by the entrepreneurial distributor, Strand Releasing.

Our guide through the journey is European composer Alexander Hacke, of the famed avant-garde band Einstrzende Neubauten, who became captivated by Turkish music while writing the score for “Head-On.”

With the help of a mobile recording studio and “magic mike,” Hacke takes the viewer on a journey to discover the musicians behind a broad spectrum of genres from modern electronic, rock and hip-hop to traditional “Arabesque, creating a colorful patchwork of sounds and moods and a fascinating collage of Istanbul's musical and cultural diversity.

Along the way, we encounter legends of the world music scene, such as neo-psychedelic band Baba Zula, fusion DJs Orient Expressions, Ceza (Turkeys answer to Public Enemy), the “Elvis of Arabesque” Orhan Gencebay and legendary divas Mzeyyen Senar and Sezen Aksu.

Docu's main problem is its structure, which is casual, random, and arbitrary, with abrupt and radical changes from gypsy folk traditions to the pulse of North African rhythms and the Arabic-influenced chromatic melodies of modern rock. Inevitably, with so many performers, some stand out: I particularly enjoyed Rapper Ceza and Kurdish singer Aynur, but you may enjoy others.

As far as musical documentary go, Crossing the Bridge is not nearly as exhilarating or illuminating as Wim Wenders' “The Buena Vista Social Club.” Unlike Ry Cooders guide tour of Havana in that movie, the narration by Alexander Hacke (bassist in German band Einstrzende Neubauten) is often distracts rather than enlightening since he doesn't provide interesting insights or background information.

The film is written and Directed by Fatih Akin, Produced by Fatih Akin, Klaus Maeck, Andreas Thiel, Sandra Harzer-Kux, Christian Kux, Director of Photography, Herv Die, Edited by Andrew Bird, Music by Alexander Hacke.

For the record, the musicians include Baba Zula, Orient Expressions, Duman, Replikas, Erkin Koray, Ceza, Mercan Dede, Selim Sesler, Brenna MacCrimmon, Siyasiyabend, Aynur, Orhan Gencebay, Mzeyyen Senar, Sezen Aksu and Alexander Hacke.