Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Guttie And The Squattie

What do Steve Guttenberg, a squat toilet and a corpse on a plane have in common? No joke - all three somehow featured in my day…

Having watched Don’t Tell Her It’s Me (also confusingly named The Boyfriend School), on Saturday night I was reminded of the mighty Guttenberg (Three Men and a Baby, Police Academy, Cocoon, Short Circuit...) who starred so heavily in many 80s classics – some of which I own in those great neon coloured oversized video boxes. Or perhaps I shouldn’t admit that? Seeing the master at work posing as Kiwi biker Lobo, to win the heart of the girl that he loves (another 80s “hero” Jami Gertz), I couldn’t help but wonder what had become of him.

Several days later and I find myself in one of those discussions about what has happened to certain celebrities, namely DeVito. Being a bit of a geek and a huge fan of IMBD, I can’t help but do a little research and discover that Guttenberg is still a pretty prolific actor, although the kinds of films he is in aren’t necessarily ones we’d hear about on widespread release…. I’ve seen the sign for Ay Lav Yu on several occasions while visiting my favourite cinema in Wood Green and thought nothing of it. Now I know better. It is a Turkish comedy and bizarrely enough, Steve Guttenberg’s latest role.

Holing up for the night, I decide for old time’s sake I will go and see if I lav his latest release and before bed spot a story about two women trying to smuggle a corpse onto a plane. I awake to the same story on the front page of Metro the next morning. Shocking to some, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Navigating my way through Kolcutta’s underground, among all the warning signs and notices spelling out the rules, there were the words “no corpses” to be brought onto trains. If people have to be told it is not acceptable normal behaviour then perhaps carrying dead bodies around is normal practice? Perhaps cultural differences meant that the women catching the flight had no idea wheeling on a corpse would be frowned upon.

Watching Steve Guttenberg’s most recent offering was more surreal than Metro’s front page. Ay Lav Yu is about American Jessica falling for a Turkish guy called Ibrahim. Her family go out to the small community of Tinne where Ibrahim is from to meet their future in-laws before the wedding. The film is predominantly in Turkish with English subtitles and the four non-Turkish cast members are Jessica and her family. The only Turkish speaker in the family is Jessica and Ibrahim speaks very little English so much of the communication between the two groups is awkward, stilted and full of misunderstanding. What Steve Guttenberg is doing in this film is beyond me – did the film’s Turkish director, Sermiyan Midyat, think "I must have Guttenberg"?

Ay Lav Yu is my first exposure to Turkish film and certainly comedy. Despite the film being out since March 12, the cinema was packed out and only a few tickets were left. I didn’t seem to find it as funny as fellow viewers but judging from my neighbours, I think a large percentage of the audience were Turkish. Although the film seemed to be playing on cultural stereotypes, having been to Turkey on numerous occasions (admittedly some time ago), much of the fun-poking was actually grounded in reality.

In the film what struck the biggest chord was a scene involving a shed and a squat toilet. In the scene Guttenberg’s character, Christopher, doesn’t know how to use the toilet so keen to please, Ibrahim brings him a special invention he made just for him in anticipation of his arrival - a wooden chair with the seat cut away for him to place over the hole. Later in the film locals ask to try this chair, clambering up and squatting above the hole in the chair. Watching this scene, I am reminded of signs in Cambodia stuck to the inside of cubicle doors for the few western toilets that we saw, giving instructions on how to use these new sit-down style toilets. The signs featured a picture of a figure standing on the toilet seat squatting above it with a red line through it. In England, no one thinks of placing these signs up for foreigners, instead we are patronisingly shown how to wash our hands. Why there isn’t a sign featuring a picture of a full toilet with a line through it, is beyond me. Step by step diagrams of how to flush a toilet would be of more use than how to wash your hands. I may be wrong but as far as I know, everyone knows how to wash their hands and those who don’t aren’t doing it out of ignorance but choice.

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