The Devil Wears Prada
Directed by David Frankel
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul
Directed by Fatih Akin
The Devil Wears Prada is pretty much your standard recombinant chick flick: There’s generic aerial footage of New York. There’s a pretty starlet we’re supposed to accept as unattractive. There’s even a screenplay based on a novel whose fans are outraged at how crudely it’s been denatured. The scenario, not unlike that of 2004’s Little Black Book, is basically a workplace catfight in which a young woman is abused by a middle-aged harpy. Yet the movie’s actual power structure elevates genial apprentice Anne Hathaway over Oscar-devouring virtuoso Meryl Streep. As the confection goes down, that just might constitute a tickle of irony.
Adapted from Lauren Weisberger’s novel by scripter Aline Brosh McKenna and unimaginatively directed by TV veteran David Frankel, The Devil Wears Prada is set mostly in the offices of Runway, a magazine that should probably remind us of Vogue. Andrea “Andy” Sachs (The Princess Diaries star Hathaway), reportedly a Connecticut sophisticate in the book, has been Midwesternized into a sweetly styleless recent Northwestern grad who decides that her way into serious magazine journalism lies through the outer office of rhymes-with-beastly Miranda Priestly (Streep). Andy’s job application seems headed for the trash can, but then the mercurial editor unexpectedly decides to hire “the smart, fat girl.” (Andy is a Size 6.) The rest of the office consists principally of two people: Miranda’s irredeemably catty other secretary, Emily (Emily Blunt, who played My Summer of Love’s posh pathological liar), and her redeemably catty art director, Nigel (Stanley Tucci), who tells Andy she’s hopeless and then provides her with the haircut appointment and million-dollar wardrobe that transform her into, well, a princess.
Streep’s Miranda is no Julie Andrews, but after about an hour of smirky bitchiness, she becomes less tormentor and more mentor. Indeed, Miranda’s absurd demands begin to weigh less heavily on Andy than does the disapproval of boyfriend Nate (Entourage’s Adrian Grenier), supposedly a regular guy who just happens to look like a male model. As things go worse with Nate, the newly stylish Andy attracts a suave and well-connected admirer, writer/editor/socialite Christian Thompson (Simon Baker), who’s supposed to be—I dunno, a young George Plimpton or something. When Andy accompanies Miranda to Paris for the annual designer showcases, Christian is also there, and Andy must make the sort of big decisions that would be wrenching if she weren’t the irreproachable—and thus one-dimensional—heroine of a contemporary Hollywood social comedy.
Movies are full of bad bosses, of course, but male ones rarely get equal billing with their worthy young antagonists. (One exception is Wall Street’s—but then, Oliver Stone is obsessed with malevolent father figures.) The female superior remains a particular object of horror in American society, and the clash of the maliciously lip-pursing Miranda and the earnest, full-mouthed Andy is the primal battle between experience (admirable in men, suspect in women) and innocence (always endearing—not to mention sexy). Even if Streep has insisted in interviews that she based Miranda on male tyrants she has known, this movie wouldn’t exist if Weisberger had written a novel about an inexperienced young woman who got an entry-level job working for some guy at Newsweek or Wired.
As its title promises, The Devil Wears Prada is a cavalcade of brand names—and not just in the showrooms and on the runways. While the camera embraces only the most upscale New York neighborhoods and picturesque Paris quartiers, the soundtrack features such fashionable brands as Moby and Belle & Sebastian, and it doesn’t skimp on more expensive acquisitions such as U2 and Madonna (“Vogue,” of course). Although the fashion-world cameos are less abundant than they were in Robert Altman’s Ready to Wear, big-name designers flit through the Parisian montages, and model Gisele Bündchen has a small part. The result is a movie that’s as entranced with couture-world glamour as Andy eventually is—which is exactly why her abiding interest in leaving Runway for some scruffy little newspaper is ultimately unconvincing. While The Devil Wears Prada’s script quietly extolls Andy’s integrity, its mise-en-scène celebrates the world she’s rejected.
If there were as many films set in Turkey’s biggest metropolis as there are in the United States’, the aerial shots that introduce Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul might look hackneyed, too. But Istanbul is relatively unexplored territory—not only for the American filmgoer but also for this documentary’s director and onscreen narrator. Fatih Akin is of Turkish descent, but he was born in Germany, so his exploration of Istanbul parallels that of the Turko-German central characters in his fierce 2004 art-house hit, Head On. As for Alexander Hacke, the Einstürzende Neubauten veteran who guides the musical tour, he made his first trip to Turkey when he was working on Head On’s score.
Armed with digital-recording gear, the easygoing and ever-curious Hacke explains that he’s there to document a range of Turkish music. He checks into the same hotel featured in Head On, the Grand London. It’s in the rather Parisian neighborhood of Beyoglu, once Istanbul’s “French Quarter,” where the streets teem late into the night and women pay little heed to Islamic notions of modesty. Hacke quickly finds himself filling in on bass with Baba Zula, a psychedelic-rock band grooving gently on a Bosporous barge, and then meeting various rockers, rappers, and trip-hoppers.
Duman, whose lead singer spent time in grunge-era Seattle, plays protest punk that recalls Dead Kennedys. In the one song we get to hear, the band rails against its hometown. Most of the interviewees, however, are proud of their heritage—and respectful of their musical elders. The members of art-punk band Replikas pay homage to Turkish rock pioneer Erkin Koray, whose guitar solos owe much to Hendrix but whose songs are not far removed from traditional folk numbers. The film then introduces Koray, who proudly declares himself “still too extreme” for Turkey. It’s a device Crossing the Bridge uses repeatedly: The accolades of young musicians lead to their precursors, including veteran singer-songwriter and action-flick star Orhan Gencebay, vocalist and one-time movie goddess Sezen Akzu, and 86-year-old orch-pop singer Müzeyyen Senar. These glimpses of older styles are bolstered by clips from vintage movies. In Turkey, as in India, apparently, songs and cinema are closely linked.
Akin’s fluid segues and Hacke’s enthusiasm drive the film, which is lively and meticulously constructed. Sometimes, though, the locomotion comes at the cost of explanation. We meet whirling dervishes without any introduction to the Sufi traditions that underlie their dance—or even the briefest account of why one of the whirlers is a young woman with an American accent. Kurdish singer Aynur tells of being attacked for singing in her native language, yet the politics of Kurdish identity in Turkey are barely addressed. Canadian singer Brenna MacCrimmon briefly discusses her love for traditional Turkish songs, but she doesn’t tell how she came to be a respected singer of such tunes in their native land.
Crossing the Bridge is, in short, a rather rough guide to Turkish music. The performance snippets are sometimes too fleeting to provide much feel for the artists, and it’s impossible to say whether the younger musicians are representative or just people Akin and Hacke happened to encounter. Of course, a sense of serendipity is part of the film’s appeal. The director and his guide could have attempted a more definitive study, but a more academic report wouldn’t have benefited from this movie’s amiable twists and asides—or ended with its own Madonna song, a Turkish version of “Music.”CP