Syrian Superstars

P and I are both professional speakers of English. Neither of us can understand why you’d want to be a film star, which is what our major marketable skill last saw us doing. That said I don’t think I’ll ever look at a crowd scene in the same way again, it was an interesting experience.

In the Arab world major, big budget series are screened every night during Ramadan. In terms of TV news they’re kinda the eastern equivalent of a BBC Austen adaptation. This one stars an English woman, who is on a scientific expedition to Ottoman You Know Where when a Ghost, played by the guy who was Saladin in The Kingdom of Heaven, convinces the silly bint to run off into the desert. OK, the story might not be Austen standard, but the rest of it is. We went of to Aleppo, where an award wining, almost entirely male make up crew spent two hours turning me into Mary, a rather naive member of the exped. Homosexuality is illegal in Syria. We were filming in a posh restaurant, and eventually plates of mezze appeared, and then, much to my surprise a main course followed. This was, without a doubt, the highlight of the experience, but I also approved of the four star hotel we were whisked off to after midnight but before being filmed at all.

I’m clearly not cut out for film making, as I don’t like being told what to do and I hate being dicked around, which there was a lot of. Being told at 1am to be in makeup at 6am, for example, doesn’t make me happy. Neither does being given my lines 5 minutes before I’m supposed to speak them (in English). It was ok though, each scene was filmed several times, and sometimes just cut down to one line, as both close ups and long range shots. One scene, in the souk, took over 20 takes, even though nothing was said. The director had got hold of some camels to hide modernity behind, they are certainly big enough. Someone had a monkey and there were a nice lot of headscarved women. Edward Saied would not have approved.

One of my favourite scenes was the one where we arrived at the hotel. For aesthetic reasons my character carried her own suitcase and hat box, something I doubt any well brought up pre WWI woman would have done, even if she was on a scientific expedition in the Ottoman Empire. Syria being Syria though, as soon as ‘cut’ was called men would insist on carrying them back outside ready for the next take, rather than let me do it myself.

There was a lot of hanging around, all of looking like we’d been through some defective time machine that gave Bedouin daggers but left there laptops and produced Victorian women with jeans beneath their dresses and iPods in their ears. P spent along time talking about how we could study alot, but actually spent most of his time playing chess, which made me giggle over my dictionary.

In terms of practising my Arabic the actors were too interested in themselves to talk to me, the camera and light people too busy, the makeup crew too gay and the extras too convinced P was ether my husband or, hilarious, my father. The restaurant guys, however, thought I was the bee’s knees which was useful when we discovered we were expected to be on set for 16 hours without lunch. People also spoke to me fast, translated things I understood and talked to me in French (basically there is Arabic and there is foreign. When my Arabic breaks down and we need a translator the person I’m talking to will shout ‘anybody speak foreignish,’ until a translators found). It’s hard to know which of these is most annoying. I think the fact that the Arabic for makeup is makeearj, however, is scored into my sole.

Politics is continuing; the British embassy is worried about how national’s pets can be brought into the UK. While I could write you a well reasoned, interesting article about it I’m frankly more excited about having my little crew of friends out to visit. Oh Yeah!

Author: adventuresinarabic

I'm studying Arabic in Damascus, living through the Arab Spring and blogging about my experiences hear.

2 thoughts on “Syrian Superstars”

  1. Lets hope all your efforts don’t end up, like mine, on the cutting room floor. (Farleys Rusks advert in 1963 aside).

    Oh and by thye way,IMDB has it that Ghassan Massoud (AKA Saladin) was also in Pirates of the Carribean,……who knows, Johnny Depp next time Oli.

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