It's not an exaggeration to say that "Film Amerki Taweel" (Long American Film) defined a generation. If a Lebanese resident didn't watch it when the play was first performed in 1980, then they probably heard it in a radio broadcast, or on a recorded cassette of the radio broadcast... and it is likely that they heard it in a bomb shelter.
Film Amerki Taweel spoke as much of the times that it was produced in as the times to come. It was profound, not only its commentary, but in its prescience. For this reason, many Lebanese have come to revere it.
Videos of the play's performance have shuttled from Germany to the US for some video restoration and editing as well sound design, according to Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar .
The very low quality, heavily pixelated scene above is among the rare video of the play available for public consumption. It shows Abu Leila, played by the legendary Joseph Sakr, and his strange bedfellow at a psychiatric institution. Here you can hear (because there's not much in the way of visuals) one of playwright Ziad Al Rahbani's best rhetorical feats. Abu Leila says he "thought by now that all the [religious] sects would have packed up and gone home," an obvious allusion to the Civil War that had swung into full gear at the time of the play's showing, and also a problem that would come to plague Lebanon for decades to come. And then...a play on words, a smooth sleight of verbal acrobatics that the Lebanese would never forget: "Hawwik ba'a kammiyet tawayef kil wahde wahda tayfe am tafo 'aa ba'don ya m'aalem."
In Lebanese/Levantine Arabic sect sounds like flood, and Ziad interweaves the two to say each of the sects was already a "flood/natural disaster" and so they got together to "flood" into each other, to create a deluge.
Rahbani was only 24 years old at the time of the iconic's play's release. It's no wonder then that he is considered a prodigy by people of the region. The son of famous playwright Assi Rahbani and musical diva Fairuz, Ziad helped to snatch a musical and theatrical heritage out of the snares of folklore and into a modernity grounded in a multilayered Lebanese context.
In Film Amerki Taweel, the setting is a psychiatric institution and our schizophrenic characters express a reality where one must straddle a fine line between the absurd and the day-to-day, and it's done with the force of unrivaled wit, and the monotonous drawl of a jaded people.
"The events depicted in this play took place in October 1980 They also took place in October 1979
as well as on October 1978
Whereby the general state of mind and politics remained exactly the same."
So begins the play, and sure enough, the first cinematic rendering of play's videos will be released on October 2016. Has our situation changed much? Watch the film of the play next month and find out.
Film Amerki Tawil is the second Rahbani play to hit the cinema, after "Bel Nesbeh La Bokra Shou?", a story about a bar in Beirut.