The vice Guide To Turkish Hollywood
Turkey has had a pretty good track record over the past 500 years. There were the four centuries when they ruled all of Europe via the Ottoman Empire, and then there was the Turkish film boom of the early 1970s. That's enough to make any self-respecting nation proud. No wonder they've been taking a break from being great for so long.
In 1971, a Turkish thug actor named Yilmaz Güney made an incredibly depressing film about hopelessness, mischievously titled Hope. It won best picture in his hometown's film festival and went on to take the Special Jury award at France's Grenoble Film Festival.
Then the floodgates opened. Turkey went from producing a few dozen movies a year to over 300. Every Turk with a camera and an ego suddenly had to commit their thoughts to celluloid. The era was called The Turkish New Wave and, as with any gold rush, there were a couple of nuggets and a lot more dirt. The more enterprising Turkish filmmakers decided that they shouldn't even have to write their own movies, they could just poach from American Hollywood's scripts, cobble together some cheap props and Turk actors, and boom!
In 1971 Turkish Wizard of Oz hit the silver screen. Two years later a Turkish replica of The Exorcist arrived, followed closely by Turkish Star Wars, Turkish E.T., and Turkish every-other-American-blockbuster. They kept coming until around 1984, the year Turk film pioneer Güney passed away. Some say he died of a broken heart after watching the film industry he worked so hard to build become a series of cheap American rip-offs. Boo hoo. Around the same time, Turkey heard about a new invention called the te-le-vis-ion and Turkish film was dead forever. So what happened to those American rip-offs of yesteryear?
They're alive and well and living in film nerds' basements! There are web rings and mail order catalogs, cults and secret meetings. These Turkish film buffs are as shady as the Masons. After a brief trip into that world, I've decided that I went as far as I could go. Any further and I'd be in danger of becoming the guy who owns the comic book store on "The Simpsons." Here are my top five Turkish remakes of all time.
Turkish Star Wars -- Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam
The gold standard of Turkish remakes, and a must-see for any North American who made a temporary religion out of Star Wars when they were a kid (basically everyone). Turkish Star Wars uses not only footage stolen directly from the original film but also the soundtracks to Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Flash Gordon. This is movie making at its most abstract and progressive. I think. It begins with a five-minute montage of sampled shots. We see the Death Star exploding, then the same thing in slo-mo, then in reverse, then a storm trooper, then R2-D2. All with no context and little sense, set to an eerily Big Brother speech delivered in Turkish. It was probably just the story set-up, but I couldn't help suspecting that it might have been anti-American propaganda. Most of the similarities to the original film end after the intro, when it becomes a Turkish kung-fu movie set in the desert. The same desert they have in Egypt, apparently, as there's footage of the pyramids spliced in. The Han Soloesque and Luke Skywalkerish leads run around in pursuit of the Darth Vader wannabe, who looks like Rasputin from the future. Fake Han and Luke don't use lightsabers or anything -- they rely mainly on a move that consists of karate chopping both sides of a person's neck at once. Everyone they do this to dies immediately.
Turkish Exorcist -- Seytan
This movie fucking scared me TONS more than the American version. At first I was laughing over the title's misguided attempt at literalism. By the time I'd watched the whole thing, though, I couldn't sleep with the light off or eat basically anything without wanting to puke. Seytan has everything the original had: the spinning head, the pea soup, the vicious little girl, only it is TURKISH. Somehow that made it grosser. In fact, it felt more like a documentary than a work of fiction at some points. They probably do still have demon possession in Turkey. Seytan also gets bonus points for being the only Turkish remake I viewed that had nudity!
Turkish E.T. -- Badi
Badi (I like to pronounce it "Batty") is the adorable little name of an extraterrestrial stranded on Earth (this time somewhere near Istanbul) in the Turk version of Spielberg's original pile of mush. But while our alien managed to be brown and wrinkly yet still cute, Badi is the polar opposite -- gray and perpetually covered in a sheen of snot. Plus, his voice is just a Turkish guy whispering and rasping into a Vocoder so he sounds like a child molesting robot. The setting and tone of this movie couldn't be more different from the sunny California of the American E.T. Badi is more like a Hardy Boys novel written by Franz Kafka, with a group of kids creeping through dark slums, trying to protect a deformed outcast. All the adults in the movie, when they see Badi, either faint or try to kill him (except for one extended and perplexing scene where the alien goes on all the rides at a local carnival). When the Turkish Polis finally come to take the little monster, the kids stage a FULL SCALE RIOT complete with colored gas bombs, Halloween masks as disguises, and anarchic confusion in the streets! The youngest kid, a four or five year-old, has had his voice dubbed by an adult woman, so in one shot we see a young boy crying but hear a grown Turkish lady's wails and sobs. It is very, very disturbing. In a particularly Turkish twist, the flying bicycle from American ET has been replaced by a flying pushcart.
Turkish Wizard of Oz -- Aysecik Ve Sihirli Cuceler
The Turkish Scarecrow is the most appallingly hilarious stereotype of gayness that I've ever seen. He simpers, minces, prances and lisps his way through the entire film, which probably set Turkey's queer rights movement (if there is one) back about 100 years. The closest parallel is Joel Grey in Cabaret. Turkish Dorothy is actually a little treasure, rocking a kind of goth/farm girl look, and the Turkish Cowardly Lion looks like John Gacy trying out for Cats. This merry little band doesn't arrive in Munchkin Land until about halfway through the movie. I was looking forward to seeing 50 Turkish midgets doing a song and dance routine, but they used more kids than "little people." The few real-deal midgets who do appear are pretty amazing, wearing tiny red soldier suits and playing traditional Turkish folk music, which I guess is very popular in Oz.
Turkish Superman -- Supermen Donuyor
This is another one that uses the theme from the American film, and it's really pretty ingenius and disorienting in conjunction with the opening sequence. It's supposed to be a shot of outer space, but it's really just a bunch of old Christmas ornaments hanging against a black sheet. Then it cuts to a crayon drawing of the Superman emblem surrounded by little stars -- it looks like it was drawn by a preschooler. The special effects are a lot closer to the TV show from the 50s than the movies from the 80s. That's why the flying sequences are so much fun to watch. On his first flight, Turkish Superman cruises over every piece of stock footage the director could get from the Turkish Tourism Council. This turned out to be a pretty faithful remake, although it tops the original in terms of both awkwardness and quality.
A note: Turkish films are the reason the fast-forward button was invented. These things are not meant to be watched in a linear, one-sitting fashion. Treat them more like pieces of video art, or just watch them with your friends while stoned. They all achieve that perfect mix of creepy and funny.
Son (that's Turkish for "End").
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