The January issue of the Turkish Tempo Magazine leaked a very controversial scoop: a student from Istanbul Bilgi University had shot an amateur porn movie inside campus as a graduation project. The university administration decided to suspend three lecturers from the communication faculty. The battle is fierce between the “academic freedom” defenders and the morality guardians. What they seem to forget, is that Turkey once was the Mecca of erotic industry.
This was during the golden age of Turkish cinema, a period called Yeşilçam, which lasted from the 60’s to the early 80’s. Up to 300 movies were then produced every year, mostly copy-paste popular romantic comedies and cheap Hollywood remakes such as 3 Dev Adam or Three mighty men from 1973. In this film, the “only film where Spiderman is a villain”, our hero is fighting against Captain America and Santo, a masked Mexican wrestler. In 2009, one night of the Paris summer film festival was dedicated to Turkish superhero films from that period. There was a screening of the cult Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam or The Man Who Saved The World, better known as Turkish Star Wars from 1982, considered by experts the worst film ever.
In early 70’s, this profitable industry faced a new challenge: the creation of the public television network TRT. Cinema halls were getting empty, and filmmakers had to come up with new ideas for getting people back in front of the screens. This was the starting point of the Turkish Yeşilçam porno or Seks Furyası, the “Sex Boom”, culminating in 1979 when 131 out of the 193 films produced countrywide were erotic. It was also the year the first real porn movie was produced in Turkey.
Due to the decline of mainstream cinema audiences in Turkey, renowned directors and actors from the conventional film industry were compelled to join the flourishing erotic sector to make ends meet, thus giving their own aesthetic touch to some of these productions. One example is the striking editing in a love sequence from the movie Taksi Şoförü or Taksi driver, which juxtaposes a skidding car with close up shots of a couple having sex. Şerif Gören released this film in 1976, and six years later he was awarded with Yılmaz Güney the Palme d’Or at Cannes festival for their Yol or The Way.
Eroticism in Turkish cinema was not new to the 70’s however. Already in the 50’s and 60’s, suggestive scenes featuring sexy actresses called the “Vamps”, such as Leyla Sayar, Suzan Avcı or Neriman Köksal were seen in Turkish movies. These star actresses, through images printed in popular magazines, became objects of masculine sexual fantasies. A phenomenon that the Yeşilçam industry broadened. This era was also marked by a whole generation of young and handsome actors called jönler (the youngs), referring to the French expression “jeunes”. The most famous ones were Tarık Akan, İzzet Günay, Salih Güney, Göksel Arsoy, Cüneyt Arkın aka “Turkish Alain Delon” and Kadir İnanır, all of which played in all kinds of films, including erotic ones.
One wonders, which are the seks films? During the 70’s, the genre of seks films became increasingly popular. These had much of the same characteristics as conventional Yeşilçam films: low budget, cheap funky sound, awful photography, nonsense stories, handsome machos or ridiculous beer-belly characters (not fat but goofy, such as the notorious Aydemir Akbaş, beautiful girls, high productivity and a star system. What differ from other productions are the inserted kissing, strip-tease and lovemaking scenes within the adventures which could, sometimes, be withdrawn according to demands from the distributor. The seks films also covered and mixed a number of different popular genres, ranging from comedy and romance to adventure, western, murder and mystery.
Compared to contemporary robotic porn, the Yeşilçam porno is far more “realistic” in depicting sex scenes, and astonishingly creative. Just have a look some titles: Biyonik Ali futbolcu or Ali the bionic football player, from 1978, Muz sever misin? or Do you like Banana? From 1975, Bekaret Kemeri – Sevişme Tekniği or Chastity belt – lovemaking techniques from 1975, or Karpuzcu, The watermelon seller, from 1979. In these films however, there are numerous scenes of kidnapping, chasing, raping, harassing or beating women: trivializing gender-based violence, in a way that is common also to many contemporary cinema or TV productions. But there are also films where male domination is ridiculed, (Sekreter, see below) or where women star the leading role and assert their own personalities, desires and independence. This is the case in Metres, or Mistress, as well as in several movies directed by Atıf Yılmaz, the first Turkish director to show a lesbian scene in his İki Gemi Yanyana, or Two Ships Side by Side, from 1963. Furthermore, in most of seks furyası films, the female pleasure is also taken into account during mutually desired intercourse regarding the male roles obsession for cunnilingus.
The 1980 military coup brought about major changes in Turkish society, which changed the climate for shooting erotic films. Harsh repression against leftists and liberals, an authoritarian nationalist-Islamic ideology synthesis and strong censorship, put somewhat of a stop to the earlier crazy furya, even though soft-core erotic movies continued to be legally produced and screened in the 80’s. That’s not to say that pornography was banned in cinemas. The current AKP government extended anti-pornography measures through several laws.
During the last two decades, little by little, erotic cinemas have closed their doors only to be replaced by video tapes and, later, satellite channels and internet. However, porn culture is still dynamic in Turkey, something that the Bilgi University incident is a current example of. Many daily newspapers also feature almost naked girls on their front cover or last page. According to a documentary broadcast on the Turkish channel Kanal D, 20% of internet users in Turkey visit porn websites, and the country is ranked number two in porn consumption in the world, after Japan. In this documentary, a former erotic actress commented with nostalgia: “In the old erotic movies, there was a story”.