A weird passion

Old Turkish "remake" films grow international fandom

Thanks to the internet, the B-movie subculture has found itself fertile ground to develop in. Film-goers share references and videos on blogs, and the world wide web has even enabled them to connect with gold mines of unknown and bizarre foreign cinematography. Among them, the Turkish ‘remakesploitation’ of the 70s and 80s represents a microcosm of the genre.

Turkish Rambo, Star Wars, ET, Star Trek, and the Exorcist among others have sparked off the last few years’ dozens of forums, blogs and YouTube reviews, quickly making it out of the B-movies geeky circles to the international, or rather Western, hype and even to the mainstream media such as the BBC or the AFP. These films have also become objects of study for cinema scholars, both in Turkey and abroad. But why do we make such a fuss about Turkish remakes?

Turkish remakes of popular Hollywood movies from the late 70s and early 80s have developed a nationwide cult following. Here in New York, hipsters and film fanatics alike scour the city’s alternative movie-rental establishments and video-collector conventions looking for “The Turkish Star Wars” and “Badi: The Turkish E.T.” (as they’re titled in U.S. video stores)

NY Daily News

From the 60s to early 80s, Turkish cinema went through a golden age called the “Yeşilçam era”. An average of 200 films were produced each year, consisting in mostly copy-paste popular romantic comedies and cheap genre movies. Turkey was the third largest film industry.  According to cinema historian Giovanni Scognamillo 90% of Yesilçam films were rip-offs, adaptations or spin-offs based on foreign works such as  novels, plays or other movies.  When the Turkish cinema industry faced the rise of television in the 70s, producers came up with more erotic films (the Seks Furyası) and remakes of American superhero and fantasy blockbusters. They all had to deal with low budgets, but benefitted from the loopholes in Turkish copyright law. These remakes were popular due to a wide distribution throughout the country, especially in rural areas that did not have access to the original Hollywood productions which were scarcely released in Turkey.

“I’m a PROUD fan because I have spent a fortune and have got not even my cash back, let alone any profit. I’ve made sacrifices, I’ve given blood sweat and tears too for this kind of films and I find it absurd that only a few dozens of people THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE PLANET buy my dvds”.

Bill Barounis, Onar Films

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While Yeşilçam comedies are still pretty popular in Turkey nowadays, the Hollywood remakes started an unpredictable international career. According to Dark Maze studio president Ed Glaser: “There’s nothing quite like them, and they’re often so bizarre and outrageous that you can’t help but be fascinated by them”.  Dark Maze produces low-budget films or, as they claim “have been providing more ninjas per dollar than any Hollywood producer could have expected”. They bought the rights, remastered and released on DVD the ‘Turkish RamboKorkusuz (Without Fear). Many movies were also brought back to life by Turkish cult films lover Bill Barounis who dedicated his life to finding and sharing neglected Turkish remakes via his small Greek company Onar Films.

Turkish star wars

Turkish remakes aren’t just bad: they are the worst of the worst. According to American journalist Michael Dare, the Turkish Wizard of Oz is the worst movie ever. Other critics might not agree and might rather put emphasis on the best rather than the worst. For the B-movies French website Nanarland, Turkish Star Wars locally called Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saved the World) has been unbeatable until now. For the Guardian ranking of foreign remakes of Hollywood movies no production can compete with the Turkish version of E.T., called Badi, a “soul-sucking horror ordeal that scars children for life”.  As it often is when a trend is supported by both weirdos and hipsters, Vice magazine had to do something about it. Hence, as there is a Vice guide to everything, there is a Vice guide to Turkish Hollywood which makes the whole phenomenon more clear and comprehensive. Of course, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam is still their number #1.

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!

VICE

Thanks to the discovery of Hollywood’s remakes, Turkey has overcome the Midnight Express syndrome and has been rebranded into the homeland of weird, insane, crappy, dumb and incoherent stuff. With their appetite for overgeneralization, strangeness, exoticism and essentialization, Turkish remake lovers and /haters can easily fall in the trap of a new orientalism. After Turkish remakes, Bollywood remakes are often satirized by bloggers. This kind of digital orientalism can freely expand over the net hand in hand with the unlimited thirst for oddity common to many social network addicts.

The vision conveyed by those who don’t dare to understand the cultural context is still as simplistic, narrow and full of prejudices as old-fashioned orientalism. A blogger suggests that Michel Gondry should have chosen “Turking” instead of “Sweding” for his movie Be Kind Rewind. Two fake Turkish remakes gathered thousands of views on You Tube with titles written in Arabic-style English letters, characters shouting in their own oriental language when they don’t belly dance on electronic  Arabesque rhythms or smoke nargileh. Of course, this is all for fun!

It is possible to go beyond the weird, fun, mind-blowing effect and still enjoy a good laugh but find as well a rich cultural movement with artistic value. Many sarcastic reviewers underline the patent plagiarism. They just miss the point because they lack the cultural understanding, they misinterpret or cannot see some references to the national culture, and most of all they don’t understand the subtleties in the original dialogues.  These adaptations allow the local filmmakers to “re-imagine” American works and “re-negotiate” their meanings according to the local context. By this process of appropriation, interpretation and adaptation of an idealized Hollywood, the remakes became a sort of intercultural dialog between Turkey and the West. This process can date back from the 19th century with the translation or transposition of European literature into Ottoman Turkish.

Compared to the reams of soulless remakes that Hollywood produces, Turkish directors of the Remakesploitation genre were very creative and even subverted the dominant cultural hegemony. They paved the way for the next generations of culture jammers in Turkey and abroad.

Their worth (…) is not simply found in their superficial comic value, or even in their oddball energy, strange logic and generally singular approach to genre filmmaking. It’s in the spirit they were made in, the sheer will to make films overwhelming the paucity of available resources. It’s about making films of a certain kind when logic perhaps should tell you that you are not able to and not being constrained by your material limitations.

Seal Welsh

Click here for a list of Turkish remakes.

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