Director: Cem Kaya
When I first moved to Austin, Texas way back in 2001 I was opened up to the Alamo Drafthouse, one of the most unique theaters in the United States. The programmers love to run tons of retro films as well as some of the most bizarre works of cinema as well as the usual Hollywood Blockbusters. One of the earliest events I remember attending was the Turkish Wizard of Oz, which I believe was a Foleyvision event complete with a live orchestra. Now, for those not familiar with Turkish Cinema, they have a very broad copyright viewpoint and many movies are either directly copied from the original work or completely distorted by the addition of elements from other films. Ever since then, I’ve always said if you don’t remember the midgets fighting off an invading horde of cavemen with cannons at the end of the Wizard of Oz, you’ve never seen the Wizard of Oz. After that, of course, came The Man Who Saves the World aka Turkish Star Wars, referred to as such because of all the actual Star Wars footage used in the film, albeit out of order. It goes without saying that these two movies were pretty brilliant and not at all what you’d expect. This year’s Fantastic Fest brought The Man Who Saves the World as part of the Turkish retrospective and also included a documentary about the whole Turkish film industry called Remake, Remix, Rip Off which explains a lot about why Turkish cinema throughout the 70s and 80s seems so naggingly familiar to filmgoers.
Remake, Remix, Rip Off focuses on the Yesilcam area, which is a street behind a prominent movie theater that became the center of the Turkish Film Industry. Turkey is not the richest country and that translated to their film production as well, being under-staffed and under-budgeted, forcing the filmmakers to be far more creative in their approach to making movies. All the actors and directors have hundreds and hundreds of films to their credit and according to the documentary, the Yesilcam film industry produced over 300 films a year with only 3 screenwriters! This is the essential component to why so much stuff from other films from around the world got lifted for Turkish movies, including soundtracks, plot lines and musical scores. They had no filters or dollies, were not allowed reshoots as film was expensive and had to be smuggled in from other countries on the Black Market, clothing had to be re-used for multiple productions with a tweak here and a tweak there, there was no stunt protection so if you saw a guy hanging off the side of a building shooting people on screen, he really was hanging off the side of a building and the entire music department was a guy’s record cabinet filled to the brim with U.S. film soundtracks like Enter the Dragon (fight scenes), The Godfather (for dramatic scenes) and The Pink Panther (for comedic scenes), among many others. The lack of money but high demand for product is the main justification used by the directors and producers for why so much stuff was lifted wholesale and put into whatever Turkish film was shooting at the moment. One of the directors even pointed out, “I don’t even have enough money for catering. How am I to pay for an orchestra?”
The lack of budget didn’t deter the Turkish filmmakers one bit as their philosophy was that there are only 30-some stories in the world which can be combined any way you want so they spent a lot of time matching the beginning of an adventure film, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark with the ending of, say, a disaster film like Earthquake to create something wholly unique. They knew what they were doing made money and focused on family-friendly cinema fare because they wanted movie-going to be affordable for everyone. The producers knew their market was mostly rural families and women and they knew that women and families not only went to movies in groups but also talked about the movies they’ve seen which were important to the film’s success and they tailored their products accordingly. The Turkish film critics interviewed knew that it was this free-wheeling copyright breaking combined with an affordable family aesthetic was what caused the Turkish films of the 70s and 80s to be viewed as much more than low-budget schlock. Most of the films were “curiously bizarre and cast a spell over you” and there was “no sense in dissecting the films [as] there’s something above logic” when confronted by some of the outrageousness contained therein. The Man Who Saves the World, for instance, is almost entirely other movies, containing segments from 19 different movies and soundtracks from 8 different films. It wasn’t just limited to direct rip-offs either. Individual characters could be combined. Take The Iron Fist, for instance, whose superhero protagonist wears the Phantom’s mask, Superman’s suit and Batman’s utility belt. You could also guest star anyone you wanted in some of the most awesome team-ups in cinema history like Three Giant Men where Captain America and Mexican legend El Hijo Del Santo joining forces to battle the most sadistic Spider-Man ever seen in any format. Let’s not limit ourselves to characters. The Turkish Rambo sets itself apart from its American forbearer due to a random zombie attack that doesn’t appear in the American original. This complete disregard for intellectual property is what carved Turkey’s place in cinema history and makes for some truly amazing film watching.
Of course all good things must come to an end, though not quite in the way you’d think. Turkey did not embrace modern copyright laws and still mostly haven’t; what buried the film industry was extreme political unrest after the 1980s military coup, labor unionization and the advent of television. When it was unsafe to walk to the theater due to the civil and military strife, why not just stay at home and watch the television? The new political regime could have cared less about the copyright violations and the increasing addition of porn to the otherwise family-centered fare produced for cinemas. What they did care about was anything that even resembled criticism of the new power structure which lead to tremendous censorship up and down the line to make sure no ill word was spoken about turkey’s leadership. Filmmakers attempted to work around the censorship by changing names of actors and directors but it became too much trouble to continue and this censorship is why an independent Turkish cinema never really got off the ground. As of the 1990s, the Golden Age of amazing Turkish cinema was at an end.
Overall the documentary was pretty solid with some great interviews from the people who made these low budget masterpieces. The stories they tell of what they had to go through to even make a film was tremendously interesting and most of them were very up front about doing it for the money. Where the film really drags is the clips from Turkish films used to (mostly) illustrate whatever point is being made at the time. The clips seem disjointed and in some cases over-long and the clip at times don’t quite fit the context of what’s being discussed. The film feels over-long and shouldn’t at only 96 minutes and the craziness of things like The Iron Fist, which you totally want to see more of, seem to get short shrift in an effort to cover as much of the output of the Yesilcam industry as they could. If you have a chance to see Turkish Star Wars or the Turkish Wizard of Oz, go see those films. If your mind was as blown as mine was after seeing those and want to know more about the film industry that produced them, then sit down and watch Remake, Remix, Rip Off. I just wouldn’t recommend starting with this documentary if you’ve never explored this fascinating brand of filmmaking.
Written by Tron Delapp