This is part two of my exclusive interview with Cem Kaya, director of the documentary Remake, Remix, Rip-Off. Read part one here. In this final instalment, Cem explains why there’s so much more to Turkish Fantastic Cinema than we think, and why there’s more to director Çetin İnanç than Turkish Star Wars.
People get a lot of mileage out of making fun of these films or the novelty of them, but they often don’t follow through with buying a copy. This is why your film is important, because if it changes people’s opinions of these films, maybe that will turn that balance, so people see them as more than just a novelty.
I don’t know. I mean, the question is whether after the film you go and get yourself a copy of The Man Who Saves The World [AKA Turkish Star Wars] and watch it 110 minutes through. The Man Who Saves The World, if you’re not an enthusiast of these films, it’s funny and all these things, but speaking in terms of dramaturgy, it can get boring. There are other Çetin İnanç films that are beyond imagination. You don’t have to go into the science fiction genre to make crazy films. There are some films, you watch them and say, “Who’s the director?!” And then you see, OK, it was Çetin İnanç. Therefore,The Man Who Saves The World, it’s an OK film for what it is, but it’s not Çetin İnanç. there are others that are much more important, like Dört Yanim Cehennem (1982), which is just such a crazy film. The Man Who Saves The World, it’s a kids’ film.
For instance Dört Yanim Cehennem, this is one of the most important Turkish films, most important Çetin İnanç films, and also Deli Fisek (1984). I got many scenes out of that one, in my movie. Because the amazing thing is that everybody is talking about these rip offs and about Çetin İnanç films and Yılmaz Atadeniz and the Killing films and all these things, but from Çetin İnanç, the film they talk about is The Man Who Saved The World. But, as I put it in my documentary, the guy has made so many films that are just unknown even to the fantastic film audience, that are totally crazy…and visionary, in a sense. Son Savasçi, The Last Warrior (AKA Holy Sword, 1982), or The Death Warrior (Ölüm Savasçisi, 1984). It’s two films that use the same footage. One is directed by Cüneyt Arkın himself, and the other one is directed by Çetin İnanç and they have this crazy martial arts finale. “Crazy Turkish ninja movie,” they say on YouTube. This is the kind of madness that Çetin İnanç has in his films and in The Man Who Saves The World, this madness is somehow missing.
Let me tell you one anecdote about Cemo İle Cemile (Çetin İnanç, 1971), the Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) remake, and why I think Çetin İnanç is such a visionary director. Bonnie and Clyde has this finale where, in super-slow motion, they die, in the original movie. Çetin İnanç sees this and he wants to make exactly the same finale, but the problem is he just has black and white film, because back then colour film was really hard and expensive to get, so he has to use black and white. And there was no 35mm camera in Turkey that can do slow motion. So what do we do? If it had been just a regular director, he could have said, “It doesn’t matter, we can’t do it.” But what does Çetin İnanç do? He goes to the most important camera people in Turkey and he asks and then one guy says, “The only chance you have is to make the slow motion with a 16mm camera and then to push the film. But you will have problems because here on the side you will have some dirty stuff and the quality will differ.” And Çetin İnanç says, “OK, it doesn’t matter. If I get my slow motion, it’s OK.” So they do the slow motion, and you see it in my film, and it differs from the other film material and it was the first slow motion shot in Turkish cinema ever. You see? So it was a first and this is what makes, if you ask me, Çetin İnanç so important, because the guy’s after it, he’s looking for solutions, in the mess he’s making films in, or the desert he is making film in. And I think this is important to know, to acknowledge and to appreciate.
And then the film itself, it’s Bonnie and Clyde but it’s more than Bonnie and Clyde because it’s telling the story of people coming from Anatolia to the big cities, but it’s telling it through this gangster couple and they come to the city and the culture is different. All of a sudden, from this village culture that they come from, the city culture is very different. There is this “white Turk” culture there and they’re facing some stuff that changes their vision of the world. There are good and bad things. They change their clothes – they come with their village clothes and they go into a shop and they change, they become really western. So there’s much more than Bonnie and Clyde, the Hollywood version, because it’s very Turkish. It tells a Turkish story of immigration back then in Turkey because it was exactly like this when the first broadcasts came to the big city. I made a film about this in 2010, when I was doing a film on Arabesk culture, the culture of the immigrant music. I think it’s on YouTube [here]. He does it in this context and it fits perfectly, because if you trace back the story of Bonnie and Clyde, the real Bonnie and Clyde story, which is not the glorified and polished version in the Hollywood movie, they were redneck white people coming from the countryside and I don’t know whether they came from Ireland to the States or what their background was, but it was really a white trash couple and then Hollywood made something beautiful out of it. They were really working class, there was no glory in it. And then [İnanç] gets problems with censorship and they say, “There was no bank robbery. With the bank robbery in your film, you tell people to rob banks,” and so they censor the film and he has to change it. And all these things happen to the film, which is just a mainstream film. So I think the guy was struggling all the time and he just kept doing it. And they had a lot of fun too, making the films.
[İnanç] was lucky to have Cüneyt Arkın. He made eight films with Cüneyt Arkın and it was just in a period when Yeşilçam [literally “Green Pine”, equivalent to “Hollywood” in American cinema] cinema was really going down and the big action star Cüneyt Arkın, because he’s really a big star in Turkey, he had to work with directors “third class”, “fifth class” directors like Çetin İnanç. Because normally a guy like Çetin İnanç never gets to work with a guy like Cüneyt Arkın. It was the demise of Yeşilçam while Arabesk musicians became superstars, became actors and all the cinemas in Turkey were showing American movies. And then, after the mid 80s, it was totally done, Yeşilçam didn’t exist anymore. They were really struggling and in this time, you see that the films get more exaggerated, the excess part of the films takes over. Only excess. And I was always asking, “Why is that? Why in the 80s do they become so ultraviolent?” It has a lot to do with neo-liberalism back then but it has also to do with the struggle to create a difference to the original films. One of the academics I talked to, Nezih Erdoğan, wrote an essay, [“Violent Images: Hybridity and Excess in The Man Who Saved The World”], saying, “Where Luke Skywalker hits once, Cüneyt Arkın has to hit 100 times.” Because he doesn’t have the technology, he can’t do it like the Americans do. He’s in an uneven or an unjust challenge with something. So to win the battle, or to win his audience at least, to get some people to watch his movie, he has to create a difference and this difference, the only thing he has to create this difference, is emotion. And that’s the reason why the films are so exaggerated. That’s the reason why Cüneyt Arkın is like [demonstrates howling]. He has to do this, because it’s the only thing he has. He’s fighting and the only thing he has is, “Look, guys, I really feel it!”
Şeytan (Metin Erksan, 1974) is a funny movie, because it’s a one-to-one remake of the film. I did some research on this film and found out that the film was forbidden, banned in Turkey for seven years, the original, so the Turkish filmmakers, they went to London and transcribed the film in the cinema, they were watching it and writing it down, what happens in the film, went back to Turkey and made an Islamic version of it. And it was Metin Erksan, by the way, the author-filmmaker of the time. So it was no trash filmmaker, it was Metin Erksan who won the Berlin Golden Bear in 1964 [for Susuz Yaz]. So this guy made the film and it was not a cheap production. It was big production. It took six months and they tried to do the special effects and they somehow made a nice film. But the important thing about the film is because the original was forbidden, was banned in Turkey, for such a time period, it showed the Turkish audience that, outside of Turkey, exists a film like this. He showed a translation of the film. He just showed them, “There is a film, yes. It’s something like this.” (laughs) And I think this is the big gain that we have through this film.
How much more preferable is that than to simply dub something, or even to remake it, Hollywood style? You’d much rather have something more inventive.
Yes. This version, for instance, there’s one scene… I just want to explain to you, Yeşilçam simplifies everything. There’s no death, really, in Yeşilçam films. Not talking about the auteur cinema, which is also made within Yeşilçam, but more the mainstream cinemas. In Şeytan also there were simplifications, so it was not so religiously overloaded as the original. In the Turkish version, there are no religious people doing the exorcism, it’s a specialist and an archeologist. And then the woman is like the character of a white Turk. People who are more Western in Turkey, we call “White Turk”. And to people who are more Anatolian, who are more village people, who are poor, we call, “Black Turk”. Because the White Turks are the elite in Turkey, or used to be the elite, and the Black Turks were the ones who got always exploited and so on. So she was a caricature of a White Turk for example. She played tennis, she was a woman who raises her child alone, you know. She was very like a man, how she treated the people who worked for her and stuff. What Metin Erksan does there is he portrays a White Turk in a very exaggerated way. In the original, you don’t have something like this. She is just a regular person who’s a journalist and who’s raising her child. Being a mother, raising her child alone is not an issue. But in the Turkish one, it’s an issue, because you have to translate it. You have to tell the Anatolian audience, at the border to Syria, “Look, this is a woman who raises her child alone. In our society, it may not be normal, but this is how it is and therefore she has to be very manly, a very strong person, for she is a woman without a man.” So these kinds of things you see in the film.
There’s one scene, in the original, there’s the hypnosis scene, where she grabs the doctor by the balls and in the beginning of this hypnosis scene, in the original film she goes into a trance. He just says, “I’m counting to three and then you’re in a trance,” or whatever. He doesn’t even say the trance thing. In the Turkish version, you have a big clock, panned-in in front of the camera. You have the girl watching the big thing and then it goes for a really long time and then they zoom out and the psychiatrist says, “Oh, stunning. She went into a trance very fast.” What they do there is first they are explaining hypnosis to the audience, you see, because they think, “OK, my audience doesn’t know what hypnosis is because we don’t have such kind of modern treatment methods in Turkey.” And all these things, these little things, are very important in the storytelling of Yeşilçam, because you’re always wondering why it’s an absurd scene but the aim is to explain to the illiterate audience in Anatolia what hypnosis is, first of all, because if not [they are] not going to understand the film.
I mean, Turkish cinema is not just these films. They have also Turkish classics, many arthouse films, black and white films that were made in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They have the social comedy, which I miss now because there are some cult films in Turkey that are so brilliantly made. Like, do you know the Spanish director [Luis García] Berlanga? Do you know Berlanga films? Comedies that are in between – you know, making their criticism about the system, but in a comedy.
Kind of subversive?
Yeah, very. You know Plácido, the film? It’s a Berlanga film, but imagine in Spain back then, it was dictatorship and we had fascism still. And for Turkey, the circumstances were similar because we had this military coup in 1980 and then in 82-83, we got the neo liberal Özal government and then the wild capitalism. What happened in Russia in the 90s happened in Turkey in the 80s. So society was changing and it was a real hardcore change because it used to be a pre-capitalist society and then it became a capitalist society and these changes made really big wounds in society and are also the reason why Turkey today is what it is. That happened in England too. It was the era of Thatcher and Kohl in Germany and Reagan in the States and you know this was really a big evil upon the world, society. In Turkey back then the social comedy was a genre, a big genre, but it died out. There’s no-one doing social comedy any more. It’s a shame.
When you were in Turkey, were you your own guide? Did you make your own list of people to see, or did you have anyone there that was helping you?
No, I did it myself. I had people I asked, “How can I reach these people, or how can I get in contact with them?”, but basically, there was nobody in Turkey who was helping me with this. Because there are many TV documentaries about Yeşilçam in Turkey, but they are nostalgic formats. “Oh, the times back then, ha-ha, how nice,” and then you put the music under it. The problem in Turkey is or was that nobody has the approach that I have to the films, as a filmmaker. There are audiences with the same approach, but not filmmakers. This makes it difficult to understand, in the beginning, what I wanted to do. And then, when the Turkish audiences watch the film, what happens there is funny because there is a real perspective shift. Because they know all these films. For us, for the western audiences, it’s new, it’s totally, “Wow, we didn’t know, how amazing, Turkish Superman, Turkish Dracula, Tarzan, ha-ha-ha,” but for the Turkish audiences, they don’t even laugh at these scenes, because they’re, “Yeah, sure, we know that. OK, so what’s the point?”
For the leftists, the intelligentsia, they hate Yeşilçam because they’re considered the opium for the masses in Turkey. Just bad films. No educated person would go and watch a Yeşilçam movie, without reason. Those of Metin Erksan, those of Yılmaz Güney, but they are not called Yeşilçam, they are “Turkish Cinema”, because Yeşilçam the label stands for “shitty films”. Not the kind of trashy films, but just the regular mainstream. What today is the TV series industry, this is what in the past was Yeşilçam. Therefore, when I then say to these people, “Look, these films are really funny,” and “Try to look at it this way…”, in the beginning they also have this inferiority complex, because, “We did this copying thing. We copied the west. We are always copying. Why is there no originality in our cultural output?” and all that. People in Turkey have these inferiority complexes against the west. In the beginning they’re like that and then they say, “Oh, but look, the creativity when they were copying it.” Then they change and then the brain begins to work and then they see something that they know already, that they have been watching, or that they have watched already, and so on. So this is what happens in Turkey.
Did you ask them to demonstrate their tricks [in Remake, Remix, Rip-Off, filmmakers demonstrate make-do dolly tracks using bars of soap nailed to up-turned table legs and hilariously dangerous electrical special effects]? They all seemed so eager and happy to show you. How did you get the idea?
They told me. They told me, “We used to have soap dollies.” And I was like, “Ah, soap dolly. So how did you do it? Could we re-enact it?” They said, “Yeah, sure. How much money do you have?” I said, “How much money do you need?” They said, “100 euros” (laughs). Just to make the rails. I said, “Yeah, sure.” I gave them a 100 euros budget. I paid the production costs and I told them to make it and that we were going to film it.
A couple of times your subjects direct you, as you’re filming them. Fantastic how they just can’t shake it. “Get a shot of that tram,” things like that.
It’s so cool that you saw this. The guy’s a director, what do you expect? He’s made 200 films, this is my first film, sure he’s going to direct me (laughs). They know the business!