Just in time for the centenary of Turkish cinema, this unwieldy essay film celebrates the heyday of shameless exploitation movies
Raucous, rowdy and regrettably scatter-brained, Cem Kaya’s side-splitting essay film “Remake, Remix, Rip-off” marks a noble, albeit disorganized effort to convey the appeal of vintage Turkish pop cinema to the world at large. As with sensory-overload Ozploitation docu “Not Quite Hollywood,” admission is worth it for the clips alone — hailing here from a period when the local industry was unabashedly pillaging Western source material and churning out lackluster riffs on such blockbusters as “Star Wars,” “Superman” and “The Wizard of Oz” — though a keen distrib would do well to sit down with Kaya and try to restructure this unwieldy feast.
Arriving on the centenary of Turkish cinema, mere months after “Winter Sleep” won the Palme d’or at Cannes, Kaya’s sprawling, obsessive undertaking represents seven years of unprecedented research into what is known as “Yesilcam.” (In much the same way Hollywood took its name from a nearby geographical marker, the Turkish industry became associated with the Istanbul street where the most prolific production companies were based during the 1960s and ’70s.) Kaya claims to have watched thousands of movies in preparing this one — more than enough to fry even the most dedicated scholar’s brain and a partial explanation for the feeling of overload viewers will get being confronted by so many crazy clips.
But why does Yesilcam mean so much to Kaya? How and where did he track down the dozens of interview subjects he squeezes into the pic’s two-hour running time? And if this segment of Turkey’s film heritage is truly in danger, what can be done about it? Instead of letting a mix of actors, directors and fans do all the talking, the charismatic (and hilariously masochistic) helmer ought to have considered putting himself front and center, positioning himself somewhere between Morgan Spurlock and bad-movie savant Joe Bob Briggs. That way, he could have gotten an entire series for his trouble, rather than one scrambled feature.
Sounding a bit too academic for his own good, Kaya decides to focus on what he calls “copy culture,” which could refer to anything from sampling to collage, but in this case is just a high-minded euphemism for the blatant piracy and theft permitted in Turkey, owing to the fact the country did not recognize international copyright law.
In years when hundreds of films were being produced — nearly all of them written by the same three scribes — it’s no wonder that Yesilcam studios resorted to ripping off American hits. That’s how the Turkish system came to produce homemade versions of “Rocky” (“Kara Simsek”), “Rambo” (“Korkusuz”), “Star Trek” (“Omer the Tourist Travels to Space”) and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (“Badi”), in much the same way (and with nearly the same amateurish production values) that the American porn industry loosely — and illegally — riffed on Hollywood blockbusters.
These pics are ridiculously entertaining, especially when reduced to mere seconds of screen time, and Kaya tries to cram as many funny clips as possible into the project, focusing on those made by the talent he interviewed (including Palme d’Or-winning “Yol” director Yilmaz Guney and “Star Wars”-sampling hack Cetin Inanc). But there’s an enormous chasm between acknowledging the novelty value of these clumsy imitations and actually respecting them — particularly at a time when the American industry seems similarly bereft of original ideas, recycling old hits into Broadway musicals, while budgeting upwards of $100 million to pics based on tired TV shows, toy lines and comicbooks. (At least in Turkey, there was nothing to stop someone from putting Captain America, Spider-Man and Mexican luchador Santo in the same movie.)
There’s no shortage of interesting things to say about “copy culture,” and yet, Kaya can’t limit himself to that subject, including footage of protestors trying to stop the destruction of Istanbul’s Emek Cinema in April 2013. Here, too, without a clear host to help us navigate the pic’s many chapters, it’s not always clear how the elements relate — as when complaints about the country’s oppressive censorship restrictions immediately (and inexplicably) follow a segment about sex scenes being spliced into nearly all screenings. With the exception of one jaw-dropping sequence, in which Kaya boils down dozens of films inspired by “Wuthering Heights” into one five-minute montage, this entire project could benefit from a thoughtful remix.