Twelfth Report | Fantasia 2015

rrr 75Remix, Remake, and Rip-Off is an entertaining but hopelessly scattered documentary that tries to cover too many topics without adequate organization or structure.

 

 

 

rrr 500

When I think of Turkish cinema, the films that first come to mind are the international award-winners like Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, or (to go back a few decades) Yilmaz Güney’s Yol. Of course, that’s not the whole story—an active filmmaking community has existed in Turkey since the 1950s, and most of the films produced by this industry (called Yesilcam, after the street in Istanbul where many production companies are located) are intended for domestic consumption rather than to appeal to international juries. Remix, Remake, and Rip-Off, a documentary directed by Cem Kaya, is a celebration of the less prestigious products of the Turkish film industry, with particular emphasis on how the lack of copyright enforcement in Turkey allowed local filmmakers to appropriate elements from Western films for their own purposes.

Remix, Remake, and Rip-Off is an entertaining but hopelessly scattered documentary that tries to cover too many topics (the history of Turkish cinema, the effects of government censorship, labor exploitation in the television industry, materials shortages, the demise of the Emek cinema in Istanbul, and Turkish sex films among them) without adequate organization or structure. On the positive side, the director has assembled an amazing array of clips from Turkish films (most of them grade Z at best) intercut with many clips of interviews from people in the film industry. To watch any minute or two from this film is fascinating, but to sit through the whole thing tries one’s patience—it’s like listening to a speaker who has many interesting experiences to relate, but shifts topics randomly every few minutes, without the least awareness that that’s not the usual way to communicate.

The title refers to the Turkish habit of remaking well-known Western films, from Some Like It Hot to The Godfather to Star Wars, using local actors and sets but stealing the stories from the Western films, and often the soundtracks and even clips as well. Sometimes ideas from multiple films were combined—for instance, one Turkish superhero character wore Batman’s belt, Superman’s suit, and the Green Hornet’s mask—and scenes from one film might be incorporated into an entirely different film. These films were made fast and cheap (one director said he turned out a new film every week), and there were no legal consequences arising from the appropriations because of the lack of copyright protection within Turkey. Also worth noting is that these cheap remakes were mostly shown in rural areas in Eastern Turkey where the real films were unlikely to ever play, so the audience had no standard for comparison.

There’s so much good material in Remix, Remake, and Rip-Off that it’s a shame it’s not a better film. In fact, there’s so much good material that this film could probably be recut as a mini-series, giving the director time to create some context (in particular, providing a clearer chronology and relating changes in the film industry to social and political changes in Turkey) and limiting each episode to a few related subjects, that could then be treated in more depth. As it is, there are hints of tantalizing cultural details—such as the practice of showing clips from sex films simultaneously (in the same theatre, and thus to the same audience) with the screening of a conventional feature film (even religious films got this treatment, according to one interview subject)—that beg for more exploration and explanation. | Sarah Boslaugh

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