If we’re to believe documentarian Cem Kaya, 70% of today’s Hollywood output is either a remake, sequel, or reboot. We live in a culture where “original” ideas aren’t getting big studio budgets, because smart money is made by playing off of people’s nostalgic love. Why gamble on uncertainty when you can just reconfigure old stories for a new audience? It’s a simple business practice, and while most American film journalists have only been complaining about this phenomenon for the last decade or so, Remake, Remix, Rip-Off proves that this business model has been around far longer than we knew, in the distant, movie-obsessed land of Turkey.
During the 70s and 80s, Turkey’s film industry (Yeşilçam) was alive and thriving, but their methods were not of today’s Hollywood standards. Given an absolute lack of Turkish copyright laws, filmmakers would rip-off American movies with absolutely no repercussions. There were only three writers who wrote somewhere in the ballpark of 300 movies a year, so ideas were simply rehashed from film to film. Successful scenes were mixed-and-matched with other memorable movie moments, footage from imported movies substituted as B-roll, and popular foreign soundtracks (The Godfather, Full Metal Jacket, but NOT Blade Runner) were reused until the records wore out. In this age of Turkish cinema, it was more about the “art of collage” – which, as these filmmakers argue, is still an art.
So, were these directors and writers plagiarizing? As we learn, conditions were absolutely atrocious, and most of these moments of thievery were based on complete necessity. Directors were forced to use only 25 rolls a film, a hot-commodity item typically found on the black market, and some movies were only given mere days to shoot. Turkish filmmakers usually boast a catalog of a couple hundred movies, as one director says his 120-film resume is laughable, and actors were working just as hard. It’s a testament to the gun-slinging nature of “classic” Turkish filmmaking, because movies were tremendous moneymakers at the time – and producers wanted their paycheck as soon as possible.
These Turkish movies were feeding a societal hunger for certain niches, much like how today’s audiences hunger for superhero movies and Young Adult adaptations. Women accounted for a large movie-going demographic, so it makes sense that the most popular Turkish films were melodramas, cheesy doctor stories, and tragic tear-jerkers. Filmmakers were responding to the general public’s consumption habits, which might make for an interesting model to track once our current cycle runs its course.
Once film culture started dying in Turkey, television took over with long, hour-and-a-half to two hour serials that transfixed viewers with goofy soap-opera arcs (like our own, but much, MUCH zanier). But, if you look at how television has evolved over the last few years in America, could our own local preferences be steering towards an even larger focus on television? Could we be mimicking Turkey’s own rise and fall of cinema?
That’s not to say Remake, Remix, Rip-Off is a deadly serious documentary, though. Floating-head interviews with the likes of Cüneyt Arkin, Çetin Inanç, and Yilmaz Atadeniz take us behind-the-scenes on some of the most horrendous productions imaginable, balancing intriguing facts with insane, almost unbelievable stories.
A Turkish dolly was simply two tracks, a chair with soap on the bottom of each leg, and water to make the chair slide – this is the kind of movie magic directors had to work with. Actors were breaking limbs on a constant basis, directors were being beaten for “disrespecting” Turkish culture, and soundmen could be heard overlaying a dog barking in some takes. If any indie filmmakers complained about their conditions nowadays, these Turkish magicians would surely respond with a quick “back in my day” before launching into stories that would leave mouths planted securely on the floor.
This is a great time for Remake, Remix, Rip-Off to come out given current themes in Hollywood, but the documentary is also an entertaining and enlightening look into a time in international movie history that very few people know about. If you name a movie, there’s at least one Turkish remake of it. Turkish Tarzan, Turkish The Exorcist, Turkish Rocky, Turkish Golden Girls – you name it, Turkey ripped it.
Yet, at the same time, there’s a recognized level of artistry to such a style, as pointed out by a movie that combines up to 16 different original properties to make one ludicrous space adventure. These individuals were simply working within their professional restraints, and busting their asses to please the Turkish people. Remake, Remix, Rip-Off is a testament to these filmmakers of old, as well as a worth-while dissection of Turkish pop culture that most movie fans will have an absolute blast experiencing. Learn, laugh, and be amazed at how movies used to be made before technology took over.
Remake, Remix, Rip-Off is a fun little documentary that most film fanatics should see, because very few of us know about the tremendous (and borrowed) cinematic history that Turkey holds.