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TURKISH CINEMA

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE TURKISH CINEMA

The introduction of "cinematograph" in Turkey came in 1897 when Sigmund Weinberg, a Romanian living in Istanbul, screened the first film at his bar-café in Pera, the fashionable entertainment district of the period. In 1914, immediately after the Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I, film-making began with a documentary of about 150 metres in length.

As a result of General Enver's efforts, a film centre was established for the duration of the war and several more war scenes were filmed. It was also during tha war that the first festive films appeared : The Marriage of Himmet Ağa ( Himmet Ağa'nın İzdivacı by S. Weinberg, 1916 ), and two films made by a very young journalist, Sedat Simavi ( founder, in the late 1940s, of the large daily Hürriyet ), The Paw ( Pençe, 1917 ) and The Spy ( Casus, 1917 ).

Despite difficult post-war conditions films, especially documentaries, contunied to be produced. Several episodes in the War of Independence, led by Mustafa Kemal ( Atatürk ), were filmed by groups of young film-makers. Three fiction films were even produced, the first two adoptions from the theatre : The Governess ( Mürebbiye by Ahmet Fehim, 1919 ), and Binnaz ( by Ahmet Fehim, 1919 ), and the third, a comedy of mores, Mr. Bircan, The Steward ( Bican Efendi Vekilharcı, 1921 ). Even before the end of tha War of Independence, the first film society was established, Kemal Film ( 1922 ), which immediately produced two works of fiction directed by Muhsin Ertuğrul, a young man with great experience in theatre, who would come to dominate Turkish film making for many years.

The Republic thus began with a cinema that had already accumulated an eight-year history, a solid base of documentaries, and a certain number of films which, without measuring up to masterpieces produced during the same period in countries like France, Sweden or the US, were nevertheless quite creditable efforts. Under those conditions, the cinema of the Republic was entrusted for 17 years to the care of one man, Muhsin Ertuğrul, the appointed director and experienced actor of the municipial theatre of Istanbul. Although he cared little for creating a uniquely cinematographic language, he simply made quite interesting films : The Shirt of Flame ( Atesten Gomlek, 1923 ), a film about the Anatolian resistance to invasion; A People Awaken ( Bir Millet Uyanıyor,1932 ) which takes up the same national themes ten years later; Aysel, Daughter of the Marshy Village ( Aysel, Batakli Damin Kizi, 1935 ), a beautiful rural drama of remarkable freshness. After the death of Ataturk, several film-makers finally came to asave Ertuğrul from his status as the man alone.

It is in the late 1940s that cinema makes a great leap forward. A new generation of "true film producers", as they were later called, enters the schene : Lutfi I.Akad, The Strike Whore
( Vurun Kahpeye, 1949 ). This film is a landmark in the Turkish cinema because, almost for the first time, a director tried to narrate a story while ridding himself of all that was theatrical, refusing all artifcial contrivances, asking his actors not to act in the theatre, and arriving at an original and personal statement. Apart from this important figure, several new directors emerged : Atif Yilmaz tried his hand at every genre, but had particular success with ' provincial comedies' : The Bride's Intention
( Gelinin Muradi, 1957 ), The Throng ( Kumpanya, 1958 ); his popular epics : The Doe ( Alageyik, 1958 ), The Poet Karacaoglan's Unlucky Love ( Karacaoglanin Kara Sevdasi, 1959 ) ; and his realist films : The Secret Diary of Chauffer ( Bir Soforun Gizli Defteri, 1958 ), The Children of This Contry ( Bu Vatanin Cocuklari, 1959 ); Metin Erksan began with socially relistic films, those marked by a clear desire to condemn social injustices : The Life of the Poet Veysel ( Asik Veysel'in Hayati, a film long prohibited by the censors), The Hero of the Nine Mountains ( Dokuz Dagin Efsanesi, 1958 ), Beyond the Nights ( Gecelerin Otesi, 1960 ). Besides these important directors it can be talked about the other remarkable directors such Memduh and Osman Seden. In the Turkish cinema of 1960s, the social and political developments in the national arena was reflected by a stream of social and 'committed' political influx films. All sort of experimental, sometimes even avan garde, works followed : Lutfi I. Akad, The Bicycle with 3 Wheels ( 3 Tekerlekli Bisiklet, 1962 ), Black Sheep of Kizilirmak ( Kizilirmak-Karakoyun, 1967 ); Atif Yilmaz; Future is ours ( Yarinlar Bizimdir, 1963 ), The Legend of Ali of Keşan ( Keşanlı Ali Destanı, 1964 ), The Song of Murat ( Muradım Türküsü, 1965 ), Ah Beautiful Istanbul ( Ah Güzel İstanbul, 1967 ). Of course, in this range, Metin Erksan took an important place. He replaced his concern for realism by the various themes : The Revenge of the Strakes ( Yılanların Öcü, 1962 ), The Arid Summer ( Susuz Yaz, 1963 ), whick brought to Turkish cinema the greatest international prize, The Golden Beart at Berlin in 1964. Furthermore, Halit Refiğ actually produced carefully constructed works dealing especially with the place of women in Turkish society : Forbidden Love ( Yasak Aşk, 1961 ), Four Women in a Harem ( Haremde Dört Kadın, 1964 ), and I Loved a Turk ( Bir Türke Gönül Verdim, 1969 ).

It is also in the 1960s that the cinema would come to be seen as a rotable domain of popular culture, and cultural discusions and polemics which have always attracted intellectuals in the areas of literature, theatre and musics would find a new area just as interesting and fertile. The theory of "national cinema" would date from tkose years. Accordingly, the members of this tendency ( Metin Erksan, Halit Refiğ, Atıf Yılmaz, etc. ) argued that they had to cater the cultural needs of the nation, or rather of the mass. For example H. Refiğ claimed that "the Turkish cinema was a cinema without real capital, without an introstructure, without a system of studios od modern laboratuaries but, a cinema which survived only because of the public's interest." In the late 1960s and early 1970s the black and white film had almost completely disappeared. Colour, which had first been tried in the 1950s, was exclusively the domain of films destined for large audiences, of subjects deemed most commercial. For colour had ended by considerably the cost of films. Curiously, the number of films continued to increase ( for the late 1960s and early 1970s- 250 to 300 films per year ). But in this cinema, in another words The Yeşilçam ( Green Pine ) Street Cinema, which was made up of about a dozen production companies in 1940s, the films began increasingly to resemble one another. These films were the products, in which the domestic cultural figures were represented within the basic styles of Hollywood. In a general sense, a prevalent model was gradually introduced : low-budget films produced in primitive facilities. Under the shadow of the Yeşilçam Street Cinema, Yılmaz Güney emerged and began to make his works. Despite the crisis in the national cinema resulted from the expansion of the television channels to a national scale in 1970s, he produced interesting works whick were recalled the best moments of the Italian Neo-Realismo : Hope ( Umut, 1970 ), The Elegy ( Ağıt, 1971 ), The Comrade ( Arkadaş, 1974 ). Because he as a political figure was in a flat contradiction with the legislation and laws of his country he was sentenced in several times. Therefore he had to write the screenplays of his films, which were actually directed by his disciples, in prison : The Herd ( Sürü, 1978 ), The Enemy ( Düşman, 1979 ) by Zeki Ökten and The Path ( Yol, 1982 ) by Şerif Gören. This last film was the recipient of an award at Cannes in 1982 ( The Gold Palm, shared with Missing by Costa Gavras). In almost all films of Güney there was a strong story to tell and an attempt to tell it with visual perfection. In 1970s, on the one hand the other older directors such as H.Refiğ, A.Yılmaz and M.Erksan contunied to produce their films on the other hand the new younger film-makers, who accepted Yılmaz Güney as their precursor, emerged within the Turkish cinema. Among them were there the directors Yavuz Özkan, The Mine ( Maden, 1978 ), The Raiiroad ( Demiryol, 1979 ); Erden Kıral, Canal ( Kanal, 1978 ), On Fertile Grounds ( Bereketli Topraklar Üzerinde, 1979 ); Şerif Gören, Germany, Bitter Fatherkand ( Almanya, Acı Vatan, 1979 ); Ömer Kavur, Yusf and Kenan ( Yusuf ile Kenan, 1979 ), A Sad Love Story ( Kırık Bir Aşk Hikayesi, 1982 ); Ali Özgentürk, two medium-length films that were awarded prizes in Cracow anad Moscow, Ferhat and Forbidden, and Tunç Okan, The Bus ( Otobüs, 1976 ).

Surely, there were several relatively successful directors in those years apart from those we mention here. By 1980s, the Turkish cinema was crystallized on the ambigious, incomprehensible and most authentic movies whose themes stressed on the internal contradictions or the conflicts with the social environment of the individuals sinking into their own problems. In a general perspective, the directors attempted mostly to emphasize on searching the "good" stories for their films but, neglected developing their aesthetic forms of expression.

On the one side some intended to use the traditional forms left from The Yeşilçam Cinema and thus reconsruct their own aesthetic style upon this tradition, on the other side the others intended to create their cinematographic language only by producing films hinged on the intellectual themes and thus could not efficiently utilize the other various dimensions of art-cinema and inevitabely failed to construct an audience-mass. Under that kind of rough and most general identification, it can be spoke of some directors such as Şerif Gören who shot the "woman" films, Erden Kıral who has tried to create his own style resembling Angelopoulos and Tarkovski, Ali Özgentürk and Yusuf Kurçenli who were the members of the individualistic tendency and Yavuz Özkan who particularly noticed on the themes of the absence of communication. Even though the products of these directors did not succeed in box-office, sometimes they produced the remarkable films, which protected their social context, in terms of both popularity and art-cinema : Şerif Gören, The Path ( Yol, 1981 ), * ( Yılanların Öcü, 1985 ), Erden Kıral, A Season at Hakkarı ( Hakkari'de Bir Mavsim, 1982 ), Tunç Başaran, * ( Uçurtmayı Vurmasınlar, 1988 ), Zeki Ökten, * ( Pehlivan, 1984 ), * ( Faize Hücum, 1982 ),Halit Refiğ, * ( Karılar Koğuşu, 1989 ), Orhan Oğuz, ( Herşeye Rağmen, 1987 ), Sinan Çetin, * ( Gökyüzü, 1986 ), Atıf Yılmaz, A Lot of Love ( Bir Yudum Sevgi, 1984 ), Her Name Is Vasfiye ( Adı Vasfiye, 1985 ), Ali Özgentürk, The Horse ( At, 1981 ), Başar Sabuncu, * ( Asılacak Kadın, 1986 ), Ömer Kavur, The Hotel of Motherland( Anayurt Oteli, 1986 ), Ümit Efekan, * ( Halkalı Köle, 1986 ), Nesli Çölgeçen, * ( Züğürt Ağa, 1985 ), Ertem Eğilmez, Arabesk ( Arabesk, 1988 ).

Especially the film of Ömer Kavur "The Hotel of Motherland" is very important with regard to its filmograghic nature in which the aesthetic creativeness and the sensitiveness to the social life are already combined consistently. The Turkish cinema of 1990s proceeded through the successful products of some independent directors. Especially, the directors in the second half of this decade have produced the very original film which noticed the ordinary daily life-themes by revealing from the real life within the structure of the interesting story, and additonally which expressed these themes within the visual richness and thus was capable to change the approaches to the life. In this context, first of all, it must be talked about the film of Fehmi Yaşar, A Heart of Glass, ( Camdan Kalp, 1990 ). This film, which mentioned an intellectual man who aimed to change the world in accordance with the bourgeoise moral values, could succeed in a real sense to use the ironic language. In this decade, some of the directors we have mentioned above continued to produce films.

However, even though they could have attained more technological opportunities than past, they did not go beyond either repeating the traditional forms : Yavuz Özkan, Two Women ( İki Kadın, 1992 ), A Story of Autumn ( Bir Sonbahar Hikayesi, 1993 ), * ( Yengeç Sepeti, 1994 ), The Anatomy of A Woman ( Bir Kadının Anatomisi, 1995 ) and The Anatomy of A Man ( Bir Erkeğin Anatomisi, 1996 ), Ömer Kavur, The Secret Face ( Gizli Yüz, 1990 ), Atıf Yılmaz, * ( Düş Gezginleri, 1992 ), Sinan Çetin, Mr. E ( Bay E, 1995 ), Mustafa Altınoklar, * ( İstanbul Kanatlarımın Altında, 1996 ), Atıf Yılmaz, * ( Berdel, 1990 ), Şerif Gören, The American ( Amerikalı, 1993 ). Especially, the last film which aimed to criticize the extensive hegemony of American culture in an ironic way could have accessed to the popularity. In addition, a new group of directors living in the foreign countries such Reha Erdem ( A Ay, Kaç Para Kaç ), Umur Turagay, Kutlu Ataman ( Billy the Kid ) have emerged by producing the remarkable films.

These directors are on the one hand working within the companies of entertainment and advertisement and following the technological developments and on the other hand producing the remarkable long-shot films watched in several international film-festivals. In the second half of 1990s, the Turkish audience has known the films having a very distinctive and original character of three independent directors : Derviş Zaim ( Tabutta Rövaşata ), Zeki Demirkubuz ( C Blok, Masumiyet, Üçüncü Sayfa ), Nuri Bilge Ceylan ( Koza, Kasaba, Mayıs Sıkıntısı ). These directors have reconstructed their cinematographic language by modifying the traditional forms and techniques of the old tendencies. In those films the invisible and neglectable dimensions of our life are represented. The non-heroes of the real life or the "loosers" are shown without any need to agitation or myhtization. The Turkish cinema has taken a big process by both the remarkable films of such directors participating in several international film-festivals and the gradually developed and actually contitutionalized film-industry.

 

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