Cem Kaya’s 2014 documentary about Turkish cinema in the Sixties and Seventies reveals how Turkish film-makers simultaneously battled with censors during periods of military-rule, and managed to produce thousands of movies with almost no budgets, most-often by recycling European and American material.
In the case of the Turkish ‘Wizard of Oz’ – ‘Aysecik ve Sihirli Cüceler Rüyalar Ülkesinde‘ (Little Ayse and the Magic Dwarfs in the Land of Dreams) – this meant remaking the entire movie. With ‘Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam‘ (‘The Man Who Saved the World’) it meant physically splicing – and for some scenes rear-projecting – footage from ‘Star Wars’ and other Science Fiction movies, with Turkish actors in the foreground.
This Santo is different from the original, however, in that the Turkish Santo removes his mask. This is something Santo never did throughout his long career in Mexico, until a week before his death in 1984. Turkish Santo also has a weird habit of sticking random objects in his underwear. In other respects, Turkish Santo is very much like his Mexican counterpart, in that he battles with primordial forces of evil on the hero plane of the imagination, unhindered by observance of Western copyright laws. In the same year that Turkish Santo teamed up with Cap’, 1973, the original Mexican Santo and Blue Demon teamed up to take on Dracula and the Wolf Man.
Together in ‘Dev 3 Adam’, Turkish Santo and Captain America take on Turkish Spider Man, in this incarnation not a web-slinging teenager photographer or computer genius, but the head of a cruel criminal secret society that has more in common with Hydra than it has with the Avengers.
When American super heroes cross over to other cultures they often acquire a greater moral ambiguity than in the original version; or, in the case of the Superman in Václav Vorlícek’s 1966 Czechoslovak live action comic book ‘Who Wants to Kill Jessie‘, becoming an actively evil capitalist aggressor. In Gianfranco Parolini’s ‘Three Magnificent Supermen‘ and it’s sequel directed by Bitto Albertini ‘Supermen Against the Orient‘ – another Shaw Brothers Hong Kong co-producton, again starring Yuen Biao and a young Jackie Chan, who also directed the action sequences – two of the super heroes are Italian jewel thieves recruited by CIA. Italy’s most beloved comic book hero is another Raffles-style jewel thief, but in a kinky gimp suit: Diabolik, who had one glorious live action outing in Mario Bava’s 1968 ‘Danger: Diabolik‘.
The evil Turkish Spider Man looks more like the Red Hood from Batman, or the Galaxy Being from television’s ‘The Outer Limits’. Disembodied, calculating eyes survey the world from within a featureless red cowl. This Spider Man is from a tradition of flip-flopping super good guy bad guys, a tradition slightly older than comic books, which goes back a century to when movies drew on the same circus, vaudeville and theatrical imagery which early American comic book creators drew on twenty years later.
Turkish Spider Man is the Black Sea cousin of Shadowman in Georges Franju’s ‘Nuit Rouges‘, made for TV the year after ‘3 Dev Adam’. Franju, co-founder of France’s Cinemateque with Henri Langlois, despite being a serious cinephile also had a lifelong love of Louis Feuillade’s classic silent film serial ‘Les Vampires‘, about an an evil anarchist secret society and its succubitic assassin, Irma Vep. Franju resurrected Irma Vep in his 1963 remake of Feuillade’s ‘Judex‘. In the silent era, even the great Fritz Lang had made a movie serial knock-off of ‘Les vampires’ about an evil secret society called… ‘The Spiders‘.
The low production values – which are often no production values – of many of the Turkish movies covered in Kaya’s ‘Remix, Remake, Rip Off’ make it easy to mock the efforts of film producers in poor countries trying to emulate the American or European film industries.
However, it’s a big mistake to assume that – because a lot of the cultural signifiers are lost in translation – the intended audience for this “other” or “third” cinema didn’t understand the references which film-makers put in specifically for a local crowd, and which the English-speaking viewers may still not get.
Turkish film-goers in the Seventies, living through numerous ’emergencies’, under successive army juntas, could have seen a whole different set of meanings in masked wrestler films from Mexico – where a working class hero stands up for ordinary people – or in a man saving the world by taking on an evil military Empire.