Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Fantasia ’15: Remake, Remix, Rip-Off

The nation of Turkey probably owes Nino Rota nearly its entire GDP in unpaid royalties. During the 1960s and 1970s there was no copyright law in Turkey, so the rough and tumble film industry based on Istanbul’s Yeşilçam Street “borrowed” liberally, but nothing was as frequently “re-purposed” as Rota’s “Love Theme from The Godfather.” Cem Kaya surveys the resulting knock-off films and the filmmakers who cobbled them together in the awkwardly titled Remake, Remix, Rip-Off: About Copy Culture and Turkish Pop Cinema (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Turkish filmmakers ripped off just about every popular Hollywood film, including John Ford westerns, even though they made no sense in a Turkish cultural context. Easily the most notorious are the riffs on Stars Wars and E.T. that lifted extensive scenes from the original films—naturally, without prior permission. Yes, they look absolutely crazy, but in a dingy, decidedly un-fun kind of way. Even the most adventurous midnight movie patrons are unlikely to be tempted by Omer the Tourist Travels to Space, a rather sad looking shadow of Star Trek.

Frankly, the problem with Re-Re is that it is neither fish nor fowl. It invites us to gawk at the cheesy clips on display, yet is laboriously struggles to find some higher meaning in the phenomenon than the obvious quick cash-ins. Unfortunately, Kaya completely lacks the self-aware attitude that makes sly, thematically related documentaries like Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood and Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime! so raucously entertaining. To make matters worse, the film often veers off on unrelated tangents, filming leftist trade unions as they protest the current state of things in the moderately reformed Turkish film industry.

Arguably, there is something embarrassing about the Turkish film industry’s crass compulsion to copy. While interview subject Centin Inanc was recycling Hollywood films in ostensibly Turkish packages, the Japanese and Hong Kong film industries were producing iconic works inspired by their national history and folklore. Even Cambodia was regularly producing original fantastical Angkor epics, which sadly did not survive the Communist Khmer Rouge insanity.

Re-Re should have been considerably more fun, but it just takes itself too seriously. Yet, its attempts to valorize the knock-off industry are undermined by its deliberately kitschy selection of clips. The result is an intermittently provocative film that is largely at odds with itself. Of passing interest to cult film fans, Remake, Remix, Rip-Off screens tonight (8/4), as part of this year’s Fantasia.