Lucky Luke, Belgian cartoonist Morris’s famous cowboy who can “shoot faster than his shadow”; Count Dracula, the father of all vampires; Mandrake the Magician, the hero of Lee Falk’s comic strip who has been a fan favorite in Turkish pop culture for half a century… The movie adaptations of these legendary pop culture names are set to meet audiences in an upcoming film festival in Istanbul and Ankara – but the festival will have a twist.
“Fantasturka, Turkish Style Fantastic Films Festival,” will run between Dec. 12-14 in İstanbul, and Dec. 18-21 in Ankara. The festival program will mostly feature films that have defined, for lack of a better word, a fantastical era in Turkish cinema, when superheroes and comic book adaptations graced theaters.
With their beginning in the 1950s, and maintaining their popularity well into 1980s, these “B-movies,” with home-made special effects and bizarre storylines, have become a treasure for pop culture aficionados both in Turkey and abroad. You can learn about the era in detail in the anthology “Fantastik Türk Sinemasi” (Fantastic Turkish Cinema), written by Turkish pop culture guru Giovanni Scognamillo and Metin Demirhan.
The book reveals that the first ever Western fictional hero to grace Turkish cinema was “Tarzan Istanbul’da” (Tarzan in Istanbul) back in 1952. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic, a favorite in Hollywood for almost a century, proved to be a favorite with Turkish audiences too, opening the way for superheroes and comic book characters in Turkish cinema. Other Tarzan movies would follow in subsequent decades.
Turkey’s very own superheroes
The popularity of superheroes in Hollywood, and to a certain extent in Hong Kong cinema, had a direct impact on Turkish cinema from the 1960s to the 1980s. The first popular superhero to be adapted to the big screen in Turkey was Fantoma, a French arch-villain created by French writers Souvestre and Allain a century ago.
Not to be confused with Lee Falk’s The Phantom (which was to find its way to theaters later), the crime master Fantoma came to Istanbul in this first adaptation by Turkish cinema, and at some point, had to fight Superman and Batman. The latter two American superheroes would later come to dominate Turkish cinema, replicating the cult B-movies of Hollywood.
These films were mostly inspired by American Marvel and DC comic books, as well as the popular American TV series’ in which these characters appeared. However, Turkish filmmakers didn’t refrain from creating totally authentic and original superheroes as well. These heroes might not have been portrayed as superheroes in every film, but nevertheless they did not shy away from wearing outrageous outfits, capes, tights and the most bizarre masks. Some of these makeshift superheroes were Demir Pençe (Iron Paw), Kara Atmaca (Black Hawk), Maskeli Şeytan (Masked Devil) and Şimşek Hafiye (Thunder Detective).
From Batman to ‘Bedmen‘
There was no sense of time or place in these films. The superheroes of Turkish cinema fought Vikings, mummies, Amazons, the Mafia, aliens, Byzantines and American Indians. Dominant images of popular culture were incorporated without any regard for historical accuracy, political correctness or simple common sense.
If filmmakers somehow got hold of American Indian costumes, a couple of horses and a tent, there would be no reason not to fight American Indians just a few kilometers outside Istanbul. Another aspect of these pictures you couldn’t miss was the scantily-clad, sexy women wandering around throughout the film with no apparent relevance to the storyline. These women, of course, were the ultimate stereotypical seductresses, with names like Marilyn or Sophia.
The terms “adaptation” and “remake” took on entirely new meanings during this period. Captain America became “Binbaşı Tayfun” (Major Tayfun), with the American flag pretty much the only thing in his costume that was altered. “Dişi Tarzan” (Female Tarzan) was part-Tarzan, part-Tiger Woman. And when Clark Kent, the alter-ego of Superman, traveled to Istanbul, his name became Kent Clark, as Batman changed into “Bedmen.”
In 1953, Dracula made his first visit to Turkey in “Drakula Istanbul’da” (Dracula in Istanbul). The novel kept all the major characters intact, while transforming the Christian iconography in vampire fiction into Turkish iconography; crucifixes, the Bible and Holy Water became copies of the Quran. Such undiscovered B-movie territory is a pop culture heaven, and the Fantasturka festival offers a chance to catch some of these gems on screen. Check fantasturka.org to learn more about the program line-up.