UPPING THE STAKES – Turkey's brief fling with eroticism
By Jimmy Trash
I've already documented the conditions under which cosmopolitan Turks enjoyed a decade of liberty and moral relaxation in the 70s in my article on the Transgender Diva Bulent Ersoy. This flirtation with the West not only opened Turkish audiences to European, Japanese and American film and made cinemagoing a very fashionable pastime, but also gave rise to "Yeşilçam" (Green Pine), the street of studios responsible for the production of Turkey's now-notorious B movie scene. This genre has been given the international attention it deserves in documentaries such as the amazing “Remake, Remix, Rip-Off”. However there is another part of the Yeşilçam tradition not so delved into – the history and consequences of the addition of eroticism to the roster of movies being pumped out of Turkeywood.
Seen as a way to stay competitive with the racey and nudity stricken Western cinema that was playing in the Turkish houses, Yeşilçam started to include nudity and sex scenes in all genres of films already being made, as well as adopting a style of erotic comedy influenced by the Italian version of blue movies flooding over the borders. 1974's “Beş Tavuk Bir Horoz” [5 Chickens and a Rooster] starring the stunning and ill-fated Mine Mutlu (who had to retire after her fan club became to ravenous and demanding) was the first smash erotic comedy and was mainstream enough to brand a line of Turkish fashion after the title.
To talk of the colorful history of Turkish erotic cinema it is unfortunately impossible to drop the theme of sexual politics from the start or else we won't get passed the first lines of discussion. The movies were unapologetically sexist, and without the redeeming charm which allowed French and Italian movies of the same time to occasionally get away with it. There exists none of Jean Rollins' strong and vengeful vampiric female characters and no man-killing girl-sucking “Ilsa” characters to paint females as anything more than mean manipulators or passive victims. The naivety and hypocrisy in which the Turkish directors and public dealt with sexuality is most evident in the fact that women were not allowed into the cinemas where these films were shown – thus presenting a hidden image of the free and libidinous woman that the male audience so desperately craved but hiding her away from influencing the veiled and courteous women in the street.
However context is always needed in these historical reflections. Interviews with the people around during this time (courtesy of the mighty http://www.otekisinema.com) suggest that the misogyny of the film's themes (which also has to be accepted were in cinema the world over in this decade) were not reflected on the film set. Legendary director Yilmaz Atadeniz respected and admired the actresses, stating “it is important to realise that women in Turkish cinema suffered from the burden of thier work. They risked their health for scenes and showed great devotion ... in freezing weather they entered water, they performed love scenes naked, outdoors on sharp rocks ...”
Behçet Nacar, the Turkish Tom Selleck and heart throb of many films of this decade, also said that in sex scenes flesh coloured underwear was commonly used, men were not permitted to look directly at bared breasts on film, and usually in harder scenes, anyone not necessary for the shooting left the studio while the nudity was filmed.
All of the tricks used in regular Yeşilçam B-movies were employed in the erotic movies. Small snippets of hardcore European pornography were edited into sex scenes and cuttings from pornographic calenders were used in the film posters, which was later held as evidence in court to shut down Yeşilçam. Expensive and sexy scenes were filmed with the imagination that the shoots were not to be used exclusively for the film being made at the moment, so actresses seduced from the regular film sets to do one-off erotic scenes found their footage being used in films later down the track.
The amount of actresses brave and spirited enough to become stars of this genre were very few, as it did require a lot of stamina to perform this role over and over again, mentally and physically. Those who became big names were not only incredibly impressive actresses, able to portray authentic displays in the limited roles of their films, but tough women who dealt with the social consequences of their choices. The most renown was the awe-inspiring Zerrin Egeliler, who had the sexiness and character that one is most used to seeing in Russ Meyer's movies. She also could boast the most scope of any actor, male or female, in the Yeşilçam circuit: she had portrayed a curious peasant's daughter, a seducer, serious dramatic roles, a fiery maid, a cheat, a transexual, a club madame; however, still most often, she played a prostitute.
Another notable mention in this list of incredible female actors is the rampaging Feri Cansel – a Turkish Cypriot who grew up with a London art education before moving to Istanbul and marrying her building's janitor for a visa and working as a stripper. She was known as the “Emmanuelle of Kasinpasa”, an area know for it local habitual use of bad language and was a stunning presence in her movies. Her fiery mouth was last thing anyone heard from her when in 1983 she was killed by her fiance after a fight...
After the military coup d'état in 1980 most female actors of erotic movies were blacklisted from acting (and Yeşilçam was anyway dismantled entirely with a lack of funds and court cases for indecency) and either ran away to smaller cities for a quieter life as the more conservative era of Turkey commenced, or started careers in caberet or music.
Jimmy Trash (with great help from Deniz Pınar)