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From the Palace to the masses -A look at a century of Turkish cinema history

From the Palace to the masses -A lookat a century of Turkish cinema history

Saturday, January 5, 2008
 

What better way to learn about a culture than take a look at its films? And what better way to learn about social change in a country than checking the history of its cinema? If you’re thinking cinema doesn’t have much of a history in Turkey, you’re in for a surprise

EMRAH GÜLER
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News


 Turkish cinema first emerged close to a century ago, at a time when film in the West was already considered a new technology and an artform. Below you will find a brief look at a staggering one hundred years of Turkish cinema, in what is the first of a two-part series.

   The first film was screened in Turkey in 1896 for a private audience at the Yıldız Palace in Istanbul. Public shows by Romanian native Sigmund Weinberger in the Beyoğlu and Şehzadebaşı districts of Istanbul followed the next year, introducing cinema to the masses. Naturally, the films shown were foreign-language ones.

 The first Turkish movie was a documentary produced by a reserve army officer, Fuat Uzkınay, in 1914, that depicted the public destruction of the Russian monument in Ayastefanos. The role of cinema as a tool for propaganda had found its way in Turkey as well, as the film was sponsored by the army.

 The first thematic Turkish films were "Himmet Ağa'nın Evliliği" (The Marriage of Himmet Agha) by Weinberger. "Pençe" (The Paw), and "Casus" (The Spy), all in 1917 were two films by Sedat Simavi. The army-affiliated Central Cinema Directorate, a semi-military national defense society, and the Disabled Veterans Society were the film-producing organizations of the period.  

 Muhsin Ertuğrul introduces cinema to masses

 In 1922, a major documentary film, "Kurtuluş, İzmir Zaferi" (Independence, the İzmir Victory), was made about the War of Independence, just prior to the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The same year, the first private studio, Kemal Film (inspired most probably by the Republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's middle name) was established. The next two decades of Turkish cinema were the formative years; a period that saw theater artists experimenting with cinema, or rather, a theater artist experimenting with cinema. From 1923 to 1939, Muhsin Ertuğrul was the only film director in Turkey. He directed 29 films during this period, generally incorporating adaptions of plays, operettas, novels and foreign films. The influence of the theater dating back to Uzkınay and Simavi, among others, was very influential in Ertuğrul's work and cinema was introduced to the Turkish public by this single name.1939 to 1950 was a transition period for Turkish cinema, during which it was greatly influenced by the stage as well as the effects of World War II. While there were only two film companies in 1939, the number increased to four in only a decade. After 1949, Turkish cinema was able to develop as an independent form of entertainment, with a more professional caliber of talents. The social change and transformation of Turkey in the second half of the twentieth century can be followed closely through its cinema. Before chronicling the golden years of Turkish cinema, it's important to take a look at social changes that took place from the 1950s to the1970s.

 Toward the golden years

 The equality of income distribution and the existence of the middle class brought about with the establishment of the Turkish Republic was replaced in the 1950s by an orientation toward capitalism, inequalities between higher and lower classes, political conservatism, migration from rural areas to cities, and an increasing consumerist culture within society. The 1960 military coup and the 1961 constitution which followed were interpreted by some as being valuable and revolutionary for intellectual life, bringing an air of hope and freedom to society and politics. But soon, the progressive trends within cultural and social lives came to an end. Turkish society was caught between the duality of East and West. While the West seemed to offer improvement on a material and intellectual level, the East seemed to convey spiritual, social, and cultural values, experienced through Islamic practices and the Anatolian tradition of folk culture. People's everyday life was politicized by the implementation of a variety of Westernized practices and the appropriation of popular Western culture as embodied in clothing, lifestyles, food, music, and movies.965 saw a change in government. This change was the starting point of a restoration period which saw both severe inspections and tension between opposing ideologies. The early 70s were critical years in Turkish political life due to the rapid polarization of political groups. The polarization of social life became more evident in mid-70s. Interestingly, Turkish cinema flourished between 1965 and 1975, also known as the golden years.

 Check this page next week for the history of Turkish cinema after the 60s.


 

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