Friday, November 09, 2007

DVD Review: TARZAN ISTANBULDA



Directed by Orhan Atadeniz
Turkey; 1952

I'm not the biggest Tarzan fan, I must admit. And if it wasn't Turkish I probably wouldn't care one bit about this latest release from Onar Films. But it is Turkish, and so of course I'm curious to check it out. TARZAN ISTANDBULDA is a historic landmark in Turkish popular cinema, for several reasons. It is one of the earliest examples of cinema fantastique to be produced in that country (along with DRACULA INSTANBULDA) and director Orhan Atadeniz was a industry pioneer as well as older brother and seminal influence on Yilmaz Atadeniz, who went on to become one of Turkey's most productive and innovative film-makers. What makes the older Atadeniz so important (according to the priceless bio notes penned by Turkish cinema historian Ayman Kole) was his contributions to the craft of making narrative films, it seems as though he was sort of the 'D.W. Griffith' of Turkey with his innovations cracking the Anatolian film industry into areas before unknown to the burgeoning film-scene. But what about the movie itself? It's pretty fun; silly and inconsequential on its own, interesting mostly due to its utterly primitive cinematic techniques and the facts of its nationality. But without it historical importance, I'm not sure Onar would've released it and therefore we probably wouldn't be reviewing it. But that's OK there's room enough on your shelf for this mid-century cinematic oddity.



There is actually not much Tarzan action going on in this movie. He only really enters the plot it what amounts to the third act of the film. Until then it's a standard jungle adventure story, with a quest for a lost treasure, double crosses, racist depictions of African tribes and stock footage galore. But these elements will keep you happy until the yelping white king of the jungle throws things in third (well, maybe just second) gear for the last half hour.



A journalist is on Safari when he discovers the corpse of a western explorer. He nosily reads with doomed man's journal (which - luck of luck - just happens to be in Turkish!) revealing the details of his gruesome fate at the hands of bloodthirsty tribesman (a flashback shows his son [a young Kunt Tulgar in his first role!] escaping into the wild, soon to become ...) and the whereabouts of a lost treasure. Our hero takes the journal back to Istanbul and gives it to his brother, who seems un-phased by news of his brother's passing. They hatch a plot to grab the treasure, enlisting three pilots (a dude, a chick and a retarded coward who provides the typical Mediterranean cinema comic relief) to fly them to Africa, which only takes only a few minutes seemingly as they soar past stock footage of the pyramids. Their safari continues to grow with a group of trackers and some unfortunate African guys to haul all their stuff. Sure enough, with a treasure up for grabs, the trackers hatch a double cross and the action is on. There are animals from scratchy newsreel footage and from scenes shot in a Turkish zoo where some of the animals actually fight each other! I guess there was no Istanbul branch of PETA in those days. Anyway, Tarzan comes in a while into the movie, impresses the girl pilot and saves (some) of the hapless treasure hunters from the bloodthirsty Africans. There's a bit of tragedy but everything more or less ends up well as Tarzan ends up returning to Istanbul in the end. Yay! Not much plot and really not many of the wacky details that usually make Turkish movies so much fun. But it is diverting enough to keep entertained for an hour and a half, and what more can you ask for than that?



For what was once considered a lost film, TARZAN ISTANBULDA looks fairly good. So many films from this era of Turkish film-making are now gone forever, their negatives sold off for the silver contained therein, so that this one survives is a minor miracle in and of itself. It does look pretty ragged as you might expect, but is never anything less than perfectly watchable. Just be happy it exists, OK? Onar once again piles on the extras for this historic release with the most important being an interview with Kunt Tulgar whose father was a producer for the movie and who even appeared as a young Tarzan early on. While it covers more or less the same ground as the interview featured in the TURKISH SUPERMAN DVD released earlier this year, it is still a highly fascinating and comprehensive look at the history of Turkish fantastic cinema. Onar have also unearthed a brief but interesting little bit of film, a camera “check sequence” featuring some of the actors (including a little Kunt) in more candid poses. Only a few seconds long but a pretty neat extra nonetheless. The aforementioned Ayman Kole’s wonderful and informative bios (for Ohran Atadeniz and Kunt Tulgur) are a standouts as well; someone really needs to get this man a book deal! The usual batch of awesome Onar trailers completes the lineup of features and you should check em all out, especially the one for CASUS KIRAN which is what comes next from our generous friends from Athens.



All in all, TARZAN ISTANBULDA is not nearly as fun or essential as most of their previous DVDs but is certainly a must own for anyone even remotely interested in Turkish cinema. The movie itself is great escapist fun and you will marvel at its primitive hand-made aesthetics. The design for the covers and the menus are just flat out fantastic; slick, humorous and user-friendly. Onar is a top-notch operation and while the movie itself is no great shakes the DVD is totally freakin’ cool. It is a piece of cinematic history and its very existence is reason enough to track it down and lay down your hard earned cash. Soon enough: CASUS KIRAN! We can’t wait!!

Available from Onar Films!

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