Right on the heels of the long lamented Flying Saucers Over Istanbulmaking an unexpected appearance on the collectors scene, we now see another long thought lost Turkish fantasy film, Baytekin Fezada Carpinsanlar -- aka Flash Gordon's Battle in Space -- turning up to flaunt all rumors of its demise -- and this time, of all places, on Turkish MTV. Obviously they don't show music videos over there, either.
Baytekin was made in 1967, a bumper year for Turkish trash cinema that also saw the release of films like Ringo vs. The Gestapo, the sequel to Golden Boy, and a whole slew of entries in the Kilink saga. If you've seen any of those films, you know exactly what to expect. If you haven't, there's really nothing I can say that will prepare you for what you have in store. Still, as attempting to do just that is my ostensible reason for inhabiting this tiny stretch of internet real estate, I will give it the old college try.
Suffice it to say that, in Baytekin, you will see technical execution on the most rudimentary level possible, but married to ambitions so far beyond their means that they exceed those of even the most deluded Western Z movie auteur. This is a grand space opera whose laser beams are accomplished by scratching on the film with a pin, whose monsters are realized by covering extras in burlap sacks, where the illusion of two people talking to each other via view screen is pulled off by having the two parties stand on either side of a view screen shaped hole in the wall, and whose space-age sets appear to be a series of tiny storage rooms dressed with construction paper and fabric remnants. Needless to say, it is all completely delightful.
On top of the above mentioned embellishments, Baytekin includes all of those elements that have proved to be enduring aspects of the space opera genre to this very day, by which I refer to intergalactic tyrants, courageous rebel rocket jockeys, and the wayward space princesses who love them. As is so often the case with these old Turkish films, these tropes are checked off the list with such breathless enthusiasm that they manage to elicit a sort of involuntary, lizard brain level thrill despite how inexpertly they may be visualized. The source here, I'm tempted to say, is more likely Universal's Flash Gordon serials from the 30s than it is the original Alex Raymond comic strip, mainly due to the numerous instances of the Turkish industry rehashing old American serials. However, Raymond's strip did in fact see publication in Turkey -- though "localized" by having its hero renamed Baytekin and pictured with dark hair -- so that may not be the case.
In any case, both the strip and the serials' depiction of their hero as a sort of interplanetary mack daddy serves Turkish pulp cinema's tendency to sexify even the most vanilla source material well. This means we get to see Flash simultaneously romance both the aforementioned space princess and the film's equivalent of Dale Arden (Meltem Mete) with what appears to be an entirely untroubled conscience. (And it has to be said that the ladies don't appear to be too bothered by the arrangement, either.) Beyond this, star Hasan Demirtas gives us a version of the iconic hero who might strike Western viewers as being jarringly broody and intense, but who nonetheless approaches his requisite action scenes with appropriate zest, even if he does so more in the manner of a seasoned street brawler than a swashbuckler. Demirtas also has to be credited for preserving his machismo in spite of the fact that he's kitted out, for a good part of the film, in an outfit that includes what can only be described as a space bra.
To say that Baytekin Fezada Carpinsanlar is typical of the Turkish pop cinema of its day is anything but a dismissal, given that cinema comes about as close to mainlining pure unadulterated movie thrills as you can get. Where Baytekin does depart from the pack, however, is in its inclusion of what sounds like an original musical score, which is credited to director Sinasi Ozunuk. I have to say that it was almost disorienting not to hear those familiar snippets of John Barry's score to You Only Live Twice or stings from The Horror of Dracula. But more shocking was the fact that the score was actually pretty good, and incorporated some interesting, atonal electronic elements. It just goes to show that, as cozy as the elements of these films are becoming, they are still capable of surprising us -- not the least by their repeatedly demonstrated ability to cheat the reaper in defiance of all expectations.