Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

35. Drakula İstanbul'da (1953), dir. Mehmet Muhtar

In 1928, an unauthorised Turkish version of Stoker's Dracula was published. Like Makt Myrkranna a generation earlier, it's a free adaptation rather than a translation. For example, it bears the title Kazıklı Voyvoda (Impaler Voivode), which is what the Ottomans called the historical Vlad Dracula, includes dialogue spelling out explicitly that he is the exact same person (rather than hinting allusively at the idea like Stoker), and shifts the post-Transylvania action to Istanbul rather than London. This film is based on that book, but adds its own layer of adaptation as well by updating it to the 1950s. There's a pretty good page explaining all about it here (annoying auto-playing video, but you can kill it and read a transcript underneath instead), and if you're lucky enough to speak Turkish, the original film is here.

Unfortunately, I am not, so I had to watch this version instead, which a) is a very shonky print indeed, b) has had the original sound-track completely overwritten by discordant organ music throughout (except for one dancing scene) and c) has subtitles which were clearly generated with the help of automatic translation software. Of these flaws, it's the shonkiness of the print that's really irritating. It meant I struggled to tell what was going on half the time, and certainly couldn't appreciate what seems (from a quick glance at the Turkish-language version linked above) to have been pretty decent camera-work. All I can really say is that possibly some effects were quite surreal and phantasmagorical and some shots nicely composed, but I'm not 100% sure. The subtitles, by contrast, were absolutely charming. I had fun counting the multiple different ways in which they spelt 'Dracula' - at least eight by my reckoning, although the only ones I can remember now are Dracula, Drakula, Drukala, Dragula, Draqula and Draquelle. I was also highly amused when the moment came for him to proclaim his past as the legendary Impaler - or, as the subtitles had it, the Poker! But the best moment of all was when our 1950s Dracula asked Azim (the Jonathan Harker character) to write three emails to his friends because the postal service was so bad. Brilliant.

These frustrations and sillinesses aside, it was a fascinating adaptation to watch. Despite being in some ways two good hearty steps (novel adaptation, then film) away from Stoker, it actually retains a surprising amount of detail from the original, and more than some films which claim to be faithful adaptations. For example, it includes scenes of Dracula crawling down the wall of his castle, Azim hitting him on the forehead with a shovel and Sadan (the Lucy character) saying she is floating in green water and that it feels both sweet and bitter when Dracula bites her. The first two of those are rare in film adaptations, and I don't think I've ever seen another one which retains Lucy's description. Some of the unexplored corners of Stoker's novel also get filled in as well. I particularly appreciated the landlady in Bistritz adding weight to her pleas to Azim not to go to Dracula's castle by explaining that her son didn't listen to such warnings a year ago and is now dead. I've always wanted to know what experiences she and her husband have had before Jonathan Harker arrives which cause them to react so strongly when they hear where he is going, and I think the producers of this film (or the author of the novel it's based on?) were right to identify this as one of the implied possibilities.

Meanwhile, there are all sorts of intriguing little changes, too - some obviously for pragmatic reasons, some for more dramatic ones. Pragmatic changes include just the one vampire bride (a popular budget-saving measure) and no Demeter (ditto). Dracula does seem to arrive into Istanbul by boat, but this is conveyed simply by Guzin (Mina) and Sadan (Lucy) meeting people carrying boxes from Romania up from the shore. Sadan's mother is included in the story (not often the case, and probably reflecting the strength of Turkish family structures) and dies in similar circumstances to Stoker's original, but there's no wolf crashing through the window (again for obvious budgetary reasons). And garlic entirely takes the place of crosses, as is appropriate for a non-Christian context and as Zinda Laash (LJ / DW) also did for the same reasons (though additionally ditching the garlic and the stakes).

Less obviously pragmatic / logistical changes include Dracula having a servant in his castle, who conveys some of what were his lines in the original novel: for example the warning to Azim not to fall asleep anywhere except his bedroom and the library. This I like - I've always been quite invested in the idea of Dracula having human servants in his castle, as it demonstrates his power to bend people to his will and the extent of his domination over the local populace. He also seems to have some additional supernatural powers which don't come from Stoker - specifically the ability to materialise out of nowhere (though Stoker's Dracula can solidify from mist into human form) and to make a piano play ghostly music using nothing but the power of his will.

Guzin (Mina)'s characterisation is also quite significantly changed - or at least, developed quite considerably along its logical trajectory. Far from being a school-teacher (only ever an off-page role for Mina anyway), she is a show-girl, and generally very much the independent, modern 1950s woman. In one scene, she teases her husband by telling him that she is knitting something for 'another stud' who will visit them in eight months' time. What she means, of course, is that she is pregnant, but he is utterly oblivious, and I don't think ever cottons on until after the end of the main story. Her profession is also used quite deliberately for titillating belly-dancing sequences, as are scenes of her in the bath. I suspect this material would have seemed quite saucy anywhere when this film was made, let alone Turkey specifically, but presumably it was done in the expectation of boosting box-office takings. Certainly, it's another point of connection with Zinda Laash, which gives Dracula's vampire bride a seduction-dance and includes scenes of dances in the local bar as well. What I don't know is whether Turkish cinema in this period had as strong a tradition as Pakistani and Indian cinema of more-or-less obligatory dance sequences. In any case, here it all paves the way for an excellent climactic scene where Dracula traps her in the theatre where she works, commands music out of the piano and makes her dance just for him - now uncannily like The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula (LJ / DW), in which he does just the same to the dancer Lakshmi.

Overall verdict - a very enjoyable version which was probably better in its original form that I could appreciate from the version I saw (but then again gained a lot from its terrible subtitles!). I'd definitely like to see this in a better-quality print, and I also really want to read the novel it's based on. An English translation actually came out only a few months ago, but seems to have been released as a print book only in the USA, which is a bit annoying and the main factor that has stopped me actually buying it so far. I'll definitely get to it at some point, though.

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Tags: dancing, dracula, fanfic, films, films watched 2017, reviews, translation issues, turkey, vampires

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