My introduction to Yesilcam (Turkey’s own vintage Hollywood), was probably not unlike other expats. I was first introduced to it while reading Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Kemal, the main character falls in love with Fusun, a distant cousin who aspires to be a Yesilcam star and whose husband is wrapped up in the industry as well. A good portion of the book centers in and around Yesilcam, and the story’s romantic plot isn’t a far cry from the melodramas of the Yesilcam screen – more restrained and intellectual of course, but obsessive and tormenting nonetheless. As a side note, I highly recommend reading Museum of Innocence then taking a trip to the museum in Cukurcuma.
When I found out that Molly’s Cafe (a sort of mecca for expats in Istanbul) would be hosting a Yesilcam night, I gathered up a group of friends, made reservations for 8, and we all set out to search for the cafe on Friday after work. Although Molly’s is in a pretty central location, we had a hard time finding it since the GPS on our phones kept taking us to her old location closer to the Galata Tower. By the time we found the right place, it was past 7 p.m. and we were late. Upon entering we were ushered downstairs into the makeshift screening room. Our presenter, John, had been kind enough to wait for us, and as soon as we took our spots, he started in with a history of Yesilcam – the main themes, the famous actors, how the movie posters had been designed, etc. To be honest, the beginning was a bit slow, or maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten since lunch and my tummy was starting to rumble and our friends to the right of us had arrived earlier than us and had had enough foresight to order a round of Bomonti before taking their spots, but seriously, I was having a hard time focusing. The chairs weren’t all that comfy and I started to squirm.
But then….John started screening clips from actual Yesilcam movies, and bam! I was hooked. The first clip was from Suzsuz Yaz (Dry Summer) with Hulya Kocyigit, and then Hababam Sinifi with Kemal Sunal, and last, we started to watch Selvi Boylum, Al Yazmalım (The Girl with the Red Scarf) with Turkan Soray. My oh my! What a movie that last one is! We started from the beginning and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen. Village girl meets city boy, it’s love at first sight, she runs away with him, they have a child, he starts an affair, she leaves, and then they meet up again under unusual circumstances. The movie had been rolling for some time until I realized that it was past the scheduled end time of 9:30 p.m. John gave us a short break so we could grab some food and refreshments in order to come back down for the rest of the film. Strangely enough only our group returned for the ending – I think the knitting circle upstairs may have drawn in a few of the Yesilcam guests, but since we were the last ones remaining, we had our own private Q&A with John whose passion for Yesilcam was infectious.
The rest of the weekend I kept watching clips from The Red Scarf on Youtube, and Gurkan kept humming the theme song. Here is a link to the final scene with English subtitles so you can get a taste of Yesilcam for yourself.