Singing their songs from the screen

Singing their songs from the screen

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Singing their songs from the screen


Following a dry cinema season, autumn has arrived with at least two new Turkish releases each week. This week’s two new films are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, the comedy “Vay Başıma Gelenler” and the tearjerker “Günce.” Written and directed by Semra Dündar, the first follows the mishaps of two best friends as they try to make ends meet. The film, a situation comedy, features every possible way to make money from gambling to selling cheap imitations. Directed by Kemal Uzun and Gürcan Mete Şener, “Günce” stars the heartthrob Cemal Hünal as a young father trying to connect with his young daughter. While the two films, at first glance, do not have much in common, they both are reviving an old tradition in Turkish cinema, featuring musicians as actors in their debut roles.

One of the main characters, Murat, in “Vay Başıma Gelenler” is played by Hüsnü Şenlendirici, a famous clarinet player and musician. Integrating Roma tunes into his music, Şenlendirici has taken the concert stage with such names as the famed Greek clarinetist Vassilis Saleas, Indian tabla player and musician Zakir Hussain, Brooklyn Funk Essentials, and New York Gypsy All-Stars.

Making his foray into cinema is another musician in “Günce,” Haluk Levent, the rock singer who single-handedly revived the 1970s’ Anatolian rock back in the 1990s. In his first role, Levent plays himself as the favorite singer of the little girl from the title, singing some of his hits for the movie. Singers as actors have always been a popular model, not only in Turkish cinema, but in Hollywood as well. In fact, the very first Hollywood movie that featured synchronized dialogue and ended the era of silent films, “The Jazz Singer” of 1927, was about, well, a jazz singer, and starred a jazz singer, Al Jolson. While Hollywood was making its transition from silent cinema to films with dialogue and music, Turkish cinema was going through its formative years. The theater artist Muhsin Ertuğrul was the only film director in Turkey between the years of 1923 and 1939. Ertuğrul directed 29 films during this period, generally incorporating adaptions of plays, operettas, novels and foreign films.

Tugging at the heart strings

The first film featuring singers and songs, “İstanbul Sokaklarında” (On the Streets of Istanbul) goes back to 1931, four years after the release of “The Jazz Singer” in Hollywood. Muhsin Ertuğrul also directed and adapted operettas, the first one being “Karım Beni Aldatırsa” (If My Wife Betrayed Me), a little-known fact; it was written by acclaimed poet Nazım Hikmet.

Actors and singers

Ertuğrul also became the first filmmaker to direct a singer in a movie, the Turkish classical musician and tenor singer Münir Nurettin Selçuk, becoming the first singer-actor in Turkish cinema in 1939’s “Allah’ın Cenneti” (The Paradise of God). The next year, famous singer Müzeyyen Senar became the first female singer to act in a movie, again in Ertuğrul’s “Nasreddin Hoca Düğünde” (Nasreddin Hodja at the Wedding Feast). Other singers like Hamiyet Yüceses, Safiye Ayla and Abdullah Yüce followed Selçuk and Senar’s suit in the 1940s and 1950s, classical Turkish music becoming an integral part of Turkish cinema during the decade. The late eccentric musician Zeki Müren, the “Paşa” of classical Turkish music, made his debut onscreen in 1953 with “Beklenen Şarkı” (Anticipated Song). Müren starred with the legendary actress Cahide Sonku, becoming an instant success, opening the way for a movie career of 18 films, with Müren writing the score for some of the films as well. Many acclaimed singers like Ajda Pekkan, Gönül Yazar, Erol Büyükburç, and Emel Sayın made their transition into acting after Müren’s successful venture, leaving their mark on some of the more entertaining films from the 1950s to the 1970s. The following decade saw singing as the ultimate form of exploitation in Turkish cinema. The so-called “arabesk” (arabesque) music that tugged at the heart strings of the underdog continued its invitation to agony in cinema. Legendary singers like Orhan Gencebay and Ferdi Tayfur brought a new definition to tearjerkers, singing from the screen in poorly-directed and written movies. Child-singers, epitomized by Küçük (Little, for his age) Emrah, shot exploitation to a new level in the 1980s. Emrah alone starred in 21 films, the first one in 1984 when he was only thirteen. Some of the titles will give an idea of the nature of his films, “The Miserables,” “The Child of Agony,” “The Destitute,” “The Orphans,” and “Don’t Hit Me.” Hopefully, the new decade of singers as actors will promise less agony.