Anthropomorphic "ducklings," dancing ET's, cannibal surgeons and puppets from the eighth circle of hell, Egyptians sure as hell weren't lacking in creativity way back when.
I shudder to think how old the majority of our demographic is. I could kind of find out if I went to our analytics department and asked, but they speak in tongues and I’m a simple man. Anyway, television way back in the 80’s and 90’s the world over was a legit phenomenon unlike anything we have today - except for Rick & Morty - especially here in Egypt; we had everything from anthropomorphic birds teaching kids how not to shit themselves, to dudes dancing in freezers and even films taking on some pretty critical subject matter in the 1950’s of all times.
Though I may have only been a lowly sperm back when most of these were out, I’ve grown up with them nonetheless, and so have many others throughout Egyptian history. So why not hop on my patented Timetoilet™ and wade through the years back when Egyptian productions were actually… let’s say creative.
Kooky Kaak – Egypt’s Infantile Big Bird
The fact that most people here in the office don’t even blink when I ask them if they remember Kooky Kaak is sad. Growing up with shows like Boogy w Tamtam made learning about life that much easier, but a felt monkey and a… rabbit thing had nothing whatsoever on Kooky.
To sum it up short-like; Kooky Kaak was a children’s show originally aired in 1987, starring Eman El Toukhy and Mahmoud El Gendy among a cast of little people, token children and other oddities. The eponymous Kooky has quite the backstory though; her “mom” found a massive egg somewhere, and decided to adopt it as her own, the whole show starts with the ”birth” of Kooky, which I only realized was the most special of televised scenes at the tender age of 25.
To watch a miracle of modern science, skip to 01:57.
Yes, you’ve just witnessed the birth of a legend. Anyway, Kooky and her mother star in these 15-minute episodes, with each tackling a valuable life lesson (like patriotism, parrots and vitamins) through song, dance, birds and surrealism. “Yeah, so? What about it?” Well considering the fact that a massive, anthropomorphic duckling is running around the human world, as if nothing out of the ordinary, is the main theme of the show, and this same duck has a bunch of its bird cousins locked up in cages (and she briefly eats chicken at some point), it is absolutely no wonder why that generation of Egyptians wasn’t the most… stable.
Did you know; that was Hala Fakher in that duck suit.
Elly Fat Sat – Egypt’s Worst Nightmare Fuel
There’s fundamentally nothing wrong with the shows and films in this list. However, the presentation is where most (if not all) of the shock value arises. Puppet shows have been a small screen mainstay since the early days of televised entertainment, and Elly Fat Sat wasn’t too different from your regular formula; it’s essentially a more mature satirical puppet show from the uncanny year of 2000, critiquing your average modern Egyptian’s trials and tribulations with society, politics and some other shit that I was too scared to learn, with most of them modeled after famous Egyptian characters and influential actors. Why scared?
Feeling constipated? Skip to 00:29 for an emergency evacuation.
I wish I were in that creative direction meeting they had before bringing this show to light. I imagine it would have gone something like this:
“Alright everyone, we need some appropriate character design to make sure our message gets across. Any ideas?”
“How about life-sized puppets that would give anyone a diarrhea-inducing nightmare after watching a single episode?”
“…tell me more…”
Legit, the one in the galabeya – whose name literally translates to “Limited Income” – stayed in my memory for too long a time. The dark was terrifying when I was a child not because it was full of the unknown, but because Mahdood El Dakhl could come screaming at me with his stick and beat me to death while he recites a sketch about poor Egyptian healthcare. In any case, I recommend you endure at least one episode; the writing is genuinely OK if a bit overdone at times, but going past the horrific choice of characters, it’s a good trip down memory lane.
Nehayet Al Aalam Laysat Ghadan – Egypt’s Alien Conspiracy Series
Veering away from giant bird suits and marionettes dragged straight from the eighth circle of hell, the vast majority of Egyptian dramas aren’t known for their reinventing of the wheel. Most shows usually tackle something archaic or overdone; like relationship issues, koshari, who stole money from dad and struggling with inhibition. None of them had serious alien conspiracies though, which is why Nehayet Al Aalam Laysat Ghadan ( The End of The World Isn’t Tomorrow).
I want to believe.
Yep, this is a show about a humble, forthright philosophy teacher, stuck in a world where human greed and moral decay is the norm. Through a sequence of events that you should definitely find out yourself, he discovers that life beyond humanity exists, which makes sense to a philosopher; to think life in this vast, near-limitless existence is restricted to that which lives on Earth is, in essence, absurd. Riad Abd-Rabbo (played by the timeless Hassan Abdein) struggles with bringing his observation to light, amongst a dysfunctional family, greedy colleagues and a system that is, in essence, flawed to a tee.
The mere concept of extraterrestrial life, portrayed in a more serious manner in Egyptian television, is rare. So when something like this pops up in 1983 of all years, it’s definitely ahead of its time. Highly recommended purely for the subject matter, and for the spot-on acting.
Al Hob Fee Al Thalaga – Egypt’s Variation of Frozen
I like to think I’m good at explaining a lot of things (albeit mostly useless), but to try and tackle this simply marvelous creation from Egypt’s obscurest of cinematic corners is something that I can only convey by example. So uhh…
For some chill viewing pleasure, skip to 35:33.
So yeah, that was Yehya El Fakharany dancing with a rooster meant to be consumed by his wife. Why is Fakharany’s “Mahdy” in a freezer? Why is there a turkey? How did this film even survive production? The story goes that Mahdy wants to perfectly preserve his bits, so he decides to… get into a freezer, and then the plot thickens with his wife cheating on him (something he finds out with the turkey), which leads to him orchestrating a zombie revolution in a morgue, sometime after a lavish dance number with a bunch of ET’s and frozen chickens. There is nothing whatsoever I can write that can sum this motherfucker up (thanks 1992), but it is a perfect example of the kind of abstract, outlandish creativity that Egyptian moviemakers are capable of, should the conditions be in their favour.
The film saw a near-nonexistent cinematic release, only to be seen on television every three blue moons, and now you can view it as much as you like on Youtube. You’re welcome (or I’m sorry).
Samak, Laban, Tamr Hendy – Egypt’s…Yeah
Dramedies are a dime a dozen the world over, but not so much here in the groin of the universe. Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz’s filmography is quite the varied list of achievements, but his role in Samak, Laban, Tamr Hendy (Fish, Milk, Dates) is one of, if not the most, obscure roles he’d ever had to play. The film itself is one of the few examples of a more artistic, deeper take on human nature, the law, the afterlife and a good measure of biblical references. The imagery used in the film is something you need to see for yourself.
Skip to 36:25 for some prime symbolism.
Yeah so, the good doctors are cannibal organ harvesters, and Abdel-Aziz’s Ahmed Sabanekh sees his wife succumb to mortality, only to be hoisted away by angels to an afterlife beyond that of a morgue freezer. If I were to do another feature following the same vein as this excuse for an article, I would dedicate a few thousand words to the kind of in-depth symbolism, critiques of societal norms and established ideologies, and just… stupid shit that this film is essentially made of. Probably win a Pulitzer on the way out, too. Anyway, watch it if you know what’s good for you at all.
Keep your eyes peeled for the film’s (and Egypt’s) tamest entry into bestiality.
Ahead of It's Time: El Anesa Hanafy – Egypt’s Lighthearted Take on Transgender Life
Okay so THIS in particular isn't out of an acid trip, BUT... Try to think back to Egypt’s feisty 1950’s, specifically, 1954, and ask yourself what the state of women’s rights were like back then? Though the country back then was less overshadowed by religious fundamentalism (please don’t arrest me), it was still quite the lenient society when it came to choice of clothing and harassment. Unlike today, however, draconian levels of misogyny and patriarchal nonsense was much more concrete than it is nowadays (debatably), and the topic of sex changes, transgender quality and life beyond transition was near-nonexistent. So when you see a film where Ismail Yassin’s Hanafy – an oppressive middle -aged Egyptian man with a ten foot stick up his ass – accidentally wind up on the after-side of a sex change in a complete 180, he’s stuck on the receiving end of his bullshit.
For a prime shot of Ismail Yassin's legs, skip to 51:57.
1950’s Egyptian cinema was an enlightening, progressive patch of soil for the decade’s rising interest in the unheard of, and the taboo. Galil Al-Bendari’s script for the film was inspired by real life events to boot; modeled after an incident where a village woman in Sharqiya went under the knife at Qast al-Aini to become Aly, in order to marry his neighbour in accordance with the law. In a time when the norm for films was always centred around the man’s attempt at romance, Hanafi (now Fifi) winds up in those same shoes, but chooses to scare suitors away with her mannish “charm” and remain celibate. There have been films where drag was the vehicle for portrayals of women, but for somebody to take the leap and see what it’s like in heels rather than loafers... Extremely recommended for any acid fan of vintage cinema.