I probably should not admit this, but I have a certain amount of respect for kraut queer auteur Rosa von Praunheim (Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts, Neurosia: 50 Years of Perversity) in terms of his undyingly subversive approach to both his life and filmmaking, even if I find him to be a remarkably repellant individual who probably would have deserved what was coming to him had he been an artist and activist during the Third Reich era (ironically, as revealed in his own documentary Two Mothers (2007), von Praunheim might be the bastard son of the infamous SS-Standartenführer Rudolf Lange who, among other things, apparently liquidated 250,000 people in a little less than six months). Like with any auteur filmmaker that interests me, I have gone to the effort of attempting to track down any and every von Praunheim flick that I can find, but only a tiny fraction of his 80+ film oeuvre (which includes shorts and documentaries) is actually available, especially in terms of his works that actually feature English subtitles. Not unlike his kraut cocksucker arch-nemesis Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who he made the remarkable documentary Fassbinder's Women (2000) aka Fassbinder Was the Only One for Me: The Willing Victims of Rainer Werner F about, von Praunheim is a rather prolific filmmaker who seems to make films faster than people can see them, but unlike the tragic Querelle (1982) director, he actually got the opportunity to work in the United States at various different times in his career. Of course, while Fassbinder would have probably opted to work in Hollywood (where von Praunheim would eventually direct the short Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please? (1999) starring all-American bisexual porn star Jeff Stryker) in tribute to his love-hate relationship with Golden Age works from Tinseltown, von Praunheim has spent most of his time focusing on New York City for largely socio-political reasons that have little to do with actual filmmaking, as it is a cultural epicenter of AIDS activism and gay life. Indeed, as Fassbinder once criticized about him in an article in tribute to their mutual dandy-like friend Werner Schroeter, “Rosa von Praunheim, a man who is so progressive, whose consciousness is so liberated from all our bourgeois longings that he actually believes he alone has the right, almost a monopoly, to use the film medium to reflect his or anybody else’s homosexuality,” and that is certainly quite apparent in the director’s aborted documentary ‘AIDS trilogy’ that he made in collaboration with Phil Zwickler between 1989 and 1990 in New York City during the height of the gay cancer epidemic.
It should be noted that von Praunheim's AIDS trilogy is actually part of a tetralogy that also includes the low-camp Schlingensief-esque HIV satire A Virus Knows No Morals (1986) aka Ein Virus kennt keine, but von Praunheim never finished or released the final film Fire Under Your Ass (1990) aka Die Aids-Trilogie: Feuer unterm Arsch - Vom Leben und Sterben schwuler Männer in Berlin, which takes a look at how the epidemic effected the filmmaker’s hometown of Berlin. While I saw the first film in the trilogy, Positive (1990) aka Die Aids-Trilogie: Positiv - Die Antwort schwuler Männer in New York auf AIDS, a couple years ago, it was not until recently that I saw the first doc, Silence = Death (1990) aka Die Aids-Trilogie: Schweigen = Tod - Künstler in New York kämpfen gegen AIDS, which is indubitably the most superlatively subversive, defiantly grotesque, and aberrantly artistic of the films as an overtly wayward and compulsively confrontational work that takes a look at various HIV-positive NYC-based artists and their works as they lament on living with an innately incapacitating disease that has turned them into the most odious and grotesque of social outcasts, or so they describe while criticizing their various enemies of the heterosexual Christian right (or what Iranian-born American experimental playwright, sometimes filmmaker, and AIDS victim Reza Abdoh once affectionately described as the ‘Tight White Right’). Indeed, Silence = Death is an unrepentant and sometimes unhinged homo-hate agitprop piece where prominent sexually introverted artists like eventual AIDS victim David Wojnarowicz and Beat writer turned NAMBLA member Allen Ginsberg demonstrate their undying contempt for the U.S. government, which the former unequivocally blames for the AIDS epidemic, as if Ronnie Reagen put a gun to his head and made him give head to a stranger in some seedy public bathroom. Needless to say, von Praunheim’s decidedly debasing doc is nothing like your contemporary piece of sanitized sod celluloid, which typically depicts gays as happy-go-lucky upstanding citizens who just want to be accepted and just happen to like cocks instead of cunts yet somehow magically manage to contract AIDS and various other STDs more often. In other words, the fierce fags of Silence = Death do not care if your grandma likes them and openly admit they would love nothing more than to destroy powerful homo-hating churches and politicians, especially Wojnarowicz, who seems to hate just about everyone aside from fellow queers with AIDS. Indeed, you know the subjects of a documentary are somewhat crazed when proud pedo poet Allen Ginsberg seems like the most rational and sane one.
Without even a credit sequence or title scene, Silence = Death abruptly begins with a stereotypically loudmouthed and flamboyant Guido-like poet named Emilio Cubeiro sitting in his ugly and rather dilapidated apartment and going on a heated rant about how he was diagnosed with AIDS six weeks ago and how he has a “gut feeling” that “someone caused this,” even speculating that he is a victim of some sort of CIA germ warfare program against poofs. After complaining about how he hates feeling like a victim and how he recently saw a group of well dressed young Republicans chanting at a group of gay protestors, “You people got AIDS because you fucking deserved it,” Cubeiro randomly whips out a small revolver and declares, “I’ve always been a person that lived by the sword in the sense that you’re gonna die […] the same way you lived. I’ve always been an asshole in one sense, so there’s no better way to go out, I don’t think. Let me see what you think of this […] now, I really want you to take a look at my asshole.” From there things get ugly and Cubeiro drops his pants, bends over in front of the camera, puts the revolver in his rectum, and then pulls the trigger, thus resulting in a large amount of oily liquid shit to gush out of his AIDS-ridden anus in a patently preposterous Marian Dora-esque ‘performance art’ routine that would surely alienate any sane heterosexual viewer from supporting the gay cause. After Cubeiro’s mock suicide by bullet through the bunghole, shots of his rather ‘ghetto’ apartment are juxtaposed with a recording of his unintentionally hilarious Lydia Lunch produced album Death of an Asshole (1989), which features the rather ludicrous line: “…to fuck death is to master death…you give it orders, you tell it when to cum. You see, death is your slave even when it is your master.” Indeed, von Praunheim’s Silence = Death seems to fetishize AIDS in a decidedly deranged way that makes it seem like dying from gay cancer is the ultimate ‘orgasm,’ as well as a post-Stonewall ‘rite of passage’ that only the most hardcore of homos experience.
Undoubtedly, the real ‘star’ of von Praunheim’s doc is perennially amateurish painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz, who succumbed to gay cancer two years after the film was released and who would probably not be remembered today and celebrated by all the right people were it not for his brazenly bombastic aberrosexual activism and the specific nature of his untimely death. As Wojnarowicz explains, he used to hide in the cocksucker closet, which enabled him to, “enjoy something about this self-silence, self anonymity where I could travel across America, hitchhike in a car where I’m picked up by a cop who, if he knew what I thought for two seconds, would shoot me on the road,” but because of the AIDS epidemic and the death of his lover, Warhol groupie and photographer Peter Hujar, he has become aggressively vocal about his homosexuality and blatantly blames Christian churches, politicians, and the government for the outbreak, as if it is a ‘fascistic’ disease that punishes gays for their sexual proclivities (when, in reality, the epidemic is a direct result of the anti-mores promoted by the so-called sexual liberation movement and Marcusian ‘new left’). As his autobiographical books and ‘biopic’ Postcards from America (1994) directed by Steve McLean reveal, Wojnarowicz, not unlike many gay men that don’t seem overtly effeminate, was routinely sexually abused as a child and even became a dick-peddler during his teenage years. In terms of the fact that he knows that he is going to very likely succumb to his illness soon, Wojnarowicz reveals that he does not believe in any sort of afterlife and somewhat cynically states, “…when you die, you become fly food and somehow that is comforting,” as if he longs to rot and decay. As he aggressively declares during one of his various rather hostile histrionic rants, Wojnarowicz does not want a memorial when he dies, but instead he wants his friends to drop his emaciated corpse onto the front steps of the White House in a gesture that would reflect his belief that, “these are the people that are responsible for my death.” Indeed, Wojnarowicz does not believe that his lethally lecherous behavior is at all responsible for the fact that he is going to die as indicated by his rather ridiculous remark, “It’s not my sucking dick that is responsible for my death, or my getting fucked in the ass, or any of these things. These people, at this point, are responsible for my death because their inactivity and their total gesture of silence after eight years of this.” Personally, if I peddled my prick to strangers or regularly reamed anonymous rectums in piss-and-shit-drenched public restrooms, I would most certainly consider it my own fault if I contracted AIDS and died, but I guess I am an unenlightened heterosexual homophobe who does not understand the wayward wonders of a self-destructive sexual pathology.
Somewhat humorously, Hebraic homo poet Allen Ginsberg credits the fact that he is fucked by supposedly ‘heterosexual’ men instead of fellow slutty ‘queens’ like himself that he does not have AIDS. Notably, Ginsberg reveals that he is regularly tested for AIDS because he does not want it on his conscious if one of his self-described “much younger” lovers contracts the disease from him. Unlike Wojnarowicz, who was as debauched as they come as an ex-hustler and tearoom queen, Ginsberg at least expresses a degree of self-responsibility as opposed to simply blaming everything on the Christian Right and government. Of course, to be fair, Ginsberg confesses that he oftentimes has a ‘hard time’ getting an erection because, being an overweight Israelite who has probably never exercised in his entire life, he has to take blood pressure pills, so his sex life was probably not as prolific as a younger man like Wojnarowicz. According to Ginsberg, humanity itself is like HIV, as he states, “the planet itself has AIDS” due to all the pollution. Personally, I find Ginsberg’s poetry to be the literary equivalent of AIDS (after all, Ginsberg's bud William S. Burroughs did not speak of ‘word viruses’ for nothing), but I digress. In von Praunheim's Silence = Death, Ginsberg becomes a rare voice of reason who, as far as the viewer can judge from what he says, is doing his part to prevent the spread of the most deadly phenomenon in the gay community since the Night of the Long Knives. To Wojnarowicz's marginal credit, one gets the impression that after his boy toy Hujar succumbed to HIV in 1987, he became all the more nihilistic and self-destructive, as if he was trying in vain to spite the entire world by screaming that he is a terminally ill faggot and he is proud of it. Of course, I'm sure Fräulein von Praunheim could appreciate such pure and unadulterated megalomania, hence why Wojnarowicz probably ultimately became the main subject of the doc.
Ultimately, Silence = Death is an (anti)nostalgic gay celluloid archive created at a time when sod artists were still actually subversive and not interested in becoming like their banal bourgeois heterosexual enemies by demanding that they be allowed to get married and adopt starving negroes from some AIDS ravaged nation in Africa, among other things. Indeed, in my opinion, AIDS was not just one of the worst things to happen to gays because it killed them like flies, but also because it inspired the cocksucker community to align themselves with their perennial enemies, lesbos, and become politically active in the most pathetic and obnoxious victim-mentality-based way imaginable, thereupon seemingly killing their true contribution to society as pioneering artists and cultural subversives as opposed to being infantile narcissists who somehow think parading around in public in pink thongs and little girls fairy wings is somehow a demonstration of some sort of pride. Indeed, if great fag filmmakers like Fassbinder and Pasolini were alive today, I am sure they would cringe upon hearing the vomit-worthy acronym ‘LGBT.’ While the title of Silence = Death is in reference to the belief that if homos kept silent about their homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic then many more homos would die as a result of lack of public awareness and, in turn, government inaction in regard to the gay plague, queers cannot shut their mouths nowadays even though they have nothing of value to say and they never will as the new gay mainstream is a plastic pre-packaged pseudo-identity that has never sired a single Jean Cocteau, W.S. Burroughs, Kenneth Anger or even von Praunheim, not to mention the fact that it's automaton-like members are more banal than the most soulless of David Matthews Band loving frat-boys, albeit they dress ten times worse. If you want to sample the old school homo world before it became vogue to smoke poles and flaunt social justice warrior credentials, checkout von Praunheim's doc and bask in the lost glory of true gay grit of the deadly, demented, and diseased sort.