Sep 28, 2012

Taxi zum Klo

Post-WW2 Germany has produced a wealth of homosexual auteur filmmakers, but – for better or worse – none quite compare to Frank Ripploh aka Peggy von Schnottgenberg (Miko - aus der Gosse zu den Sternen, Taxi nach Kairo); the Berlin schoolteacher-turned-filmmaker who felt no shame in simultaneously grading papers in tearoom toilets while sucking cock through a less than glorious glory-hole. Ironically, recommended to me by my beautiful girlfriend, Taxi zum Klo (1981) aka Taxi to the Toilet (or "Taxi to the John", etc.) directed by and starring Mr. Ripploh in an embarrassingly semi-autobiographical role in a work that is not exactly the sort of homophile arthouse film one would expect from a master kraut-queer auteur like R.W. Fassbinder (Fox and His Friends, Querelle) and Werner Schroeter (Malina, This Night), but it does offer a spiked comical cocktail of ridiculously raunchy candid carnality of the debauched public educator sort. Relatively conventional and somewhat amateurish in narrative structure in part due to the shoestring budget it was shot on, Taxi zum Klo is a wild work of ‘camp realism’ that derives most of its entertainment value from its goofy and often gross domestic gay zaniness An eccentric elementary school teacher by day and a public pervert by night, Ripploh – who is hardly a prancing queen – does a swell job living a double life, at least in the beginning. Seemingly like some sort of laidback, hippie sociology professor in both appearance and character, Ripploh’s general lack of outward effete gayness makes him all the more interesting of a character, especially when sharing slobber and semen with other homely homo men and being tested (positive) for STDs in a most crude and compromised manner. After all, I doubt many filmmakers would direct themselves while will passively receiving a metal medical phallic probe in the fag end. Unflinchingly charming, comical, and capricious from beginning to end, Taxi zum Klo is a film that – despites its intensely intimate and often downright revolting subject manner – would probably appeal to most viewers, even those that feel a bit overwrought by the image of a swarthy man’s asshole being penetrated by a peculiar fellow in leather chaps.

 Like many controversial films, especially the sort featuring real-life (homo) sex, Taxi zum Klo was banned in Britain upon its initial release, which should no surprise to those that have already watched this penis-prominent cinematic work. Opening with backboard collage containing some of Ripploh’s most penetrating personal obsessions, including artwork by Salvador Dalí and Tom of Finland, a photo of queer German New Wave auteur Rosa von Praunheim (Neurosia: 50 Years of Perversity, The Einstein of Sex) and a family member in a Hitler Youth outfit, and homocentric pins with cutesy quips like “No More Heteros,” one immediately gets more than a clear idea as to the director’s personal proclivities and wacky Weltanschauung. Similar in theme to a lot of gay films of the 1970s/1980s from Europe and America – like William Friedkin’s The Boys in the Band (1970), Wolfgang Petersen’s Die Konsequenz (1977) aka The Consequence, Ron Peck’s Nighthawks (1978) and Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1986), Taxi zum Klo is a film that ultimately portrays the unfulfilling and self-destructive nature of homosexual subcultures during that era as vividly portrayed in Larry Kramer's gay-community-inflaming novel Faggots (1978) and von Praunheim's documentary Positive (1990), yet unlike many of the characters featured in similarly related works, Frank Ripploh does demand pity from the audience but only shits and giggles, thus managing to retain whatever is left of his personal dignity. Always maintaining a reasonably positive attitude, even when learning that genital warts are invading his putrid poop-chute, Ripploh merely expects the viewer to laugh at his and his butt-buddies rather grotesque bare-skinned bodies and abject personal failures in life. After meeting the man of his dreams – a movie theater attendant with a creepy mustache typical of the loony leather boys featured in Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) – Ripploh’s life begins to pick up momentum, but due to his wandering wienerschnitzel and jokester wisecracking, he soon learns that it is much easier and far more sexually fulfilling to blow random twinks and bears in public restrooms. Although initially contemplating a pseudo-marriage featuring an urbane lifestyle of leisure and male-on-male monogamy with the possible addition of an adopted 'mongoloid child' (his own words) after beginning a steamy relationship with his new boi toy, Ripploh inevitably realizes that such bourgeois lifestyle changes could impede on his secret life of lecherous latrine lovemaking; a nature high of the thoroughly bestial sort that, that like most addictions and compulsions – once initiated into – one can never divert from partaking in.

Described by The Village Voice as, “the first masterpiece about the mainstream of male gay life,” Taxi zum Klo – like must cinematic works of its kind – features a far from a flattering portrayal of homosexual lifestyles, especially when compared to a movie as relatively tame as Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005), yet it does ultimately humanize its protagonist because it reveals him to be a flawed individual with a thirst for vice, and dreams and hopes that, despite the repellant nature of his public sexual relations, most people can relate to. In spite of directing a sequel to the film entitled Taxi Nach Kairo (1987) – a work that is virtually impossible to obtain a copy of, even in Germany – Frank Ripploh would never direct another film as influential and critically revered as Taxi zum Klo, although he would be immortalized in the pages of queer cinema history by playing the role of a drunken legionnaire (with fellow German filmmakers Wolf Gremm and Robert van Ackeren also playing this symbolic role) in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle (1982); the arguable 'Citizen Kane of gay cinema' and the only fiercely homoerotic film to have received a large degree of success at that time upon its initial release (selling 100,000 tickets in the first three weeks). Although Taxi zum Klo seems comparatively insignificant when compared to a film as artistically refined and iconic as Querelle, it does feature a certain artistic scrupulousness and integrity that most films – whether gay-themed or not – ultimately lack, hence why it has remained a favorite among fans after over three decades.  Featuring excerpts from Christian and His Stamp Collector Friend (????) – an impossible-to-find anti-pedophile PSA with unfathomably distressingly pedophiliac imagery – Taxi zum Klo is a film that will indubitably have you second guessing your child's seemingly normal elementary school teacher.

-Ty E

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