Sep 13, 2013

City of Lost Souls (1983)

If a cracked kraut queen attempted to remake Paul Morrissey’s Warhol tranny superstar satire of feminism and so-called ‘women’s liberation’ Women In Revolt (1971) and shot it in late-cold war Berlin with a loony far-left punk pro-chicks-with-dicks angle, it might begin to describe City of Lost Souls (1983) aka Berlin Blues aka Stadt Der Verlorenen Seelen directed by less than humble homo-supremacist auteur Rosa von Praunheim (Horror Vacui, Anita: Dances of Vice). Described by one viewer as a sort of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) in reverse,' City of Lost Souls is a black comedy ‘maniac musical’ that follows an American-born anti-communist tranny (played by real-life transsexual musician Jayne County) who eventually becomes a rock ‘n’ roll star in East Berlin via her autobiographical hit “I Fell in Love with a Russian Soldier,” among various other things in an intentionally grotesque trash-camp celluloid work with a fiercely foul flavor in the spirit of the early pre-Hairspray (1988) works of John Waters and films starring the Cockettes like Tricia's Wedding (1971) and Elevator Girls in Bondage (1972). Not just an innately idiotic celluloid sleaze-fest in the spirit of the “third sex” (the phrase is mentioned in the film a number of times) theories of decidedly debauched German-Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, whose life Praunheim would later depict in the just-plain-bad biopic The Einstein of Sex: Life and Work of Dr. M. Hirschfeld (1999), City of Lost Souls is thankfully a perversely politically incorrect work of sleazy celluloid iconoclasm that features a Harlem-born black tranny being verbally assaulted by the word “Nigger” by a Jewish boy in a yarmulke, an American-born Jewess‘erotic trapeze’ artist who finds love in the form of a woman-beating grandson of a Nazi war hero, a self-loathing Peter Berlin-wannabe American homo who promotes the virtues of the Auschwitz death camp motto “Arbeit macht frei” (“work makes (you) free”), and another yank Jewess who comes to Deutschland in the hope of dissolving her bitter holocaust-inspired Teutonophobia, only to learn she hates the krauts even more after actually meeting some real ones. Set mostly in a raunchy West Berlin-based fast food restaurant called “Hamburger Königen” (Hamburger Queen) that is run by a real-life big bosomed pre-op black tranny and diva-with-a-dick named Angie Stardust (Hard Women, Die Alptraumfrau) as himself/herself, City of Lost Souls is a mostly plot-less poof piece that is driven by its sexually subversive star power as opposed to anything resembling a discernible storyline. Shot over the course of six weeks mostly in auteur Rosa von Praunheim’s assumedly semen-soaked basement, City of Lost Souls is celluloid camp at its most intrinsically intemperate and iconoclastic, thereupon making it one of the director’s ‘greatest’ and most genuine works. 

 Busty big black transvestite Angie Stardust had a rather horrendous child in Harlem as a man-woman whose father tried to beat her ‘femininity’ out of her as a boy, but she eventually managed to escape and become “the first black transsexual” at such prestigious clubs in New York City as 82 Club (a pre-Stonewall drag queen revue Jayne County later performed at). To escape racism, Angie came to Berlin and runs both the “Hamburger Queen” restaurant, as well as the “Pension Stardust” boarding house, which is occupied by a number of sex-craved trannies, high-strung homos, and related sex fiends. New to Berlin and the Pension Stardust is a fiesty American Jewess ‘erotic trapeze’ artist named Judith Flex and her crippled bleach-blond American-Aryan partner Tron von Hollywood. Judith and Tron are proud to say, “I love Germany…Germany is beautiful…It's so clean…The bus is always on time,” upon first arriving, thus demonstrating their peculiar ‘National Socialist’ romance of the divided ex-Nazi nation. Tron also proudly states, “My grandmother used to say “Work makes you free!” (“Arbeit macht frei”),” thereupon demonstrating his ‘fascistic’ upbringing. Not long after Tron’s spiel about the merits of Deutschland, a little lad in a yarmulke sings, “Ten little niggers went across the Rhein…One fell in the water then there were but nine…,” which naturally upsets big black Angie, who states, “Stupid, this little monster! I’ve got nothing against kids, but I’ve been here 13 years. People haven’t progressed. They don’t consider the past, the shit they caused. We have feelings too!,” which undoubtedly reflects director Rosa von Praunheim’s conviction that ‘everyday fascism’ still reigns in the Fatherland. 

 Also featured in City of Lost Souls is a voodoo Negro named Gary who practices black magic and gives witchcraft therapy to gay naked krauts. A homo Negro tranny named Joaquin La Habana, who is Angie Stardust’s protégé, spends a lot of time giving blowjobs to the pickles at the Hamburger Queen. A male nurse turned transman named Tara O'Hara, who pisses off her fellow tranny roommate Loretta (Lorraine Muthke) by bringing too many men by the apartment, is the femme fatal diva of the Pension Stardust. After running into a fellow American Jewess who discusses her overwhelming hatred of krauts, Judith Flex starts a romantic relationship with a German who beats women and who takes her to the ruins of Arno Breker statues and old Nazi monuments and who has not problem admitting, “My grandfather was a Nazi…My father was 19 when the war ended, and was in the Nazi guerrilla movement against the occupation, Werwolf.” Judith responds to her new boy toy’s confession by stating, “you know, I’m Jewish. I think my grandfather is also a bit Nazi. Of course, not Nazi, but everything must be Jewish…Who’s Jewish, what’s Jewish, and I can only be with Jews there…The same thing, you know?,” thus demonstrating the girl’s hatred of Zionism and her belief it is one in the same with National Socialism. After the Nazi boy asks if they can still be together due to their adversarial ancestries, Judith proudly proclaims, “We’re modern. Maybe in Berlin, a cosmopolitan city, we have a chance,” and the two odd couple begins to kiss with a sort of wacky sci-fi noise playing in the background, which gives a good idea what director von Praunheim thinks of heterosexual relationships. Meanwhile, Lila (Jayne County) discusses with Angie Stardust how she got pregnant by a commie Russian and how she wants to abort the baby, declaring “Just because I like to get fucked by Russians don’t mean that I want to have their children” as an unproud “communist fucker.” The father of the unborn child was a Russian recruiter from the East German GDR and Lila ended up killing him during their sex-capades. Ultimately, lily white turncoat Lila, who was brought up a good anti-communist Reaganite in the United States, decides to go to the east and becomes a big star with her hit song “I Fell in Love with a Russian Soldier” and even has the opportunity to sing for the Red Chairman. Singing live in East German TV, Lila is absurdly standing on a stage featuring portraits of Karl Marx and Lenin and a large ‘hammer and sickle’ (☭) in the background. After receiving a police order to leave Germany ASAP, Gary goes insane and starts a fire in the Pension Stardust, which erupts into a hellish homo orgy that kills both the black magician and twink Tron. Distraught her friends and apartment are gone forever, Angie Stardust sings a short melancholy ballad, but City of Lost Souls ultimately ends on a positive night with a performance from Jayne County at Hamburger Queen. 

 Described somewhat cynically and derogratively in The Queer German Cinema (2000) by Alice Kuzniar as, “little more than a vehicle for a group of transvestites to parade themselves through dance and song within a loosely concocted narrative about the employees at a “Burger Queen” restaurant. At its premiere the film was not even watched by the audience but accompanied at party where the celebrating actors again could star as themselves,” City of Lost Souls is indubitably a playfully prissy and perverse portrait of nasty tranny (and homo) narcissism directed by one of the most narcissistic filmmakers who has ever lived (be they gay or otherwise), yet it does make for a scathing assault of the American philistine view of Germany and the Second World War. Early on in the film, Judith Flex and Tron become agitated about having to wait so long for getting visas, arrogantly proclaiming, “but we’re Americans!,” in regard to the fact they have to wait just as long as Palestinians and Turks in line. The anti-American kraut fellow working at the visa office retorts to the two arrogant Americans by stating,“Who cares…You must follow the rules. Oh, you Americans! You think you won the war! You didn’t!,” henceforth demonstrating the delusion of most Americans that they singularly won the Second World War, yet were incapable of defeating communism and even allied with the Red menace, thus giving Eastern Germany to the Soviets. Undoubtedly inspired by the cult flick Elevator Girls in Bondage (1972) starring the psychedelic theater troupe the Cockettes in its depiction of proletarian transvestites attempting to make it in a sexually depraved ghetto, City of Lost Souls ‘Germanizes’ the experience in the form of a pinko commie cocksucker poof piece that, aside from its less than seductive song and dance pieces, will appeal to homos and heteros alike in its satirizing of not only both homos and heteros, but also American anti-communism and East German kraut communism. Featuring naked negroes sporting ghoulish Ronald Reagan masks, transvestites masturbating chair legs and sucking off pickles, negro black magicians reading William L. Shirer’s error-ridden tome The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), kraut cops discussing the need to rid the Fatherland of blacks, black men eating watermelon and practicing voodoo, and Judaic erotic trapeze artists nearly falling to their deaths, City of Lost Souls is lurid and sordid celluloid libertinage at its most eccentrically excess-ridden and pseudo-extravagant as Rosa von Praunheim’s sort of (anti)love imported love letter to his nation and city of birth.  Since the release of City of Lost Souls, some of the stars of the film have met grizzly, almost camp-like ends because while Tron von Hollywood died of AIDS in the early 1990s, tranny Tara O’Hara, who also contracted gay cancer (but did not die from it), was found beaten to a bloody pulp in a Tiergarten Women's bathroom and layed in a hospital in a coma for a couple weeks before the doc took her off life support. Luckily, Rosa von Praunheim has managed to immortalize their lives via City of Lost Souls, a film that makes transvestism seem like a sunny and surreal from of scatalogical schizophrenia.

-Ty E

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