Sep 18, 2013

Die Bettwurst

Undoubtedly, there are few things more banal than leftists, oftentimes themselves (failed) members of the petite bourgeoisie, complaining about the bourgeoise (i.e. non-poor white heterosexual gentiles), but when approached by the right person in the right context, it can sometimes be accomplished in a successful manner that does not inspire one to blow their brains out. Indeed, utilizing his own aged aunt in the leading role where she essentially plays herself in a performance that is clearly largely improvised, Berlin-based auteur Rosa von Praunheim (City of Lost Souls, Anita: Dances of Vice) was able to create a satire of the boobeoise with his first feature-length narrative film Die Bettwurst (1971) aka The Bolsters, a campy and culturally cynical work that playfully assaults the so-called institution of marriage in its devastatingly dopey and kitschy depiction of an ostensible ‘romance’ between a woman well into her middle-age and an emotionally hysterical, high-strung, and flamingly faggy 30-year-old homosexual. An assault on both the bourgeoisie and closet cocksuckers disguised as a campy no-budget sitcom with next to no plot, Die Bettwurst is somewhat ‘gentle’ for a Rosa von Praunheim film as it features next to nil nudity, gross-out scenarios, sexual perversion, or blatant poof agitprop as it was made before the director declared his war against heterosexuality with the celluloid manifesto It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (1971). Starring von Praunheim’s real-life aunt Luzi Kryn—a slightly chubby chipmunk-like woman who loves attention and hates men—playing herself in a rather ridiculous performance where she constantly looks directly at the camera to make sure it is following her every move, as well as gigolo-turned-actor Dietmar Kracht, who died under mysterious conditions in 1976 after downing a bottle of whisky and jumping in a lake, Die Bettwurst features one of the most pleasantly annoying odd couples of cinema history as a sort of platinum blonde Bonnie and Clyde of bad bourgeois bad taste in what amounts to the director’s hetero-hating thoughts on marriage. Featuring the aesthetic and melodramatic prowess of an odiously outmoded 1970s soap opera had it been directed by John Waters’ kraut cousin, Die Bettwurst is ultimately a rare celluloid critique of marriage and the middleclass that has a certain hokey humanity to it that reminds viewers how futile it is for certain homosexuals to understand heterosexual marriage and monogamy, as if suffering from a sort of spiritual autism. Directed by a man who once admitted a sense of relief when his auteur archenemy Rainer Werner Fassbinder—the master of naked Teutonic melodrama and alpha-auteur of the Geman New Wave—overdosed in 1982, Die Bettwurst signaled the arrival of German New Wave's closest thing to a queer Troma-like exploitation filmmaker. 

 As a single middleclass woman well into her middle-age years who lives a rather sedentary and passionless existence incessantly hiding herself in her apartment and striking vogue poses for no one but herself, Luzi Kryn’s favorite pastime is complaining about petty problems, including three ‘problems’ (wrong color, wrong spelling of maiden name, and wrong font style) regarding a gravestone that she bought for her deceased mother, one of the few people she had to talk to in life and someone she certainly modeled her own mundane life after. One day while strutting like a gay peacock down a shipyard in all black, including black leather, blatantly gay Teutonic twink Dietmar Kracht runs into mature floozy Luzi, who immediately berates him for being so careless as to drop money on the ground, arrogantly describing the stranger as “grossly negligent.” Before they both know it, the two ‘fall in love’ at first sight, telling each other their life stories. Dietmar confesses he has always lost things since he was a young child due to his ‘terrible nervousness,’ but luckily he is a kleptomaniac so anything he loses he makes up for in the end. Originally from Mannheim, Dietmar sounds like a flaming Boris Becker and discusses his personal history to Luzi as if every moment of it was nothing short of a trying tragedy. Losing his mother at the mere age of 15 over 15 years ago in the Netherlands from uterine cancer, Dietmar finds a sort of ‘mother’ figure in Luzi, who can relate as her own mommy just died. More important, Dietmar, as a hyper homo of the pathologically narcissistic and absurdly superficial sort, loves Luzi’s platinum hair, telling her, “You have hair like my mother. And like me,” but, of course, the little lady loves wearing wigs as demonstrated by the fact that she is sporting a different one in every single scene of Die Bettwurst.

 Growing up in the Red Light district of Mannheim where he cavorted with criminal hoodlums and wanton whores, Dietmar, who has really screwed up teeth that give a pretty good idea of the poverty his life has been plagued with and a rather scrawny physique despite his propensity for showing it off via short shorts, decided to make his escape to the Northern German city Kiel, which proved to be a good investment as that is where me he met Luzi, a mature middle-class woman old enough and desperate enough to accept a proletarian poof as her beloved boy toy. A hysterical and histrionic woman who proves to be a constant source of unintentional humor, Luzi has no problem admitting she hates men as she stabbed one of her ex-boyfriends and caused another to attempt suicide, but luckily Dietmar has changed that and vice versa. Typically having to find refuge in sluts from the red district due to the fact that bourgeois girls would literally sneer at him due to his 'common' background, Dietmar finally finds ‘true love’ and happiness in Luzi and learns to become a productive member of the TV-worshiping, shopping-loving lower middle-class. In a rather absurd ‘love scene’ of the heavy petting puffery-ridden sort, Dietmar confess his love for Luzi’s breasts, eyes, hair, ‘everything’ and how he would kill himself without her, which the little lady loves hearing. Naturally, Luzi wallows in the attention, thus confirming their imaginary status as soulmates. After having what is assumedly hot and steamy coitus, Dietmar confess his past life as a petty criminal, how he spent time in prison, which scared him straight, and his fear that his old friends are looking for him, but Luzi promises to protect him in her bourgeois dreamworld where no bad guy could possibly appear. Luzi ultimately teaches Dietmar how to live the proper middle-class life, which includes warm and sensual showers, passionate vacuuming, gardening, cooking, watching every color TV program (“theater of late”), celebrating Christmas gift-giving with a plastic tree, and dancing at subpar restaurants. Unfortunately, trouble arrives in paradise when Dietmar’s old mafia comrades kidnap Luzi, but the heroic boyfriend wastes no time (aside from a bit of crying, panting, and stammering) in hunting down the goons and shooting one of them with a gun on a beach, thus saving his beloved lover as a neurotic knight in shining armor. In the end, after being absurdly helped by one of the mafia hoodlums into a small plane, Dietmar and Luzi flee for paradise. 

 Taking its name from a sausage-shaped neck pillow—an unflattering symbol of mundane middleclass comfort if there ever was one—that Luzi gives Dietmar for Christmas, Die Bettwurst is a cynical camp anti-celebration of the kraut bourgeois that, somewhat paradoxically, manages to give a soul, albeit a superlatively schlocky one, to the seemingly soulless, which auteur Rosa von Praunheim would ultimately do in a much different context for homos, hustlers, homely hags, and other human rabble with his subsequent films. Die Bettwurst was followed by one official sequel, Die Berliner Bettwurst (1975), which also starred Luzi Kryn and Dietmar Kracht, but considering the latter of whom died in a mysterious drowning accident, what could have evolved into a full on sitcom considering both of the film's popularity, ultimately died prematurely. Although, it should be noted that in von Praunheim’s ‘erotic’ campy cannibal-themed short Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please? (1999), the director’s aunt Luzi Kryn would reprise her role as the absurdly annoying woman who demands that men (most specifically, gay porn star Jeff Stryker) worship her.  In terms of kraut cinema and cultural history, Die Bettwurst is assuredly a sad sign of how Teutonic cinema has degenerated since F.W. Murnau, himself a homosexual, and Leni Riefenstahl because, while the former two promoted German culture and traditions, Rosa von Praunheim's film mocks Aryan culture, particularly that of the middleclass, into oblivion, ultimately portraying the gay lifestyle and even prostitution as preferable to bourgeois life.  Though, to be fair, von Praunheim would later berate middle-age bourgeois faggots in his agitprop work It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (1971), portraying them as pernicious parasites who take in young twinks and glamor them with their wealth and knowledge of culture. The closeted gay character played by Dietmar Kracht of Die Bettwurst is basically summed up in the following quote from the documentary, “As the gays are being despised by the square as ill and inferior, they try to become more square to remove their guilty feeling with an excess of bourgois virtues. They are politically passive and act conservative in gratitude for not being beaten to death. Gays are ashamed of their sexual orientation, for they were told for centuries what hogs they are. Therefore they escape from that horrible reality into the romantic world of kitsch and ideals. Their dreams are dreams of clossies, dreams about a man, at whose side they are being released from the adversities of every day life into a world that only consists of love and romance. Not the homosexuals are perverse, but the situation, in which they have to live in.” Of course, whatever situation von Praunheim may be in, he will always be perverse and his first feature Die Bettwurst demonstrates that he is a fellow who finds ordinary lifestyles perverse, thus the film acts as a sort of window into the homo soul where traditions like Christmas and strolls in the park are treated with the utmost malice, which is certainly more respectable and honest than mainstreaming propaganda faggot trash like Will & Grace.

-Ty E

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