Nov 11, 2013

Westler




If Michael Stock’s Prince in Hell (1993) aka Prinz in Hölleland explicitly and even grotesquely depicts the hardcore homo nihilism and junky hi-jinx that beset Berlin’s proletarian gay male population after the Berlin wall came down, Wieland Speck’s Westler (1985) aka East of the Wall—a work largely set in post-WWII Alexanderplatz—depicted in a rather lighthearted manner the division of kraut cocksuckers on both sides of the wall. The sappy and sentimental story of a somewhat cynical West Berlin sexual introvert who falls in love with an East Berlin twink with an Uncle Adolf-approved hairdo, Westler sub-melodramatically depicts the trouble the two Teutonic gay boys face with stasi border control when attempting to carry on a romantic relationship divided by physical, legal, and social barriers. Shot by auteur Speck partly illegally in a guerilla style (Speck pretended to be a tourist shooting footage in East Berlin) and pseudo-documentary manner using a super 8 (it was illegal to record sound, so a number of the outdoor scenes feature nil dialogue), Westler is a glaringly amateurish work that owes much of its marginal popularity to its immaculately timed pro-gay/anti-cold war political message and thus seems rather redundant and outmoded in our post-Soviet homophile times, especially compared to the aberrant-garde agitprop flicks of (in)famous butt-darting Berliner Rosa von Praunheim (who is a friend of Wieland as the two once produced 'safe-sex' pornography together). In fact, as director Speck revealed somewhat recently in an interview at the Goethe-Institut website regarding the reason for the film’s popularity, “Sometimes a film has the luck to catch a generation at the right moment, just when it’s opening its eyes. That was the case with Westler. It’s an absolutely gay film in which, however, being gay isn’t the main problem. This had a big effect back then. People who had never seen a gay film suddenly wanted to see the two boys in the film get together. I still have letters from young people who had their coming out after seeing the film.” Indeed, very much like the mainstream pro-homo flicks churned out by Hollywood, Westler is the sort of sterile ‘coming out’ inspiring work that sappily sentimentalizes sodomites to such a mundanely melodramatic degree that one would assume it was a vanilla sex heterosexual love story were the main characters not two extremely effeminate twinks. In other words, Westler is essentially the ‘Brokeback Mountain of 1980s pseudo-arthouse German flicks’ with a complimentary punk/new wave/synthpop soundtrack (which is arguably the best thing about the film!)



 Opening with West Berliner Felix (Sigurd Rachman) eating greasy KFC fried chicken while driving around in a vintage red convertible in Los Angeles aka ‘smog city’ with his rather loquacious American friend Bruce (Andy Lucas), Westler immediately establishes a sense of freedom in the United States that post-WWII Germany—a place ironically ripped apart partially by the USA—lacks, or so one will find out while watching the film. Of course, as many proud American rednecks often state, “Freedom isn’t free” and the injun-annihilating ferocity of the pioneers who gave up their homelands in Europe made this happen. After American Bruce states to his friend Felix, “For an American, the city represents the future…they thrive on growth” the German responds with, “For Europeans, a city signifies the past. That’s the end of America over there,” thus signifying the death of lifeblood in Europa. After going back to West Berlin, American friend Bruce mentions how he would like to visit backwards East Berlin and see how it compares to the decadent West, so the two head there and soon realize it is not like it is depicted in Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (1966) and they eventually spot tiny blond beast twink Thomas (Rainer Strecker)—a young waiter who lives in a single room flat courtesy of the communist government—while roaming around the city. Needless to say, Felix and Thomas admittedly start a hot and heavy romantic relationship, but the commie curfew forces the West Berliner to have to return to his humble abode every night, thus making their relationship a pain in the ass. Over time, the East German stasi becomes suspicious of West Berliner Felix, so they begin forcing him to go under evasive procedures, including an inspection of his anal cavity by an anally retentive commie guard who does not take kindly to cynical capitalists. Meanwhile, Thomas is ordered to do manual labor at a Prenzlauer slaughterhouse, which being exceedingly effete, would surely be the emotional death of him, so he plots his escape to the West, but refrains from letting his best beau Felix know about his plans until the last minute. Eventually Thomas gets his Slavic bud Pavel to set him up with an escape route from Hungary to Yugoslavia, but in the end, Westler ends in anticlimactic ambiguity. 



 Featuring a barely recognizable Fassbinder superstar Harry Baer (Gods of the Plague, Wildwechsel aka Jail Bait) in a meager role as a bastard of a East German stasi border control guard who inspects poof protagonist Felix's assumedly torn rectum, Westler is really a testament to the fact of how German cinema, especially of the queer oriented sort, totally degenerated with the abrupt death of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Sort of like a queer kraut equivalent of Letter to Brezhnev (1985) in its synth-addled, very 1980s depiction of impossible love between lovers from rival cold war countries, Westler is not much more than a novelty celluloid time capsule today, especially when compared to other Teutonic queer flicks from around the same era like Frank Ripploh’s Taxi zum Klo (1980) and Michael Stock’s Prince in Hell (1993). Indeed, like Coming Out (1989) directed by Heiner Carow—the first and last overtly gay-themed movie made in East Germany—Westler reveals nil new insights for modern viewers except that GDR drag queens are among the most radically repellant of lady-men in the world and that the West was far more decadent than the East. Not surprisingly a semi-autobiographical work for director Wieland Speck, Westler is a terribly tame gay flick that almost even manages to make heterosexual sex seem subversive. A rare German filmmaker who had the degenerately distinguished opportunity to study film under homo trash auteur George Kuchar and who would go on to become the director of the “Panorama” section at the International Filmfestival Berlin (Berlinale), Speck will ultimately be remembered more as a sideliner as opposed to a notable auteur, though the filmmaker would go on to director the docudrama Die Erika und Klaus Mann Story (2000) aka Escape to Life: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story—a work about the lives of German novelist Thomas Mann’s gay anti-nazi son and daughter—which is ultimately a superior work to Westler, if not a less aesthetically vibrant one.  Undoubtedly, if you need proof that German queer-themed works can be as softcore in their sodomy as those delicately defecated out by the shysters of Tinseltown, checkout Westler!



-Ty E

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