The full title of Rosa von Praunheim’s 1971 manifesto is It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives. A young man moves to Berlin, samples gay subcultures (the art world, the leather world, the bar scene, the toilets, etc.) and finds them wanting. The narrator argues that gay men won’t get their rights till they stop exploiting each other. It’s more judgey lecture than story but it makes an interesting time capsule.
Curious? Here’s a spoiler filled recap.
Daniel in Wonderland
“Hello freaks, film friends and perverts! I was one of the first in the world to make a gay rights film after World War II, and I can say in all modesty that I’m probably the most productive gay filmmaker on Earth.” ~ Rosa von Praunheim
Scene One: Marriage
DANIEL: I’m new to Berlin.
NEEDY: Let’s date.
DANIEL: This was lovely. Walk me to my hotel?
NEEDY: How bout I walk you to my apartment? I’m so lonely and you’re so nice and we’re perfect for each other so let’s live together like a married couple and love each other for ever and ever.
DANIEL: … Sure?
(They strip and make love in Needy’s kitchy apartment.)
NARRATOR: Heterosexual marriage is based on the raising of children and the subjugation of the wife. Gay men who idolize marriage end up playing a part and ignoring each other’s needs.
Scene Two: Art
DANIEL: I left him after four months.
RICH MAN: You need an older man to take care of you. Come to my villa. I’m hosting a salon.
DANIEL: This art is yours?
RICH MAN: My friends and I collect pretty things.
(The wealthy old men ignore the artwork and paw at Daniel. He gets fed up and leaves.)
NARRATOR: It is a myth that the art world belongs to the homosexuals. In fact, it belongs to the rich. And wealthy men seek young sexual partners they can control.
Scene Three: Fashion
DANIEL: Enough of toxic relationships. It’s time to sample Berlin’s queer night life!
FASHIONISTA: There’s a group for everyone Daniel. You just need a makeover! Gays should wear the best clothes.
BEACH HUNK: Gays should wear as little as possible.
LEATHER DADDY: Gays should wear leather, chains and large mustaches. And drive motorcycles.
FEMME: Forget that masc for masc drag. The femmes are the only honest members of this community.
DRAG QUEEN: No arguments here.
DANIEL: I don’t fit in with any of you.
NARRATOR: Some gay men seek symbols of status and success. Whether their costumes are hyper masculine or hyper feminine they are still children playing dress up.
DANIEL: That’s reductive. You seem to hate everyone in the gay community.
NARRATOR: I’m saying that the gay community hates themselves. And that they shouldn’t. Take another look at the title.
Scene Four: Toilets
DANIEL: I need some thrills.
HUSTLERS: Try hustling with us by the toilets.
DANIEL: You’re all gay?
HUSTLERS: No. Just poor.
OLD GAY IN YOUNG CLOTHES: Greetings fellow youths. Fancy a bit of cottaging?
DANIEL: Why are the johns so old?
NARRATOR: Once a gay gets over 30 they have to pay for it. If you don’t want to sleep with them you can just rob them. They never go to the police.
FRIEND: Daniel, stop hustling. Come to my party.
Scene Five: Activism
(Daniel and five men sit naked in a circle.)
FRIEND: Friends, this is Daniel.
DANIEL: Did we just have an orgy?
HIPPIES: Free love man. Gay sex needs to stop being transactional. It shouldn’t be a competition or a way to boost your ego.
ACTIVISTS: It’s all political Daniel. Even before you started hustling you let men treat you like a whore.
DANIEL: At least I’m trying. Would you rather I settled down with a wife and kids?
FRIEND: Ha! No.
ACTIVISTS: Gays need to come out and stand up to oppressive employers and families. They need to stop exploiting each other and start supporting each other. Let’s join the Black Panthers and Women’s Liberation. Let’s form an actual community.
DANIEL: You sound like the narrator.
NARRATOR: Out of the toilets and into the streets! Freedom for gays!
Read for Filth
Born in 1942 as Holger Mischwitzky, the director adopted “Rosa” for both gender ambiguity and as a reminder of the pink triangle (Rosa Winkel) that gays were forced to wear in concentration camps. Two years after the Stonewall riots, von Praunheim nearly ignited another queer intifada with his first feature, It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse But the Society in Which He Lives (1971). ~ Village Voice Retrospective, 2009
Germany’s Paragraph 175, forbidding sexual activity between men, was overturned in 1969. von Praunheim’s film warned the community not to rest on their laurels. While German scholars had supported gay rights as far back as 1850, there would not be anti-discrimination in employment laws till 2006. Same-sex marriage wouldn’t be legal in Germany till 2017.
Does a film nearly five decades old speak to the queer community today? Arguments about assimilation, diversity and gender expression remain evergreen. von Praunheim’s later films would paint his characters with more nuance than the broad strokes he applies here. But the message came across. Deutsche Welle claims that 50 gay rights groups were formed in West Germany shortly after the premiere. You can read more about Germany’s early queer cinema here.