German lesbian boarding schools? Italian gender-fluid sky pirates? Yes please! Today, I look at two groundbreaking films that explored gender and sexuality in a pre-censorship era. I’ll provide two spoiler filled recaps.
This early silent film follows a sky pirate who uses male and female disguises to charm a detective and his sister. Actress Valeria Creti has the star-quality to carry the nonsensical plot. Filibus may have been called “cinema’s first lesbian ‘bad girl’” but their comfort in male and female personas allows for non-binary interpretations as well. Today, the campy caper feels like a precursor to the Adam West Batman series.
Directed by Mario Roncoroni and scripted by future science fiction author Giovanni Bertinetti, Filibus is the most exciting, witty, feminist, steampunk, cross-dressing aviatrix thriller you will ever see! ~ Promo for the remastered edition.
BANKER: We’ve been robbed by the Sky Pirate Filibus!
DETECTIVE: Whoever he is, I’ll put him behind bars.
“BARONESS”: You certainly will.
(Sky Pirates kidnap the Detective’s Sister. The “Count” pursues and “rescues” her.)
“COUNT”: You’re safe now.
SISTER: My hero. Let’s date.
ANTIQUE DEALER: Looka my Egyptian Cat Statue! The eyes are diamonds!
DETECTIVE: Filibus will come. I’ll hide a camera in a fake diamond.
FILIBUS: (To the audience.) It’s me! The “Baroness” and the “Count!” Surprised? Oh look. A camera in a fake diamond. That’s adorable.
(Filibus sprays the Detective with sleeping gas and “walks” him in front of the camera.)
FILBUS: ‘Doopy doo. I’m Detective Hardy! I’m going to steal these diamonds!’
POLICE: Filibus is… Detective Hardy? You’re under arrest!
DETECTIVE: They let me go, on the Antique Dealer’s testimony. Time to set another trap.
(Filibus sprays the Detective with sleeping gas.)
FILBIUS: Precisely. I’ll frame you for another robbery.
(But the Detective has plugged his nostrils! He surprises and unmasks Filibus.)
DETECTIVE: Filibus is… the Count? I’m tying you up and getting the police!
FILIBUS: No fight scene? That’s anticlimactic. Ah well.
(Filibus, still tied up, hops out the window. The Pirates airlift Filibus to their zeppelin.)
SISTER: My boyfriend, the Count, was a thief!? Well, at least now we know his identity.
(Filibus, dressed now as the ‘Baroness,’ counts stolen money and smiles.)
“BARONESS:” Ain’t I a stinker?
A precocious teen falls for her teacher at a strict boarding school. Her friends support her and band against a fascistic headmistress. The central romance is treacly but the raucous camaraderie between the students sets it apart from the mean girl drama of American teen cinema. The daring play was given a relatively faithful film adaptation. German queer cinema was ahead of the curve before you-know-who shut it down. It would be a year before American censors would allow it to be screened in the states.
[A] landmark of feminist cinema, queer cinema, political cinema, and late Weimar-era German cinema. ~ Gene Siskel Film Center.
German Boarding School
MANUELA: Mother died and Father’s a soldier. They’ve sent me to this cruel boarding school.
HEADMISTRESS: ORDER! DISCIPLINE! REPENTANCE!
FRAU. BERNBURG: Time for bed girls. Let me kiss you all good night. (She does.)
MANUELA: OMG. I have such a crush!
OTHER STUDENTS: IKR? So do we! It’s like Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Only with lesbians instead of telekinesis.
The School Play
FRAU. BERNBURG: I sympathize, but as your teacher I cannot express my feelings.
MANUELA (Drunk after the school play): Well I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!
OTHER STUDENTS: A drunken declaration of love at a cast party? That’s a mood.
HEADMISTRESS: FILTH! DEGENERACY! MANUELA’s EXPELLED!
A Trigger Warning
FRAU. BERNBURG: Our students deserve compassion, not fascism!
MANUELA: I can’t live without her. Goodbye cruel world.
(She leaps to her death in the play. The other students rescue her in the film.)
OTHER STUDENTS: We saved Manuela. But this was your fault Headmistress!
HEADMISTRESS: SHAME! SELF-DOUBT! CONFLICTED SILENCE!
Mädchen in Uniform was remade in Mexico in 1951 and Germany in 1958. Both versions keep the basic plot but alter the power dynamics between student and teacher. Will you track any of these films down? Is there an LGBT classic you’d like to see remade?
For more reviews of LGBT media click here. Happy Pride!