Monday, April 21, 2014

Taxi Zum Klo (1981): The Homosexual Culture Wars

Taxi Zum Klo (1981)
dir: Frank Ripploh

In watching a 33 year old movie about homosexuality, I realized just how old some of the struggles within gay culture are. It's easy for a younger generation to think that certain struggles are newer because some of the situations and adaptations that have developed are newer. But, by recording a specific culture so personally, as Frank Ripploh did in Taxi Zum Klo, the macroscopic problems show up in different forms.

Ripploh wrote, directed, and starred as himself in Taxi Zum Klo, a movie documenting the life of Mr. Ripploh in West Berlin. A schoolteacher by day, and sexually free and obsessed homosexual by night and sometimes day. The film opens with Frank waking up naked and sneaking across the hall to steal his neighbor's newspaper but getting locked out of his apartment, and having to climb across balconies, still nude, to get into his apartment. Setting the tone that we're watching a neo-realistic movie about life with all the embarrassing, dirty and selfish parts left in.

Largely, Taxi Zum Klo is a first person narrative about Frank cruising around West Berlin, then falling in love with Bernd, only to discover that Bernd is a domestic-style boyfriend who would rather stay at home and make dinner than go cruising the toilets or even going out for a night on the town. Bernd's dream is to find a guy and settle down in a farm in the country, while Frank wants to go out and enjoy all the delights that a city with a strong homosexual presence gives. Whether that be picking up a guy while walking home, or at the gas station, or in the park...or going out to a Queen's Ball and picking up a stable boy.

Ripploh knows that he's being selfish, but can't bring himself to change. In one of the closing scenes, Frank goes to work still dressed in drag from the ball. He gives each of his students a die and tells them to write down six different things that they would like to do regardless of rules or politeness. Some included ripping his dress, or beating up another student. Then, he gives them the chance to roll the die and do the thing they want and all hell breaks loose, teaching Ripploh that freedom without responsibility gives immediate happiness, but ultimately leads to chaos and destruction.

For a very little and very personal film, Ripploh works in a lot of politics around the edges. It's 1980 when this film is being made, and there are scenes about condemnation and acceptance in West Berlin. In an early scene, Ripploh goes bowling with his fellow teachers after hours, and presents a very conservative front to his fellow teachers, simply because it's expected. I mean, deviants of all natures have to present conservative fronts to their professional coworkers, right? Except everybody hetero has conversations about each other's sexual proclivities, while they generally keep Ripploh's details a bit more under wraps. Sure, they shout out that he prefers male callers, but we're not prepared to talk about whose dick went where.

Not everybody is as accepting as Ripploh's coworkers. In a later scene in Taxi Zum Klo, Ripploh calls in Bernd to laugh at the neo-Nazis that are given airtime on television. The neo-Nazis are rallying against the usual skinhead topics of race, religion, and sexuality that isn't White and Christian. But, Bernd and Ripploh are so used to it they laugh at the youthful diatribes on the screen.

When not at school, Ripploh isn't afraid to show the variety of ways that men can hook up, and doesn't even get to all of them. He doesn't really go out to leather bars or night clubs. Instead, he'll hook up at a random toilet with a glory hole, where he'll jack off most cocks that come through the hole. While waiting for the next cock to line up, he'll do his school work. He picks up Bernd at the local theater when he's trying to get in for the "late" show, which probably means hooking up in the balconies. But, instead, he gets Bernd to go home with him on the first night.

Bernd's desire for domestic bliss contrasts heavily with Ripploh's desire for sexual freedom. While this is presented as a very personal intimate problem, the schism between the two men resemble the larger culture war that has happened in gay culture, which I remember talking about in college. Namely the difference between the queer radical lifestyle, and how that contrasts with the domestic acceptance that other queers desire. Is Frank justified in being able to randomly pick up a dude and bring him home to play with, even as Bernd comes home and helplessly watches through a broken window in the door? Or, is Bernd correct in that the domestic bliss should be the ideal lifestyle for queers and heteros alike?

The socially conservative/liberal schism has been especially loud around the time of gay pride parades, which is largely seen as the face that the queer community puts on to the heteronormative community. The pride parades used to be filled with every expression of sexuality that one could imagine. Though, now, at least in the major North American cities, the pride parades are hours-long drones of commercials for local companies with people dressed in shorts and t-shirts. But, in between the commercials, we still have the radicals who tie up guys to the front of trucks to flog their ass, and, in Seattle at least, we still open with the topless dykes on bikes.

Ithas been commented that this behavior is fuel for the conservatives to say that gays are deviants, don't you see what they wear in publc??  And, sometimes it comes to "is it hurting anybody?" And, in Bernd's case, it does hurt him. Taxi Zum Klo doesn't set to make a hero out of either Ripploh or Bernd. Bernd detests even the Queen's Ball, and storms out to go to a random farm in order to hug a goat out of the need for affection. But, one can't help feel sorry for Bernd when Ripploh can be such a dick to Bernd, even having a big fight with him because Bernd made him dinner. Ripploh, fighting the domestic life tooth and nail, can be the selfish asshole that can be the deviant side of the lifestyle.

Out of all this chaos, Frank Ripploh has created a document of a specific time and era that speaks truths across the decades. The issues that Ripploh and Bernd deal with still exist in modern relationships. The lifestyle Ripploh leads can be found in all sorts of neighborhoods. Taxi Zum Klo doesn't make itself a period piece except by film stock and style. Everything Taxi Zum Klo comments on is a universal feeling that will still exists even as the cultural walls finally crumble.

No comments:

Post a Comment