“I’m not even sure I’m here.”
I’d like to think that there are at least a dozen people on the planet who enjoyed Anita–Dances of Vice (Anita-Tanze des Lasters) as much as I did. With a ‘John Waters Meets German Silent Film Expressionism’ approach, director Rosa von Praunheim explores the brief and wild life of the notorious actress/dancer, Anita Berber. In scandalous no-holds barred Weimar Berlin, Berber was considered the wildest and most excessive of them all. Berber–who was addicted to numerous substances–died of Tuberculosis in 1928. Von Praunheim’s brilliant, provocative film begins on the streets of modern Berlin as the plump, elderly Frau Kutowski (Lotti Huber) begins stripping in front of an appalled–yet fascinated–crowd. The tubby old lady (who looks remarkably like an escapee from a John Waters film) loudly proclaims that she’s Anita Berber, and she takes off her clothes to prove it. She ends up in a mental hospital still insisting she’s the infamous dancer.
Scenes flash back and forth between Anita Berber’s life in the 20s and Frau Kutowski in the mental hospital. Von Praunheim takes an interesting approach–the scenes of Anita’s life in the 20s are conducted in silent film fashion. There are no spoken words–just the text at the bottom of the screen, and the scenes are announced in silent film style. Unlike silent film, however, the scenes of Anita’s life are shot in bold colour–scarlet ostrich plumes, turquoise beads, purple silks, but the actors (even though they are filmed in colour) still carry the silent film look–heavy eye makeup, and all the action is accompanied by strident piano music. Anita (Ina Blum) is shown performing her scandalous nude dances of Vice, Horror and Ecstasy, turning to prostitution to support her habits, whooping it up with lover Droste (Mikael Honesseau), and smashing champagne bottles over the heads of audience members.
Scenes depicting the madness and decadence of the 20s are in stark contrast to the sections depicting the sterility of the mental hospital. The mental hospital represents the depository of German ideology, and in one scene Decadence (Anita/Kutowski) clashes with Marxism (a patient who thinks she’s Rosa Luxemburg). Frau Kutowski almost causes a riot when she incites the patients with one of her dances, and when the staff threatens to sedate her, she is delighted by the prospect and begins demanding stronger stuff. Accosting the orderlies, and molesting the doctors, she claims, “My revolution is to smash all restraints.”
Adding to the film’s complications, the actress playing Anita Berber also plays Frau Kutowski’s nurse, and the actor playing Droste also plays the role of the doctor. This little known film from German director Rosa von Praunheim is a gloriously creative, surrealistic masterpiece–but with its avant-garde approach and emphasis on the grotesque and the bizarre, it’s not for all tastes. With a great performance by Lotti Huber, Anita: Dances of Vice is in German with English subtitles.