Tag Archives: gay rights

A Virus Has No Morals (1986)

“Mother, what are you doing here? You were always a bit eccentric, but I didn’t realise that you were so perverse.”

A son meets his mother in a public toilet. Nurses on the graveyard shift throw the dice to see which AIDS patient will die next. A virologist uses dildos to demonstrate the effects of AIDS. This all happens in A Virus Has No Morals (AKA Ein Virus Kennt Keine Moral), Rosa von Praunheim’s satire about AIDS. A satire about AIDS!!!! Yes, you read that correctly. There are probably only a handful of directors who could pull this off successfully (John Waters leaps to mind). Rosa von Praunheim is a renegade German director who’s made a number of documentaries about AIDS, and his gay activism brought him death threats in his native Germany. Only someone with von Praunheim’s reputation as a fierce, unrelenting defender of gay rights could make this film and get away with it.

As its title suggests, A Virus Has No Morals argues that AIDS does not discriminate when it comes to infection (i.e. it’s not sent by some deity as a punishment). But when the film begins, we see several moral authorities who have various twisted beliefs about AIDS. The film’s moral authorities include: virologist, Dr. Blood, a therapist (Regina Rudnick) who believes that AIDS is psychosomatic, and a reporter (Eva Kurz) for the sleazy tabloid Purple Pages. Of course, their smug attitudes grant them a certain comfort. After all, if they are fine, upstanding, moral people, then they can’t have anything to worry about….

On the other side of the fence, in the face of infection, there are many who still think they are invulnerable–including a sauna owner (played by von Praunheim). He sees AIDS as detrimental to business, and he tries to dream up social events to encourage business.

By showing the entire spectrum of those involved one way or another with AIDS, von Praunheim illustrates the social dynamic of the disease. There are those who make money off of AIDS by sensationalizing it (the Purple Pagesreporter), and those who promise ‘cures’ (the therapist). Outraged by the “fascist medical regime,” a caring nurse forms a revolutionary group called AIDS (Angry, Sick, and Impotent Direct Action). Meanwhile as paranoia runs unchecked in the country, the Minister of Health draws up plans to start shipping AIDS patients to “ideal isolation” on an island for Quarantine. here AIDS patients will exist in a “post modern viral infection park,” with its own condom factory.

A Virus Has No Morals isn’t von Praunheim’s best film (my favourites are Neurosia and Anita: Dances of Vice), but it is typical von Praunheim fare–very colourful outrageous, and complete with a savage, riotous wit. Somehow, when I watch his films, I have the sensation that the situation is barely under control, but at the same time, it’s obvious that von Praunheim is having a great time making his films. Take for example, the sequences of von Praunheim’s version of Masque of the Red Death, scenes that are interjected into the middle of the film. It’s all von Praunheim madness and marvellous mayhem, and if you are a von Praunheim fan, you won’t mind a bit.

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Neurosia (1995)

 “This was Rosa von Praunheim’s favourite public convenience.”

neurosiaNeurosia: 50 years of Perversion (AKA Neurosia: Who Killed Rosa von Praunheim?, Neurosia-50 Jahre Pervers) is a hilarious, original and bold film from German director Rosa von Praunheim. When the film begins, von Praunheim–in a pink tuxedo–takes the stage and presents his film biography to a booing, hissing audience. He argues that while most people wait until someone is dead or in a coma before making a biographical film of a subject, he decided to film his own story while he is still alive and gorgeous. As he stands in the spotlight, he is shot, there’s a police raid, and after the pandemonium recedes, von Praunheim’s body disappears.

Nosy television journalist, Gesine Ganzmann-Seipel (Desiree Nick) is assigned a series investigating von Praunheim’s murder. Disapproving of von Praunheim’s lifestyle, she starts poking into the infamous director’s past, fingering through his personal belongings, befriending his mother, his auntie and interviewing a legion of complaining ex-lovers. The film is peppered with colourful characters–including actors who claim they’ve been ripped off by von Praunheim, a transvestite who conducts a mock funeral (only two people attend), and a hairdresser whose naked torso sports only sparkles and bizarre body jewelry. (The hairdresser’s poodle–by the way–is better dressed than his owner).

As Gesine investigates and presents her series on von Praunheim, she’s prone to her own imagination and the exaggeration of stereotyping. Her quest to discover the truth takes her from the public toilets of Berlin, to a dream journey through the New York club scene, and finally into the devious heart of the notorious and decadent Pink Army Faction. Gesine concludes that “everything sick, driven, and degenerate fascinated” von Praunheim and the consensus of the German film industry is that this renegade director–whose 50+ films are “all amateurish, naive, and appallingly dilettantish” will “go to hell for the bad films he made.”

While Neurosia: 50 Years of Perversion is extremely funny, there’s also a serious thread through the film. It’s practically impossible here to separate the truth from the rumours that abound regarding von Praunheim–“Germany’s most hated homosexual.” The film includes footage of von Praunheim–one of Germany’s leading Gay Rights activists–in New York in the 70s. And there are clips of Andy Warhol, Divine and various Gay Rights parades. Von Praunheim certainly doesn’t let the gravity of the subject of Gay Liberation detract from the merriment he clearly has as he makes fun of his own life and reputation. If you are a fan of von Praunheim, then you must see this film. It’s a wonderful, bizarre blend of fact and fiction, modesty and hyperbole, reality and fantasy. Von Praunheim pulls out all the stops in this marvelous film–hijacking the negative aspects of his life (such as hate mail and death threats), and making it part of his own hilarious, unique history. Few directors could subsume their ego to art in quite the fashion he does, and the final scene–including its big musical number is proof of exactly how far he’ll go for a laugh. Bravo, Rosa! In German with English subtitles.

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