Jump-starting Gay Pride Month, Anthology’s 12-film tribute to Rosa von Praunheim, Germany’s chief lavender menace, will render the pseudo-provocations of next month’s Brüno moot. 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). A Brechtian soap opera with endlessly quotable narration, It Is Not savages gay-male self-destruction and the pathological need to fit into bourgeois culture: “Faggots don’t want to be faggots. They don’t want to be different. They live in a dream world of glossy magazines and Hollywood movies,” intones the first of several increasingly hysterical, thickly Teutonic voices, before this utopian call-to-arms is sounded: “Let’s work together with the blacks and women’s liberation. Get involved politically. Being gay is not a career.”
Less strident, Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts (1978) finds RVP touring the U.S., trying to take the pulse of the still relatively young gay-and-lesbian movement. The director is inundated with homo-rights’-group acronyms—GLF, GAA, DOB, NGTF—and asks a series of ridiculously earnest questions, including “What does it mean to be a lesbian?” Ever the optimistic firebrand, von Praunheim suggests that “making the private public” might be the best way to unify the increasingly fractured queer community, letting his students at the San Francisco Art Institute film him having sex with a porn actor.
Von Praunheim patiently queries a homo Hitler-lover in Army of Lovers, a subject he returned to on his home turf in Men, Heroes & Gay Nazis (2005). “We gay men are drawn toward a masculine ideal,” notes one far-right zealot. “I can’t stand a screaming queen.”
Fag fascists may wish to destroy the feminine, but von Praunheim wants to celebrate it, as he does in several films devoted to extraordinary ladies. Fassbinder’s Women (2000) fascinatingly reveals how actresses Irm Hermann and Barbara Valentin were sucked into the wretched genius’s manipulations, while Hanna Schygulla and Brigitte Mira largely avoided them. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, the cheery transvestite sexagenarian featured in I Am My Own Woman (1992), escaped even more perilous circumstances: a ferociously abusive father, the Third Reich, East German repression. But the most magnificent, inimitable fräulein is the zaftig subject of Tally Brown, New York (1979)—a must-see for all those interested in performance and the cultural history of New York in the ’70s. The bewigged Miss Brown, with false eyelashes capable of sending her short, round body aloft, is the most mesmerizing raconteur and cabaret artist you’ll hear all year. Opening the film with her indelible cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Tally concludes with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” performing that song’s line—”You’re not alone!/Give me your hands”—as a rallying cry far more rousing than several decades’ worth of tepid gay-rights chants.
You are in luck: Rosa von Praunheim will perform live at Anthology on June 6