GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Taxi Zum Klo
Unrated, 98 minutes
I am always pleased when an older classic debuts on DVD, especially when it gets the 30th anniversary special edition treatment that it deserves. I have a long history with the groundbreaking 1981 German film, Taxi Zum Klo. In 1982, I was 24 years old and cocooned in the closet. Gay themed films in the movie theaters were virtually non-existent but two movies about being gay played at the same time in Buffalo that year. The first, Making Love, was a mainstream Hollywood release which played at theaters everywhere. The second, Germany's Taxi Zum Klo, was screened at the old Allendale Theatre when it was still a foreign film house. Making Love, ground-breaking as it was, treated its subject with kid gloves, while Taxi Zum Klo, unfettered by studio restraints, emerged as a truly radical movie.
|A favorable review in the late, lamented Courier Express perked my interest but the description of the plot scared me off. Still struggling with my sexuality at that point, the film sounded like it might be my worst nightmare. I was hung up on "masculinity" issues and the picture of a bearded man wearing a dress did nothing to assuage my fears. I was also still reeling from my experience at Making Love because the audience had screamed and laughed throughout the film. I would regret my decision for a long time; I did not see Taxi Zum Klo until ten years later when I finally found a copy for rent at a local indie video store that specialized in hard-to-find foreign titles (the also late, lamented Mondo Video). Films like this were anathema to Blockbuster Video back then.|
To this day, I am still stunned that Taxi Zum Klo was actually made in 1981, let alone released internationally. Taxi Zum Klo is everything that Making Love was not. There was no attempt at being politically correct and nothing was toned down for the straights in the audience. Taxi Zum Klo (which translates as Taxi to the Toilet), was the brainchild of the late Frank Ripploh, who wrote, directed, and starred. His autobiographical film presents the simple tale of a promiscuous gay man and offers no apologies for his behavior. "Do you want to come with me on my adventures?" he asks the audience during the opening shot, as the camera pans down a wall dotted with family pictures, religious icons, advertisements, Tom of Finland drawings and S&M photographs. "Don't be afraid if I take you along to public restrooms or the baths."
|Frank, also known in the film as "Peggy," is a school teacher in Berlin, Germany. He is also an amateur filmmaker. Our first view of Frank is a close-up of his hairy butt as he wakes up in the morning. Like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Ripploh endears his character to the audience through a time honored tradition: slapstick comedy. Naked, he strolls out of his apartment to steal his neighbor's newspaper. When he is locked out, he is forced to knock on his neighbor's door and then climb, still naked, across his balcony to get back home. On the way to school, he cruises a gas station attendant and writes down his phone number in one of his student's dictation books. After school, he grades his pupils' papers as he sits in a public toilet while a man in the next stall offers him his penis through a glory hole. While driving home he thinks about the Chilean Solidarity Meeting he was supposed to attend and decides to go to the baths instead.|
|At a movie theater he meets and falls for Bernd (Ripploh's real-life lover, Bernd Broaderup). Bernd, who longs for a monogamous relationship, moves in with Frank. Bernd's presence does nothing to curb Frank's sexual appetite. He comes home one afternoon to find Frank in bed with some rough trade. When confronted, Frank says "When I walk down the street it is an adventure for me. It's my domain and things sometimes happen. I don't want to be Joe Normal. Next time you join in, understand?" In a later scene, Bernd visits Frank in the hospital like a dutiful wife. When he leaves, Frank throws on a robe, hails a taxi, and takes it to a public toilet for a quickie.|
|Despite his overactive libido, Frank does love Bernd. "When I'm old, will I still be so restless?" he asks himself. "I'm afraid of becoming some old fag who hangs around urinals." While he seems heartless at times, other scenes show him visiting his mother, helping a battered woman who shows up at his doorstop, and bowling with his fellow teachers. His stormy relationship with Bernd isn't defined entirely in sexual terms. They experience the same problems as any couple might. Frank wants to live in the city, Bernd in the country on a farm. Bernd gets angry when Frank doesn't eat the dinner that he just cooked for him. When Frank flirts with a young man at a costume ball, Bernd reacts as any devoted but ignored spouse would.|
|Making Love attempted to sanitize homosexuality for a mass audience. Taxi Zum Klo, on the other hand, is almost a celebration of pre-AIDS promiscuity. Unbound by the Hollywood restraints that Making Love's screenwriter surely faced, Ripploh was able to present his uncensored vision on celluloid. Ripploh is hardly a role model, nevertheless his portrayal is an honest and refreshing one. Frank grows marijuana, drops acid, snorts cocaine, and seizes any opportunity to engage in fast sex. While Making Love shocked audiences with a male-to-male kiss and a short embrace in bed, Taxi Zum Klo's sex scenes are almost as explicit as a porn flick. A lot of the sex is also quite kinky. There are a close-ups of oral sex, there's leather and a bit of S&M. There's even a golden shower!|
|As cinema, Taxi Zum Klo is hardly perfect. Its low budget is apparent but this is not a flaw. There are a few clever visual nods to classic films, Cabaret for one. Occasionally Ripploh cuts in old, scratchy, footage of "blue movies" to mock the action onscreen. There is a spontaneity to the movie that is as infectious as the early works of Godard and Truffaut. The characters' lives are aimless, and Ripploh allows the camera to meander from one episode to the next, documenting the more "carefree" days that existed before the AIDS crisis. For all its daring, one never gets the impression that Ripploh is out to shock his audience. He simply presents his life as it is and makes no bones about it. Instead, he merely explains during the opening voice-over that he is a "normal, tired, neurotic, polymorphous perverse teacher."|
|There is a cute cartoon reproduced in Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet that shows two men reading a film magazine. "Listen to this," one says, "Taxi Zum Klo outgrosses Ordinary People!" The other disbelieves him and reads it too. It really says "Taxi Zum Klo grosses out ordinary people." I'm sure it did and that is why I commend the film's sublime anarchy and tip my hat to the director for his cajones. The film was a true original. Sentimentality goes out the window when we see Frank pissing a heart in the snow to show his love for Bernd. Their requisite cute montage sequence looks more like The Beatles romping in that playground in A Hard Day's Night than it does Love Story. For all its outrageousness, the film also never forgets to be dramatic. The ending is actually pretty heavy.|
|I couldn't help noticing that this film shares something with a few of the other early groundbreakers. Like 1974's A Very Natural Thing and 1978's Nighthawks, Taxi Zum Klo features a protagonist who is a school teacher. The 1989 Berlin film Coming Out would also spotlight a teacher. Taxi Zum Klo and Nighthawks both follow a promiscuous anti-hero and each climaxes with a scene in the classroom where the students find out their teacher is a pouf.|
Much of this essay has been based on my original write-up that was published in Outcome back in 1998 I had paired it with a review of Making Love and compared the two. (It was one of my first film reviews.) Watching the film again all these years later has been a pure pleasure. I am still surprised at how explicit the film was for its day. Its unapologetic tone is equally impressive - there are no coming out issues; there are no whining self loathing queens. The DVD sports a beautiful restored print and Taxi Zum Klo has never looked better. Extras include video footage of the controversy that swirled around Ripploh winning the 1981 Max Ophuls Award for Taxi Zum Klo, and an interview with that the director gave for the release of the film's 1989 sequel, Taxi Nach Kairo.
Taxi Zum Klo broke new ground and remains one of queer cinema's most important titles. It helped pave the way for a new wave of independent films that eventually led to the current era of gay treatments (both good and bad) in mainstream movies.
found this picture of Ripploh in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Querelle.
googling Ripploh's name, I discovered that he also appeared with Fassbinder
in Kamikaze 89 and
as Peggy von Schnottgenberg in two of his fellow countryman Rosa
Von Praunheim's films, Axel von Auersperg
(1974) and Monolog
Eines Stars (1975.)
DVD is available from Breaking Glass Pictures and be ordered by clicking