“The Gay Left”: Homosexuality in the Era of Late Socialism

Date Film Time
2/3 WR: Mysteries of the Organism 7 pm
2/10 It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives 7 pm
2/24 Egymásra Nézve [Another Way] 7 pm
3/3 The Raspberry Reich 7 pm

In an East Berlin gay bar in 1989, an old man explains his commitment to the communist party’s project of equality after World War II: “We stopped mankind’s exploitation by mankind. Now it does not matter if the person you work with is a Jew or whatever. Except gays. They were forgotten somehow.” The only official film from the German Democratic Republic dealing with homosexuality, Coming Out, by Heiner Carow, ends with these lines. Similarly, this film series asks how the ideologies of communism, socialism, and capitalism address sexual minorities. Including work from both sides of the Iron Curtain, “The Gay Left” brings multiple perspectives and historical moments into conversation in order to fight against forgetting.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

Friday, February 3, 2017 7:00 PM
(Dušan Makavejev, 1971, Yugoslavia, 35mm, 84 min.)

WR stands for Wilhelm Reich—the controversial Austrian psychotherapist who believed in a transindividual sexual energy called “orgone.” Reich sought to combine Marxist theory and psychoanalysis, arguing that individual neuroses were a product of socioeconomic oppression, and could be cured through orgasm. Dušan Makavejev’s playful 1971 film mixes biographical information about Reich, documentary footage of some of his last remaining disciples in the United States, and an off-kilter narrative following a militant Yugoslavian woman as she proselytizes Reich’s theories. An example of the “Black Wave” of Yugoslavian filmmaking, WR: Mysteries of the Organism was accused of deriding the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and was banned for sixteen years. And if the words “ideologically harmful” don’t pique your interest alone, then perhaps you can be seduced by the prospect of plaster casts of erections, the absurd seduction of a Soviet celebrity figure skater, undue decapitations, and a whole lot of free love.

Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation in der er lebt [It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives]

Friday, February 10, 2017 7:00 PM
(Rosa von Praunheim, 1971, W. Germany, 16mm, 67 min.)

In this classic of queer cinema Rosa von Praunheim dissects the landscape of gay West Germany. A Brechtian Bildungsroman, the film tells the story of a young gay man who, dissatisfied with his bourgeois monogamous relationship, begins to explore different social scenes and subcultures. He makes his way from effete salons to bohemian cafés to nighttime trysts with leather daddies until finally reaching political consciousness among a group of polyamorous radicals. The film’s call to action—“out of the toilets and into the streets!”—was remarkably effective. It was after a screening of this film in 1971 that the first gay rights organization formed in West Berlin, heralding a new era of public visibility and political agitation among gays and lesbians.

Followed by

Max (Monika Treut, 1992, USA, digital, 29 min.)

German lesbian filmmaker Monika Treut’s short documentary is a candid and intimate portrait of a transman. Much like Rosa von Praunheim’s film, Max explores the performance of gender and sexuality, but it also provides a corrective to the earlier film’s restricted perspective on gay cismale sociality. Treut was a pivotal figure in the so-called “sex wars”: debates among feminists about pornography, sex work, BDSM, and transgenderism. While many conservative feminists railed against what they understood to be the inherent patriarchal foundation of these issues, Treut was among those who argued for sex positivity and fought for the rights of sex workers and trans people.

Egymásra Nézve [Another Way]

Friday, February 24, 2017 7:00 PM
(Károly Makk, 1982, Hungary, DCP, 102 min.)
Set in 1958, Another Way follows Éva, an idealistic journalist fighting to expose the abuses of the state. Éva falls in love with her beautiful coworker Lívia, who, unfortunately, is married to a brutish officer in the Hungarian army. Produced while Hungary was part of the Soviet bloc, led by the communist János Kádár, Károly Makk's film tackles two taboo subjects simultaneously: political repression and sexual oppression. Not only was Another Way the first mainstream Hungarian film to deal with lesbianism, it was also the first film to call the 1956 political resistance to Soviet occupation a “revolution,” rather than using the officially-sanctioned term “counter-revolution.” Whether or not the sexual theme was a smokescreen for the subversive political content, Another Way gathered a cult following among Hungarian lesbians during the Cold War. The screenplay was written by the Hungarian writer Erzsébet Galgóczi, based on her loosely autobiographical 1980 novella Within the Law [Törvényen belül].

The Raspberry Reich

Friday, March 3, 2017 7:00 PM FREE
(Bruce LaBruce, 2004, Germany, digital, 90 minutes)

The Raspberry Reich, directed by the bad boy of Canadian queer independent cinema, hearkens back to the radical politics and terrorist actions of the Red Army Faction, militant communists who turned theory into practice in West Berlin in the 1970s. The film follows a group of present-day militants who think of themselves as the “sixth generation” of the RAF. Their leader, Gudrun, makes her strand of feminism clear early on when she tosses Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway into the trash in favor of The Communist Manifesto and Wilhelm Reich’s The Sexual Revolution. She encourages her male comrades to liberate themselves from their heterosexuality and “join the homosexual intifada.” Shot in a deliberately propagandistic style, the film is satirical and sexy. The protagonists fellate shotguns, scandalize their bourgeois neighbors by screwing in the elevator, and eventually kidnap the son of a wealthy industrialist in order to turn him, Patty-Hearst-style, into one of their own.

Preceeded by

A Few Howls Again (Silvia Kolbowski, 2008-9, USA, digital, 11 min.)
In A Few Howls Again, contemporary US-based artist Silvia Kolbowski uncannily brings to life the infamous press photograph of RAF revolutionary Ulrike Meinhof dead in her prison cell. This short video examines the legacy of radical militancy, using the past to interrogate the present. The piece is typically shown on a loop in a gallery context alongside its companion piece, Like a Clap of Thunder, which similarly awakens the Marxist Rosa Luxemburg. A martyr like Meinhof, Luxemburg was killed by government paramilitary troops in 1919 for her revolutionary activism.