Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reel Thoughts: German Exhibitionism

It’s hard to imagine what American audiences thought in 1981 when they got a look at Frank Ripploh’s explosively explicit film Taxi Zum Klo, which translates as “Taxi to the Toilets”. Thirty years later, in an uncensored director’s cut now on DVD, Ripploh’s semi-autobiographical tale of a closeted teacher by day who leads a sexually-uninhibited life at night is just as shocking and liberating as it was then. Of course, AIDS had yet to decimate the population, and the action takes place when there was still a West Berlin. Still, the candid way that Ripploh shows his character’s insatiable appetite for sex, even after he finds a ‘safe’ and loving partner resonates at a time when a greater number of men are engaging in high-risk behavior.

Taxi Zum Klo is more than just a fascinating time capsule and by far the most explicit gay film I have ever seen. It presents Frank without judgment while giving everyone who watches it the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Frank’s visits to bathhouses and cruisy toilets are beginning to interfere with his school job; he even accidentally writes a prospective trick’s phone number in a student’s dictation book.


Then he meets Bernd (Bernd Broaderup), a movie theater clerk who starts off as a one-night stand but stays. Many people will recognize themselves in the sweetly naïve Bernd, who assumes that Frank wants the same life in the country he craves. Finding Frank with another man and watching the two have sex is a bit of a wake-up call for Bernd, but Frank is unapologetic. Frank, too, has to face whether he likes the life he’s living, or if he’s reached the critical point where health issues, coming out to his students and the thought of losing Bernd will cause a change of heart.

Taxi Zum Klo is extremely sexual, but not very erotic. The men are hairy and average looking, but the intensity is alluring nonetheless. This film caused a historic change in the way gay films and gay life were portrayed on screen, and you’ll find it just as powerful to watch in 2011 as it was in 1981.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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