An Interview with Rosa von Praunheim
“In terms of openness, a lot has changed”
Self-confidence, courageous commitment and his film “It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives” (Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt) made Rosa von Praunheim a pioneer of the German gay movement in the early 1970s. The director, author and former film school professor shook up West Germany with his outing actions and made numerous, mainly queer films.
Mr. von Praunheim, a certain pleasure in provocation and breaking taboos runs through your whole career. You triggered considerable controversy in the early 1990s by outing celebrities such as Hape Kerkeling and Alfred Biolek on a TV show. Would you do such things again?
Outing was then a big thing. You can’t do something like that alone, but only with others, and that’s very difficult because I’m a loner really. But I certainly enjoyed it. I’ve made a film about David Berger, a gay religion teacher who was kicked out of his job, and tell how many gay Catholic priests there are. It would make sense to out gays in the Church. But that’s not for me to do. It’s a job for others.
How do you see outings today?
I think it changed journalism in a very positive way. Back then the media reported about gays only in connection with AIDS deaths, crime and what not. Suddenly, gays were presented quite normally in the press, without making a problem of them. That was a big improvement.
In “It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives” from 1971, your criticism was also aimed at the gay scene, from which you called for more commitment and struggle. What has changed since then?
Rosa von Praunheim – Pleasure in provocation | Photo: rosavonpraunheim.de One of the demands was that you should out yourself, be open about your homosexuality and talk about it in your circle of friends, with your parents, at the job. In terms of openness, a lot has changed. I think that many people now grow up more naturally with their gayness – supported by the internet, by gay groups and so on. This of course doesn’t apply to everyone. But because the social climate has changed, a large percentage can now live in their relationships more freely and openly.
Queer themes and strong womanOn the occasion of your 70th birthday, you’ve launched a mammoth project – “Rosa’s World”, with 70 new short films. Many revolve around queer themes, but you also devote some to strong woman. Why is it that in the course of your career you’re films have repeatedly concerned themselves with older women, ranging from Lotti Huber to Evelyn Künecke?
It began with my Aunt Lucie, who played in Die Bettwurst (i.e., The Bed Potato) and became famous because, with her wonderful naivety, directness and honesty, she embodied a very different type of woman from that which had been previously known in film. I’m interested in older woman particularly because with them you have an erotic, but not a sexual, relation, and because between them and gay men there is often a wonderful solidarity. Perhaps also because we mutually esteem each other and both belong to minorities that are discriminated against by hetero men.
You haven’t yet had a big commercial hit. What does success mean to you?
Success is everything. But success also means when someone takes up your work. Or when someone tells me that he likes one of the poems I write everyday. Or when a couple of viewers go to the movie theater to watch one of my films. Naturally, it would be great if a thousand or ten thousand people would go to see one of my films, or if hundreds of thousands saw one on TV. But you grow humbler with time, because you know how difficult it is to prevail in this media circus. You’ve been very lucky if you managed to do anything at all.
Rosa then and nowThe cartoonist Ralf König, to whom you recently devoted a documentary portrait “König des Comics” (i.e., King of the Comics), is also very successful with a heterosexual public. How do you account for that?
I think it’s the humor that makes it easier for straights to love gay life. Moreover, his comics and my films aren’t moralistic, but rather about everyday observations that could just as well apply to heterosexuals.
In the past your films and your commitment have initiated a good deal. Is there anything about which you’re particularly proud?
I don’t really know what to think about being “proud”. I’m happy that in my old age it’s been given me to continue working. My consciousness is focused more on the present and the future. The past and what I’ve done doesn’t really belong to me.
If you compare the Rosa of the early years with the Rosa of today, how much has he changed and how much has stayed the same?
I can’t say. I feel more like a seven year old. I notice this in the drawings I do. In them there’s something that was in me very early on and which I didn’t develop. So in this sense I’ve stayed the same. Very infantile. And that’s a wonderful feeling.