The late writer/director Frank Ripploh’s outstanding film “Taxi zum Klo” was a milestone in queer cinema when it was first released in 1980 and has lost none of its excitement or impact over time. The film screens 7 p.m. March 9 at the Lightbox Film Center (formerly International House).
Frank (Ripploh) opens the film with pictures of Tom of Finland, Oscar Wilde and other queer icons and symbols to establish his fervent gay pride. He speaks in a voiceover, describing himself as a “normal, jaded, neurotic, polymorphously perverse” 30-year-old gay teacher. He invites the audience to go cruising with him. The first shot of Frank is a close-up of his naked ass as he rolls out of bed.
To say the character — and Ripploh, himself, as “Taxi zum Klo” is semi-autobiographical — is brazen and unapologetic about sexuality is an understatement. The film features many explicit scenes, from a glory-hole sequence and a tryst involving water sports to Frank enjoying an S&M spanking, putting on a cock ring, performing and receiving fellatio, getting an ass massage and even receiving a rectal exam.
The many raunchy scenes are all presented candidly, but they are actually quite tender and sweet. Ripploh’s purpose is to depict his gay life realistically and without shame. If the writer/director/star can endure these pleasurable, painful and embarrassing onscreen moments, so too should audiences. That Ripploh normalized his very-queer life on screen back in 1980 only makes “Taxi zum Klo” more significant.
While the film’s unambiguous content provided homophobes with fodder for attacking irresponsible, hedonistic and stereotypical gay life at the time of its initial release, Ripploh made this romantic comedy-drama in the pre-AIDS era — and when images of non-fatal queer life on screen were especially rare.
The film has an episodic quality to it. Frank keeps his professional and personal life separate as he goes from encounter to encounter. One evening, he meets Bernd (Bernd Broaderup) at a cinema and they return to Frank’s apartment for some tender sex and what becomes the foundation for cohabitation and a possibly stable relationship. However, Bernd is a homebody who wants to live in the country, and Frank is perpetually horny and restless. He sees the city as his sexual playground. Their different personalities are displayed in a scene where Frank gets up early to exercise naked in bed, literally hopping back and forth over Bernd, who is trying to sleep. Their romance expectedly suffers ups and downs, and Bernd seethes quietly whenever Frank routinely picks up guys for hot sex.
“Taxi zum Klo” makes both characters sympathetic in that the film justifies Frank’s desire to have as many partners as he can (and endure the health risks that come with it, like VD and hepatitis) and Bernd’s desire to settle down. Frank, however, becomes rather unlikable in his selfish desire for an open relationship. He is insensitive toward Bernd, admonishing him for not joining in a threesome or for finding his own lover. To his credit, Frank acknowledges that he loves Bernd, even if he can’t always stand living with him.
“Taxi zum Klo” sides with Frank because Ripploh relishes depicting his sexual encounters. From his flirtation with a hunky gas-station attendant, to his cruising a leather daddy outside a toilet, or his kissing and dancing with a handsome horse groomer at a drag ball, Frank is attracted to almost every handsome man he meets. His uninhibited nature in his sexual activities is refreshing. Ripploh does not shy away from presenting copious nudity and sex. Moreover, these erotic moments — and some of them are very, very erotic — reinforce Frank’s comfort in his own skin and his empowerment as a gay man.
The film does include one lengthy sequence that seems a bit regrettable, perhaps being a bit too on-the-nose. It involves Frank tutoring a student, who jumps into his teacher’s lap to play “horsey” while Bernd screens a film about the dangers of pedophiles for a drag queen in the next room. A later scene, when Ripploh arrives at his classroom in full drag, is better at depicting Frank interacting with youth as he expresses a part of himself to his students and creates anarchy.
Ripploh’s performance is extraordinary, not just in what he portrays on screen regarding the sexuality and nudity, but also for the tremendous emotion he generates. For him, the personal is political, and he is unabashed about it. In support, Broaderup gives a nuanced, sensitive performance in what could have been a thankless role. The various gents that Frank has trysts with are all quite sexy and shameless, adding to the film’s fun.
Decades after it was made, “Taxi zum Klo” remains a remarkable achievement. Don’t miss it.