Taxi Zum Klorecommended viewing

Priceless historical artifact
Frank Ripploh
Frank Ripploh, Bernd Broaderup, Orpha Termin
The Setup: 
Drama about a gay dude who fools around and his lover who wants fidelity.

This is a German film from 1980, and enjoyed quite a reputation for a while as one of the few gay-focused films in existence, and one of the few among them that concerned itself with macho leather guys and management of day-to-day gay relationships, as opposed to delivery of "gay is okay" messages. The title is translated as "Taxi To the Toilets," which is something we will see enacted in the film. This is also one of the few German gay films, allowing us a little view into the gay scene of Berlin in the early 80s, and is written and directed by this guy Frank Ripploh, who plays a character named Frank Ripploh and is also a teacher and amateur filmmaker, as he is in the movie. His boyfriend, Bernd, is also played by a man named Bernd.

And now--more context. Context for the kids. So in the 70s, gays and gay activity was obviously far less accepted, and among the few opportunities for gays to meet were public parks and restrooms. This film invites us to believe that this was much more of a reality in Germany, where even now the majority of gay bars are just places to take a break from the back room, where anonymous sex is happening. And around that time and continuing through the 90s, there were those who considered public and anonymous sex to be gays' heritage and right, and considered what some call promiscuity to be one of the defining characteristics of gayness itself.

So we open with a bulletin board which has shots of men and Tom of Finland-type pictures mixed in with tickets and postcards and other mementos, as a voice-over talks about being thirty and gay in Berlin. We then join Frank, who is examining himself naked before the mirror. The reality that this movie isn't going to shy away from bodily realities is delivered when Frank is on the toilet, is out of paper, and jumps over into the bath to clean his ass.

We see him go to school, where he teaches kids about ten years old, and has them write about being lucky, and unlucky. After school, he goes to a public toilet, which is entirely full of guys cruising (being lucky and unlucky). He rejects one guy, but then sucks the dick of another guy through a glory hole. Yes indeed, you are seeing cocks and sucking. In here we have cutaways to vintage porn films. We find out that Frank's gay friends call him Peggy.

One night Frank goes to the movies too late for the last show, and meets mustachioed sweetie Bernd. The go back to Frank's, and it's a little confusing because suddenly Bernd has moved in, and by the time the next scene happens, it seems like it's still the same night, but it may be months or weeks later. A woman bangs on their door in the middle of the night, escaping from an abusive man. Frank and Bernd discuss whether to take her in or direct her to a women's shelter, whether she'll be okay or whether she's an addict and will just repeat her same patterns again.

Frank learns that he accidentally jotted down a trick's number in a student's homework. He picks up a guy and takes him home, whereupon we see actual cocksucking, fucking, and cumming, which can be a little jarring (especially as this is available to anyone of any age with a Netflix streaming subscription!). Bernd gets home and hears them, watching through a window. He and Frank later have a talk about it, with Bernd arguing for fidelity and Frank arguing that fidelity is not who he is, and that rather than getting upset, Bernd should "join in next time."

Frank is concerned that the trick he just had gave him a venereal disease, and mulls over the issues with Bernd as he is driving, which is where he does his thinking. He goes to the doctor, where he chats with a prostitute who graphically discusses the realities of her profession, which Frank finds fascinating but turns off some others in the waiting room. He then goes into the doctor and you do indeed see quite a bit more than you may wish to see, as Frank gets a rectal exam on camera.

Then Frank has an old friend over, who is in drag, and they reminisce about the old times. Frank leaves the drag queen with Bernd while he goes and tutors a young boy in the next room. Meanwhile, Bernd and the drag queen watch an educational film about the dangers of male child molesters. The student doesn't want to study and is a bit flirty with Frank, while one is uncomfortable with him being there with the others and the film in the next room, and the whole thing is meant to examine the issue of kids being inadvertently exposed to teacher's sex lives, and the rightness or wrongness about that. This is emphasized a bit later as a girl student notes that Frank jotted down a trick's phone number on her homework.

So Frank gets done up in his leathers to go out to the bar, leaving Bernd at home and telling him not to wait up. Next thing we know, Frank is in the hospital for six weeks, presumably with something he caught while out tricking. Tensions are high with Bernd. While at the hospital, Frank sneaks out, tucking his hospital gown into his clothes, and takes the taxi to--you guessed it--the toilets. He has to make a few stops, running the meter up, and finally meets some leather guy cruising in the woods. They fool around, until it seems like the leather guy sees Frank's hospital gown, thinks that is too weird, and just walks away. Frank returns to the hospital.

Soon he's back home, and Bernd has made him a nice meal. Only Frank is sick of the domesticated life Bernd brings, with dinners and schedules and regularity, which interferes with his wish to just be a free bachelor. He goes out and hooks up with some guy, and they do coke and watersports (which again, we see).

The climax is at a big gay costume ball, where Frank wants to ditch Bernd and hook up with this dock worker he meets. Finally Bernd has had enough, and leaves. They have a big fight on the subway, with Frank ripping into Bernd for following him around like a puppy when he should have been out finding his own tricks--something it's obvious Bernd doesn't even want. They break up. Bernd gets off, and Frank goes straight to work, appearing before his students in full drag and makeup. He allows the kids to jump around and go crazy. Meanwhile we cut to Bernd, who has broken into a farmer's field and is snuggling a lamb. The farmer asks him what he's doing, and he says "I only want to cuddle the lamb." We later rejoin Frank as he's taking his makeup off, thinking about Bernd, and wondering "Can we do anything but repeat ourselves?" The frame freezes, and that's the end.

So for the most part, this has to be seen as a historical artifact, capturing a glimpse of the gay world of Berlin at the time, alluding to some of the issues of the time, like is it weird for a sexually-active gay man to be teaching young kids, and all this about gay relationships versus fooling around. One has to keep in mind that stable gay relationships didn't have nearly as much social support at the time, and in the film we never see or hear of another gay couple that has a relationship, so it would seem, as it was for many people in the past, that there was almost no one in lasting relationships, and those who were had no examples or notions of how to make those relationships work. Meanwhile, there was a ton of systems in place to allow for easy sex, and values around always being on the make and avoiding the boredom of routine.

In retrospect, one can argue that this was a time of greater freedom for gays, because although there was a lack of social support and one had to keep oneself somewhat hidden, at the same time couples would be free to create any kind of relationship they wanted, as there were absolutely no rules. One might say one also has greater freedom to be gay in any way one wanted, as well. With gay populations becoming more accepted and visible, there starts to creep in a "right way" to be gay, which in America seems to involve a modicum of political awareness if not activity, a certain openness to blurring what is traditionally considered masculine and feminine, a certain striving for material comfort, etc. There are also numerous examples now of couples in gay relationships, which inadvertently starts to imply that there are "right ways" to structure those relationships. Back at the time of this film, Frank and Bernd had no examples of successful gay relationships to go by, so they were really just on their own in navigating these issues.

But aside from its status as a fascinating time capsule, how is the movie? It remains involving, at the very least. And Frank is an interesting enough character who travels though these intriguing adventures, so that keeps you going as well. What I ended up liking most about this film is its personal feel. This was made by an amateur filmmaker who had no other films like it to compare it to, and so he just went nuts and created exactly the movie he wanted to make. Thus he could show as much sex as he wanted or divert over to that rectal exam, and include the characters and interludes he wanted without being overly worried about them fitting into the overall themes and narrative--like the prostitute in the waiting room or the drag queen who visits. And one senses a lot of personal involvement in the issues of the film, relationships versus fooling around, that these are questions Ripploh is struggling with himself, and he is careful not to offer and answer or make a judgement. So this is just one guy making the film he wants to make, and that goes far in making it charming and interesting in way that most contemporary films aren't.

So for the gay historian in you, here's an interesting and important look back at a distant time and place, before contemporary gay acceptance. Nothing to run out and see today, but if you're in the mood for a look at the people and issues of the gay past, worth making time for.

Should you watch it: 

If you're interested in the gay world and issues of the past.