German provocateur Rosa von Praunheim shamelessly celebrates his own life and times, recapping half a century of gay activism, no-rules guerrilla filmmaking and camp grotesquerie in “Neurosia: Fifty Years of Perversity.” Self-indulgent in the extreme but consistently amusing, this irreverent docu-autobiography, jokingly styled as an arch murder mystery, should go over well at gay festivals and in specialized theatrical release.
Pre-titles sequence has von Praunheim introducing the premiere of his new film before a live audience when a moviegoer leaps to his feet and shoots him. Disdainful TV reporter Gesine Ganzman-Seipel (Desiree Nick) is assigned to do a muckraking series on the victim’s debauched existence and his career as a dilettante artist. The mystery surrounding his death is fueled by the disappearance of the corpse.
Gesine insinuates herself into von Praunheim’s private life, duping his mother into providing access to his personal belongings. Initially disgusted at the depravity she unearths, the reporter reads his love letters and hate mail, traces clues and anonymous tipoffs, prowls public toilets and other seedy hangouts, talking to the deceased’s neighbors, ex-lovers, stars of his films and bizarre family members.
Some of the eccentric menagerie refuse to talk. Others are only too willing to divulge personal information, like Evelyn Kunneke, who claims von Praunheim’s homosexuality was an attention-seeking device and that he really loved her. Biggest laughs come when Gesine follows von Praunheim’s tracks to New York and meets a former flame; he recalls Rosa’s horrifying eating habits and his appalling practice of playing Bavarian folk tunes on his foreskin.
Gesine becomes increasingly dedicated to her assignment and possibly even more sympathetic to her subject’s cause. But soon after she promises viewers details of von Praunheim’s affairs with prominent businessmen and high-ranking government, church and military officials, his diaries containing the evidence vanish and the series is axed due to dismal ratings. Gesine perseveres regardless, eventually discovering the truth.
While the approach is almost pure burlesque, von Praunheim weaves in a surprisingly coherent self-portrait. Starting with a look at his childhood as his mother flips through a photo album (she says, “I’ve survived two world wars; living with him is the third”), he retraces the earliest efforts of an oeuvre encompassing nearly 50 films and recalls the part he played in the birth of the German gay movement in the 1970s.
His militancy was cranked up after exposure to the more empowered gay activist groups of New York. After losing 60 close friends to AIDS, von Praunheim reacted by outing gay German public figures, which led to his being attacked in the national media.
The balance of autobiographical accuracy and self-glorification is questionable at times, but this clearly is part of the director’s game. Technical rawness suits the kamikaze style, and things are kept moving at an entertaining pace by the agile editing of film clips and archive material, including funny footage of moral crusader Anita Bryant copping a pie in the face and then praying for the delivery of her aggressor from his “deviant lifestyle.”