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Phooey Rosa!

German cine-guerilla Rosa von Praunheim has made his 60th birthday the mainspring for engaging so-called self-portrait, "Phooey Rosa!" Here, it's Rosa good, bad, ugly, clothed and unclothed, more vulnerable than ever, and an excellent entry point for festgoers and vid viewers new to Deutschland's most important living gay cineaste.

German cine-guerilla Rosa von Praunheim has made his 60th birthday the mainspring for engaging so-called self-portrait, “Phooey Rosa!” Part of von Praunheim’s hyper-personal oeuvre, yet notably different in several respects from the films preceding it, “Phooey” is the most honest self-docu from a German director since Werner Herzog’s “My Best Fiend” — a pic about Klaus Kinski and his relationship with Herzog that was only indirectly about the filmmaker. Here, it’s Rosa good, bad, ugly, clothed and unclothed, more vulnerable than ever, and an excellent entry point for festgoers and vid viewers new to Deutschland’s most important living gay cineaste.

Pic packs into 70 minutes clips, personal asides, old grudges and past lovers revisited, along with a rapid-fire review of a vast filmography that looks in retrospect like one of the most startling and deeply idiosyncratic bodies of work this side of Godard. Lenser and interviewer Rene Krummenacher effectively provides von Praunheim with a mirror to gaze into as the director addresses the camera in his suite of offices and living space, which he shares with his mother Gertrud and his Yank-born editor, Mike Shephard.

One rule about von Praunheim gleaned from “Phooey Rosa!” is that anyone who enters his life is ultimately bound to become a subject in one of his films, which rarely have been purely dramatic fictions and more often playfully, even crudely constructed semi-non-fictions and fantasies combining slapstick, essay, political diatribe and porn.

Viewers learn late into the flagrantly anti-chronological pic that von Praunheim was adopted out of a Russian-based home for German orphans during WWII, and that his father married Gertrud wearing his Nazi SS uniform. Helmer’s nom de plume refers partly to the “pink triangle” worn by gay concentration camp victims and to the place where he grew up.

Dozens of clips and references chronicle his wild early years, first making photo-books depicting bisexual orgies with thesp-mentor Rainer Kranach, who pushed von Praunheim into filmmaking. He then found inspiration in personalities like Luzi Kryn, who co-starred in his first hit, “The Bed Sausage,” clips of which are interlaced with footage from von Praunheim’s 1995 “Neurosia,” which captures the late Kryn talking about the earlier film.

Viewers unfamiliar with the hothouse world of German TV chatshows will get an eyeful here, as von Praunheim liberally provides extended snippets from several shows, where he has regularly appeared. (On one, he spills red wine on the host’s table as a blood symbol for HIV victims and then smashes the wineglass.) Rehashed scandal involving his outing of German tube stars will mean little to non-German auds, but the risks attached to his controversial actions are dramatically explained.

Behind the giant ego is an aging artist afraid of, yet fascinated by, bodily decay, while being able to capture his own emotional breakdowns on camera and to note that “success made me arrogant.” Von Praunheim also shows some perspective, as when he meets longtime friend and fellow helmer Werner Schroeter, observing that while Schroeter has a highly developed aesthetic, he on the other hand “just vomited wildness.” Looking at “Phooey Rosa!,” it’s hard to disagree.

Vid lensing is average, but camera mobility is dynamic, while editing team led by von Praunheim himself has done a knockout job.

Phooey Rosa!

Germany

  • Production: An NDR/ZDF production in cooperation with ARTE. Produced, directed, written by Rosa von Praunheim.
  • Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV), Rene Krummenacher, Lorenz Haarmann, Alexandra Kordes; editors, von Praunheim, Frank Brummundt, Mike Shephard; sound, Manja Ebert. Reviewed on videocassette, L.A., July 19, 2003. (In L.A. Outfest.) Running time: 70 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Rosa von Praunheim, Rene Krummenacher, Gertrud Mischwitzky, Mike Shephard, Werner Schroeter, Elfi Mikesch, Peter Hartwell, Ellen Reichardt, Christa Tubandt. (German, English dialogue)