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Praunheim, Rosa von (b. 1942)  

Filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim is one of Germany's leading gay activists and chroniclers of life. In almost sixty films made over four decades, he targets the gay community through deliberate confrontation, provocation, and satire in order to foster self-examination by gay people and to advance gay rights.

Born Holger Bernhard Bruno Mischnitzky on November 25, 1942 in Riga, Latvia, he changed his name in the early 1960s. He took the name Rosa from "rosa Winkel," a reference to the pink triangle of the Nazi era, and in a gesture of queer deviance adopted "von," a sign of German nobility. The name Praunheim apparently comes from the Frankfurt suburb in which he grew up.

He studied painting, then began making films in the late 1960s. After an early success, Die Bettwurst (1970), a parody of heterosexual marriage, he began making films that featured gay subject matter and that advanced the goals of gay liberation.

Von Praunheim's first gay film, It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse But the Situation in Which He Is Forced to Live (1970), stirred controversy and met with harsh criticism from conservatives and liberals alike for its negative and degrading portrayal of irresponsible sexual behavior and narcissistic consumerism in the gay community.

Although publicly von Praunheim refers to it as his Schwulenfilm, or "faggot film," he is quick to add that the film started the gay rights movement in Germany and led to the formation of the Homosexual Interest Group.

Controversy and scandal are no strangers to von Praunheim, in any case. He courted controversy early in his career by outing politicians and businessmen on German television, a practice that he later came to regret.

One of his most controversial films is his nihilistic, strident, and comic depiction of AIDS in the gay community, A Virus Has No Morals (1985-1986), a combination musical and morality play. The film attacks the medical establishment, governments, journalists, charity organizations, and homosexuals for their complicity and passivity in the face of the epidemic. In this film, von Praunheim himself plays an HIV-positive bathhouse owner who equates sex with life.

Passionately committed to activism, von Praunheim frequently injects himself into his films, sometimes in ways that seem aimed at courting notoriety. In Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts (1972-1976), for example, he filmed his students filming a gay porn star performing fellatio on him so they would have incendiary footage for a film project.

Decades of controversy and conflict with the gay community led to the self-deprecating and autobiographical film Neurosia (1995)--the title a combination of Rosa and neurosis--in which a drag queen investigates the murder of von Praunheim and digs into his past. While somewhat self-mocking, the filmmaker also uses the film to mock his detractors and reiterate his own accomplishments.

Critics have complained of the often chaotic and confusing structure of von Praunheim's films, overlooking their function as radical political tools. Adopting a style that often mixes fictional vignettes, old newsreel footage, stills, documentary film, and interviews, he eschews an entertaining narrative line. He opts, instead, for disjunctive and harsh argumentation.

A queer aesthetic is most evident in the non-fictional and quasi-fictional biographical portraits of outcasts struggling in a hostile environment, but refusing to relinquish their dignity. These affectionate and vivacious portraits of strippers, circus performers, , and aging dancers and cabaret stars from pre-World War II Berlin stand in stark contrast to the targets of von Praunheim's films: weak, pensive, and assimilated middle-class gays.

I Am My Own Woman (1992) is von Praunheim's most successful portrait. It tells the remarkable story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a homosexual transvestite who survived decades of indignities only finally to receive the highest award bestowed by Germany, the Cross of the Order of Merit, for architectural and furniture restoration. In this film, von Praunheim uses non-fictional footage and interviews with von Mahlsdorf, as well as actors portraying her in brief vignettes.

Some of von Praunheim's films document queer activism. For example, films such as Silence = Death (1990) and Positive (1990) capture the voices of such AIDS activists as Larry Kramer, Michael Callen, Phil Zwickler, Keith Haring, and David Wojnarowicz, while Transexual Menace (1996), reveals the complexity of the community and documents transsexual activism in the United States.

In the 1990s von Praunheim turned increasingly to "correcting historical awareness" with such films as Gay Courage--100 Years of the Gay Rights Movement in Germany and Beyond (1998). Einstein of Sex (1999) chronicles the life of Magnus Hirschfeld, a gay, Jewish, sexologist, and pioneer for homosexual rights.

In celebration of his sixtieth birthday, von Praunheim directed, produced and starred in Pfui Rosa! (2002). Attesting to von Praunheim's status in Germany as a provocative filmmaker and political activist, the West German Television Network aired the 70 minute autobiography. Celebratory in nature, Pfui Rosa!, like Neurosia, is both self-indulgent and self-deprecating, and both irreverent and shocking.

In Queens Don't Lie (2003), an intimate portrait of the lives of four Berlin drag queens, whom he presents as important agents of social, cultural, and political change, von Praunheim returned to the documentary approach he perfected in Anita--Dances of Vice (1987), I Am My Own Woman, and Wunderbares Wrodow (1997).

In Your Heart on My Mind (2005), von Praunheim has galvanized public debate in Germany about cannibalism with a film based on the case of Armin Meiwes, a gay man recently convicted of manslaughter after using the internet to find a consenting male to dismember, murder, and eat.

Von Praunheim is currently working on filmsóone a documentary, the other fictional--about gay Nazis, tentatively titled Homosexuality and Fascism and Even Gay Nazis Like to Kiss.

Von Praunheim has used his films to spark or reconfigure debates on a number of queer issues. A risk-taker both in terms of the images he creates and the subject matter he tackles, he has influenced such filmmakers as Michael Stock, John Greyson, and Monika Treut. He has provided visibility to topics, people, and history that most filmmakers have ignored.

Richard C. Bartone


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arts >> Overview:  Documentary Film

The queer community has used documentary film to resurrect historical memory and to permit the marginalized to bear witness, as well as to build an image base that reflects our diversity and counters distorted representations.

arts >> Overview:  European Film

Since the 1960s, European film has included significant gay-themed films, many of them directed by openly gay and lesbian directors.

arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Film Directors

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual film directors have been a vital creative presence in cinema since the medium's inception over one hundred years ago.

social sciences >> Overview:  Germany

While Germany, until recently, never officially accepted or welcomed members of the glbtq community, German culture and homosexuality have a long and significant history.

arts >> Overview:  Transvestism in Film

Too often cinematic drag is reduced to a mere joke, a harmless tease that tacitly reassures us that people can change their clothes but not their sexual identities.

arts >> Berber, Anita

Expressionist exotic dancer and actress in German silent movies, Anita Berber epitomized for many the decadence of Weimar-era Berlin.

arts >> Greyson, John

Canadian director John Greyson is internationally recognized as an avant-garde filmmaker and video artist whose work confronts issues related to homosexuality, gay rights, and AIDS activism.

social sciences >> Haider, Jörg

Right-wing Austrian politican Jörg Haider reinforced the stereotype of hypocritical politicians who privately enjoy the freedoms won by the glbtq movement while opposing equal rights.

arts >> Haring, Keith

In his all-too-brief lifetime, gay American artist Keith Haring produced simple yet sophisticated images that reached a worldwide audience and transcended differences of race, nationality, gender, age, and sexual orientation.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

literature >> Kramer, Larry

Controversial playwright, novelist, and essayist Larry Kramer has been a pioneer in the gay political response to AIDS in America.

arts >> Mahlsdorf, Charlotte von

Preservationist and museum founder Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was admired by many for her bravery in the face of persecution and for her openness as a transgender public figure in perilous times.

arts >> Treut, Monika

German filmmaker Monika Treut consistently explores challenging and controversial issues surrounding minority sexual and gender identities.

arts >> Wojnarowicz, David

The first gay American artist to respond to the AIDS crisis with anger and moral outrage, David Wojnarowicz used his art as a polemical tool with which to indict those he held responsible for the AIDS epidemic and to document his own suffering.


Kuzniar, Alice. The Queer German Cinema. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Saunders, Michael William. Imps of the Perverse: Gay Monsters in Film. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1998.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bartone, Richard C.  
    Entry Title: Praunheim, Rosa von  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 16, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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