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Rosa von Praunheim's "Rex Gildo" and Cem Kaya's "Love, D-Mark and Death": Music as a double life

Created: 09/28/2022, 5:00 p.m

Kilian Berger als junger Rex Gildo, hier mit Sidsel Hindhede als dänische Schlagersängerin Gitte Hænning („Ich will’nen Cowboy als Mann“). Foto: Missing Films
Kilian Berger as young Rex Gildo, here with Sidsel Hindhede as Danish pop singer Gitte Hænning (“I want a cowboy as a man”). Photo: Missing Films © Missing Films

Two amazing documentaries are opening hidden doors in pop: Rosa von Praunheim’s gay Rex Gildo and Cem Kaya’s Liebe, D-Mark und Tod about the Turkish-German music industry

The private life of pop singer Rex Gildo can also be told in three sentences. On “Wikipedia” they read like this: “Gildo was married to his cousin Marion Hirtreiter. The couple had no children, separated but remained married. There is still speculation about the singer’s possible homosexuality to this day.”

After Rosa von Praunheim’s portrait film “Rex Gildo – The Last Dance”, the third movement should soon be a thing of the past. The love of his life, his manager and artistic foster father Fred Miekley, is the second protagonist, while Ben Becker’s sensitive portrayal is an emotional focal point. Praunheim proudly advertises Becker’s first gay role and thus sets an example against the policy introduced by parts of the American film industry of only casting in conformity with identity. Not only would that deprive us of a rare feat of artistic adaptation, but it would also generally force performers to disclose their gender identity. Well, Praunheim once provided unsolicited help with his outing campaign.

In one of his best films, he is now opening the door to that parallel world that a documentary about Hollywood once called “The Celluloid Closet”: Even if homosexuality did not exist in German hit culture and a Rex Gildo crashed through a window until his tragic death played hide-and-seek, she still has many gay fans to this day. Praunheim became aware of the attractive actor and talented dancer in German revue films as early as the late 1950s. It was films like “Hula Hupp Conny” against which another part of the film community soon wrote the “Oberhausen Manifesto”.

It was a major break for Gildo, however, playing alongside the long-underrated Cornelia Froboess. And for the teenager Holger Mischwitzky, who later called himself von Praunheim, even an artistic inspiration.

Photographed by picture designer Lorenz Haarmann and (as lighting designer) the great Elfi Mikesch, the early studio scenes are based on the style of the color films of the time. And even discover a neglected beauty in this part of German film history, which is often scorned. In the following, it is the metaphor for a forbidden world of feelings and life. But it is less the game scenes with the star played by newcomer Kilian Berger and later Kai Schumann than interview insertions that always discreetly reveal the outrageous. Gudrun Gloth, born in 1931 and a veteran of German film journalism, was able to win over von Praunheim as a key contemporary witness. Popular magazines such as Film Revue, which she appointed as editor-in-chief, are just as neglected as historical sources as the popular films they conveyed to fans. The sensitive interview journalist became Gildo’s lifelong confidante.

Like her, another rare guest in documentaries caught Gildo’s homosexuality. Vera Chekhova, this great intellectual among the stars of her generation, met Gildo, who was four years older than her and cast by her mother Ada at the Munich Kammerspiele, in the early days.

But as vividly as Praunheim describes Gildo’s double life against the background of a restrictive time, he gives just as little space to his actual profession, music. Is the German Schlager really such a “guilty pleasure” that it’s not worth examining it a little more deeply? As obviously the swaying rhythms, the naïve exoticism of his themes and the simple major chords understrained his abilities, “Speedy Gonzales” and “Fiesta Mexicana” nested as worms in German ears.

It’s unfair how well you know music you don’t like while you’ve never heard some of the best pop records recorded in Germany. The second important music film this week will probably change that in the long term. “Ask, Mark ve Ölüm – Liebe D-Mark und Tod” also leads to a parallel culture, but it existed in public. Since the 1960s, Turkish musicians who emigrated to Germany have been producing records, and since the 1970s, mainly music cassettes, which incorporated the life experiences of immigrants into songs that have sold millions of times – and not only served romantic desires.

The movies

Rex Gildo – the last dance. D 2022. Director: Rosa von Praunheim. 90 mins

Love, D-Mark and death. D 2022. Director: Cem Kaya. Documentary. 96 mins

The Turkish hits are literally bursting at the seams with something that the Germans at best unfold, ironically broken, in a Fassbinder film: social criticism with the potential for class warfare. The institutional racism so consistently ignored by German politics, to which the so-called guest workers were exposed on a daily basis, is a leitmotif. Cologne established itself as the center of a music scene that, within sight of Europe’s largest record store, mass-produced hits that nobody there knew.

Nevertheless, director Cem Kaya has found astonishing image documents, especially in the WDR archive; There, since 1965, the Third Program had a program called “Your Homeland – Our Homeland”, which gave each group of migrants about ten minutes of broadcasting time per week. Cem Karaca was the only Turkish musician in Germany to make it onto the Biolek show in the 1980s, at the peak of the phenomenon. Politically persecuted in Turkey, he fled to Germany, where he further refined his style, which combines Turkish and Western influences.

Vocally, he was a Celentano of Turkish music, who took no prisoners with his somber melodies and haunting lyrics: “Workers were called / but people arrived”. The great representative of Anadolu rock died in Istanbul in 2004, but many contemporary witnesses tell stories and make music in front of the camera of this amazing film. Since Wim Wenders’ “Buena Vista Social Club” no documentary film has opened our ears in a similar way to a music phenomenon hidden from the western mainstream.

Rex Gildo – the last dance. D 2022. Director: Rosa von Praunheim. 90 mins

Love, D-Mark and death. D 2022. Director: Cem Kaya. Documentary. 96 mins

Yüksel Özkasap, Jahrgang 1945, wurde auch als Köln’ün Bülbülü gefeiert, als „Nachtigall von Köln“ Foto: Filmfaust/Film Five
Yüksel Özkasap, born in 1945, was also celebrated as Köln’ün Bülbülü, the “Nightingale of Cologne” Photo: Filmfaust/Film Five © Filmfaust/Film Five

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