Rosa Von Praunheim b. 1942
Stadt der verlorenen Seelen AKA City of Lost Souls (1983)
Duration: 88 minutes

Imagine Hedwig and the Angry in reverse. Yes, Lila (Jayne County), a daughter of American anti-Communists eventually winds up in East Berlin as rock'n'roll TV star. Her hit song: "I Fell in Love with a Russian Soldier." The lyrics leave out that he got her pregnant.

Now Miss County who plays Lila is either in real life a transvestite or a transsexual, but whatever she is, like Holly Woodlawn in Trash, she's quite wondrous and wonderful. So be prepared when she moans, "Just because I get fucked by Russians doesn't mean I want their babies." You'll find yourself helplessly sympathizing with her plight. Of course, if you are a slut, too, you'll find yourself helplessly empathizing.

Anyway, this is an early film by the great, internationally obscure German director Rosa von Praunheim. Within his realm, Andy Warhol meets John Waters meets Clifford Odets.

Most of the action here takes place in West Berlin in a slimy eatery called Hamburger Königen (Hamburger Queen). Run by pre-op transsexual and diva (Angie Stardust), the place is such a disaster the Board of Health is afraid to enter its premises. Customers are sliding across slimy floors, throwing up on tables, or protesting with verve. One 80-year-old hippie, in fact, is so furious he's wound up celebrating his birthday in this dump, it might turn out to be his very last meal.

But if the food is bad, wait to you meet the help, a collection of sex-obsessed singers, actors, strippers plus nearly-always-naked Gary (Gary Miller), a group therapist and purveyor of Black Magic. This gaggle all lives in the hotel also run by Angie called the Pension Stardust, a one-star affair complete with bedbugs and a constant lack of toilet paper. Oh, have I forgotten to mention the visiting erotic trapeze artists who become part of the family? This duo constantly spends its days hanging upside down.

Sounds deliciously absurd. It is. But this being a von Praunheim epic, it has deep political underpinnings. City of Lost Souls explores anti-Semitism and racism in post-War Germany with an in-your-face approach. Watch the Jewish trapeze artist making out with the woman-battering motorcyclist whose father and grandfather were both Nazis. See the little German boy proudly singing on a street corner a nursery rhyme about "******s."

Besides a disgust with the way the modern world is, there's also a liberating sense of absolute sexuality. (Remember AIDS wasn't a factor in Germany when this wsa filmed.) Amongst all the group sex, a gay transsexual has a butch lesbian as his girlfriend. Old people are smooching with young ones. Any straight boys on the set wind up bending their libidos a lot. In fact, the characters here are more likely to be trisexual than bisexual.

Warning: Be careful. Very careful. All this lack of restraint might be catching.

City of Lost Souls is the latest work by cult director Rosa von Praunheim, known for his radical, controversial films that usually challenge both nongay and gay audiences. A group of Americans live in the midst of the lively artists' set in Berlin. Angie Stardust, a black dancer from Harlem who once worked in drag clubs has gone into business for herself, opening a restaurant, "The Hamburger Queen," where a mixed bunch of unusual characters hang out. Gary is a dancer who is in love with magic. Tara O'Hara, a former male nurse, is proud of his androgynous charms--charms he shows off in an enticing striptease. Joaquin La Habana performs as both a man and a woman at the same time. And then there is Judith and Tron performing a wild, erotic trapeze act and Lia, from the south, who meets an East German agent who succeeds in making her East Germany's most famous rock star. Essentially a form of cabaret, the film moves from the sentimental through the witty and erotic. The players know their job, the camera work is inventive, and the music is great.