How queer is it

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In the Introduction, I argued that feminist, gay, lesbian, and queer directors of the New German Cinema could not be unified under a single term. Their relationship to the movement at large was certainly fractured and varied: Fassbinder was its biggest Autor; Schroeter, despite his considerable influence, remained at the movement's periphery; Treut started working after its demise; and for one scholar at least, Ottinger should not even be included in it.7 All of these directors have been out for years. Yet as I stated before, except for von Praunheim, all have expressed no interest whatsoever in being identified as gay or lesbian, and have rejected in equal measure the idea that they produce gay or lesbian films. Ottinger compared it to "being put in a little drawer."8 To take these directors "out of the drawer" and assert that they were among the more lionized of New German Cinema's Autoren is misguided, to say the least. For, despite all the critical acclaim and prizes procured at festivals, gay and lesbian films received poor distribution, particularly outside of Germany. Like that of even the best-known East German directors, documentarians, and experimental filmmakers, their work was not deemed as commercially viable as that of the more popular Autoren during the movement's heyday.

If the economic and institutional barriers facing emerging queer filmmakers in Germany are not suprising, we should also acknowledge the critical and theoretical ones they faced. Most conspicuous was the Mitscherlichs' thesis of a national "inability to mourn." How sensitive could this model of a mass unconscious be to groups who suffered and mourned for different reasons and in different ways?9 How contrite should a gay man be for a country that outlawed his sexual activity decades after the end of the war?10 How is he supposed to identify with this ur-project? What strategies could gay- and lesbian-oriented cinema catalyze? The obstreperous aspects of melancholia (which also inform kitsch and camp) repudiate that account and demonstrate that the prevalent structures of grief and remembrance after the war were not appropriate to all forms of subjectivity. Not every filmmaker subscribed to the New German Cinema's Oedipal rejection of Papaskino, or to the heterosexual presumptions of its attempts to master the past and refortify identity, or to its reliance on familial constellations with which to stage German history. That potential appeal to lesbian, gay, and other minoritarian groups helps distinguish these camp-driven films from the rather more "unmarked" German audiences to which Kluge and Syberberg played.

The antiformalist bias of the Young German Cinema makes it easy to see why aestheticized styles like camp and kitsch would face resistance— recall Christian Thompsen's response to Fassbinder's campier productions. Indeed, that injunction against artifice was an obstacle to the movement's prequeer filmmakers, particularly its female constituency: Ottinger's campy Madame X was released to a notoriously frosty feminist reception. Since the 1980s, however, that same self-consciousness has turned films like Madame X into cult artifacts, thanks to film culture's fascination with excess at the end of the century and to queer film studies, critical frameworks that helped take these films "out" of a strictly New German context.

Queerness is a relation rather than a position. It is inseparable from a heterosexual mainstream, for instance, since it helps constitute it. From a queer perspective, opposing straight/hegemonic/majoritarian to gay/ lesbian/minoritarian does not address the variety of human sexual experiences, identifications, and identities. Similarly, queerness challenges the dualistic opposition of dominant to "sub"culture, or mainstream to alternative or oppositional, since these paired terms are constantly colliding with one another. (Filmmaker Werner Schroeter, for instance, asserts that he doesn't tell different stories, he just tells them differently; Straub and Huillet argue that they produce conventional cinema and refuse the sanctuary of authorship.)11 As an interpretive strategy of the cinema—as opposed, say, to a taxonomic one—queerness does not follow naturally from the themes of a film, nor from the biographical details of its director. Of course, identity-based labeling of directors and / or films as gay, lesbian, or queer can be strategically crucial, but queerness helps show that there is not a one-to-one correlation between textual content and its producer. Is Fassbinder's Petra von Kant a lesbian film? Is Schroeter a gay director for having made female-centered films that are not overtly about lesbianism, like Willow Springs (1973), Malina, or The Death of Maria Malibran? Ultimately, queerness emerges from the texts' positions in culturally and historically circumscribed reading formations.

My intention is not to argue that camp is absent in the New German Cinema's straighter success stories. Its presence in films like Our Hitler is impossible to deny, and its social and somatic mischief is equally central to the work of Herbert Achternbusch and Helmut Costard, among others, working in and alongside the movement. That said, I believe it is nonetheless important to respect the differences in queer and lesbian- and gaygenerated camp practices in the New German Cinema, partly for the challenge they present to the historical, representational, and identificatory concerns of the movement at large. For instance, for all of his cinematic excesses and his own inflamed love of opera, someone like Alexander Kluge would never be called camp. His approach to history and the kinds of questions he poses also stand in marked contrast to directors like Ottinger, Schroeter, and Lothar Lambert.

I use the term "prequeer" to describe this work with some reservation. Since queer cinema emerged after the New German Cinema, I do not want to suggest that these earlier films inevitably or teleologically lead to queer-ness. Secondly, queer cinema is not a German phenomenon. British and North American directors, like Derek Jarman, Todd Haynes, and Greg Araki, first drew the label, and U.S. critic B. Ruby Rich claims to have been the first to use it. Even with queer cinema's current international status, it cannot shake the fact that it originated beyond German borders. As Alice Kuzniar notes, "queer" is not widely used in contemporary German gay cultures; there, as elsewhere, many nonheterosexuals (von Praunheim, for instance) do not self-identify as queer. "Although 'queer' does not deny that there are gays and lesbians," Kuzniar writes, "it recognizes variations within these constituencies and a plethora of identificatory sites. It signals difference, but not the binary difference of masculine men/feminine women, homo/hetero, normal/pathologizing, or even gay/lesbian."12 While I am more reluctant than Kuzniar to align queerness with a tacit postmodernist project, I find its critical expansiveness both attractive and useful. Because it can critique a variety of heterosexual practices and assumptions, queerness is not restricted to current films, nor just to "gay" or "lesbian" directors. It refuses to place homosexual culture at the margins or give it a separate history. Queerness is not outside, it is just out.

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