Top of the Poppers

Toby Ashraf and Telemachos Alexiou at a screening of Ebo Hill's Bonking Berlin Bastards, 2001.

ONE OF THE TAWDRIER ENTRIES on the schedule of this year’s inaugural Berlin Art Film Festival was a screening of Ebo Hill’s Bonking Berlin Bastards, with live dubbing by a duo (critic-programmer Toby Ashraf and filmmaker Telemachos Alexiou) calling itself “White Boys in Crisis.” In the universe of gay porn, a strong argument could be made for Bonking Berlin Bastards’s status as a millennial cult classic. When it came out in 2001, it put Berlin on the map for gay sex tourism and endowed the city with a reputation as a place where you could do nearly anything and get away with it—a bit like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin novels for the interwar gays, only Bonking aimed at Gen-Y sluts. And they came in droves—or buckets, depending on your perspective. Set to a hard techno sound track, the tattooed, mohawked, dick-pierced cast of Bonking Berlin Bastards engage in the kinkiest shenanigans right out in public—who needs a bed when you have a rooftop, a bridge, or a couch in some filthy sex club? Uncompromising in many ways, Bonking isn’t to everyone’s taste; one of the film’s earliest scenes serves as a warning for the fun to come, as the Kreuzberg punk protagonist rips a piercing out of his ear and proceeds to jerk off while bleeding all over himself.

The evening’s “expanded cinema” program kicked off with the world premiere of Please Relax Now, a short by Berlin favorite Vika Kirchenbauer’s, in which the filmmaker’s on-screen likeness coaches the audience through an in-cinema masturbation session while getting off herself. Okay, so it was all a bit more tongue-in-cheek than tool-in-hand, though most Berlin denizens are oversexed as it is and probably exhausted by the early winter. Once it gets to be that time of year, there is very little else to do. Except drink.

Thankfully, Ashraf was clever enough to secure the sponsorship of Partisan vodka. As the Bonking began, trays of free shots made their way around the cinema, and as the evening progressed, all pretensions to decorum were abandoned in favor of a classic camaraderie (and a touch of saliva swoppery), as the audience began swigging from full bottles being passed back and forth.

To begin, Ashraf introduced Jürgen Brüning, who was one of the founders of Cazzo, the gay porn company that produced the film. In the midst of the introduction, two assistants appeared, who commenced removing articles of Ashraf and Alexiu’s clothing while the former continued chatting away, until in the end both were in their undies. Brüning, who is perhaps best known as Bruce La Bruce’s producer, left Cazzo midway through the production to start a rival porn company. Understandably, then, he was somewhat ambivalent about the night. “I just want to say that I have very mixed feelings about this, because I think the film is a masterpiece and doesn’t need any ‘live dubbing,’ ” Brüning concluded, before taking his seat in the audience. And I guess he wasn’t lying, since he vacated it less than halfway through the performance.

A screening of Ebo Hill's Bonking Berlin Bastards, 2001.

Those who remained were treated to something that resembled a cross between a happening, a makeshift orgy, an early Iggy Pop show, and an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The White Boys crawled over the cinema seats, their dubbing—occasionally more like a metacommentary on the on-screen action—resonated throughout the cinema on top of those sleazy late-’90s techno beats. In one memorable scene, a bottom raises a bottle of poppers to his nose, and the screen fragments into psychedelic shards—very early aughts! Almost on cue and IRL, the gentlemen seated in front of us produced their own bottle of poppers, which they promptly passed back to us. A young art student seated on my row eventually had to be removed—not for taking off his clothes, which everyone was fine with, but for continuously relighting his cigarette each time the manager asked him to put it out; the fire alarm kept fucking up the sound system.

“Oh, isn’t it a strange coincidence how we all are shaved and have piercings and wound up on this rooftop at the same time?” moaned Ashraf into the microphone as, on screen, a group of punked-out pole-smokers enjoyed themselves beneath the summer sun after a night out at some leathery hellhole. Juggling the poppers, vodka, cigarettes, and various other cylindrical objects being passed my way throughout the evening, I hardly had a hand free to take more detailed notes. Still, flashes of Bonking embedded themselves in my memory, leaving me nostalgic for a time when porn had plots, homos had safe sex, and Berlin was maybe a tiny bit wilder than it is today. (I still can’t decide whether the film’s best scene is when a gang of drag queens kidnaps some punk and rapes him with a dildo in the park, or when the drunk punk gang breaks into an indoor swimming pool at night and naked chaos ensues.) In the end, maybe no one in the audience physically got off. But at least most of us got drunk, high, and horny. And isn’t that what art’s all about?

The first Berlin Art Film Festival ran December 4–7, 2014 at fsk am Oranienplatz.