Movie: Flaming Ears (1992)

As a middle-aged, suburban, CIS man, I’m probably not going to be the best judge of a highly-experimental, post-apocalyptic, super lo-fi, lesbian film.  Lest you think my description of 1992’s Flaming Ears is less than objective, this is the description of the movie from the site of its US distributor: “Super-8 DIY filmmaking at its most audacious, Flaming Ears is a pop sci-fi lesbian extravaganza set in the year 2700 in the fictional burned-out city of Asche.”

I don’t think it will come as a surprise this picture isn’t heavy on plot.  It is simple in one regard, in that it has few characters and the structure is highly episodic.  On the other hand, I wasn’t able to match any character to their name and performer until I read the full description on Kino Lorber’s site. 

When I did that, I was surprised to learn that the nature of those characters is not what I gleaned from watching the film.  Instead of relaying what I was told had happened, I will focus on my experience and interpretation. 

There’s two characters I assume most viewers will remember most afterwards.  One of these is a bald woman in red leather body suit who wanders the city at night, largely eating (fake) rats, snails and the like.  The only ornamentation on her costume is a huge on/off switch on the front of her waist, almost like a belt buckle.  I never formed an idea of why that element was important; however, as it is front and center in a shot for a long time, something was being communicated to which I was oblivious.

I wondered if this character was supposed to be a devil and, yet, she is the kindest person in the film.  She shows compassion towards an underground comic artist she finds unconscious in the street.  I quickly found myself wondering if an idea in the picture concerns how a person’s nature might be, or even likely to be, the opposite of what you assume it would be.

This idea was reinforced for me because of the other major character, whom I thought was an angel but who is the nastiest person here.  I assume an angel because, when we first her, she is sitting high up—I thought in the sky, but it may have been a tall building.  She leaps down to Earth in a fascinating bit of stop-motion, cut-out animation.  Given the descent from a high perch, I interpreted this as an angel falls (jumps?) down from heaven.  This would be a bizarre angel, however, as she almost immediately sets fire to a printer’s building, and then only after dry humping the corner of a desk.

About that last bit: while I went into this assuming a non-linear narrative, this film is more rambling than I expected.  Some of the side-trips it takes are more interesting than the main plotline(s).  Others are excessively indulgent and/or over-long. 

I have no doubt, however, that everything here was the intention of the three (!) directors involved.  I don’t recall a moment of its 89 minutes that didn’t feel like something important to the person putting this material on the screen.  Even in its goofiest moments, I was left with the impression this was a deeply personal work.  It was often as if an idea went straight from the subconscious to the screen with as little meddling from the conscious mind as possible.

This was an obvious labor of love.  It was filmed on Super-8 and I can only assume that was by necessity and not choice.  The restoration I watched should have been a mess, as the original elements were lost and all that remains is a 16mm blow-up.  And, yet, the images are often beautiful in their own unique way, not dissimilar to how Polaroids have a style and immediacy that transcends technical proficiency.

I mentioned stop-motion earlier, and that is a technique I always love to see used.  Another favorite effect of mine put to good use here are miniatures, in particular a lovingly realized cityscape.  Almost every establishing or non-actor shot uses stop-motion and miniatures, and it made me smile every time.

Another thing that made me smile are the jokes scattered throughout.  I got some of these, while other moments made me realize there was a bit of intended humor I wasn’t comprehending.  However, even when there was a joke I knew I was missing, I was grateful for any light-heartedness in what I thought would be a dry, humorless affair.

Those who enjoy exploring the fringes of cinema should take a look at Flaming Ears.  At 89 minutes, it’s a bit much to take in, and my attention did wane occasionally.  But I respect any filmmaker who pushes the boundaries of cinema, and I can honestly say I haven’t seen, nor ever expect to see, another work quite like this.

Dir: Ursula Puerrer, A. Hans Scheirl, Dietmar Schipek

Starring: Susana Helmayr, Ursula Puerrer, A. Hans Scheirl

Watched on Kanopy