About five minutes into Flaming Ears — Ursula Pürrer, Dietmar Schipek, and Angela Hans Scheirl’s lo-fi sci-fi underground classic from 1992 — a woman (Pürrer) roller-skates through a warehouse maze of filing cabinets, sidling up to the corner of an antique table. “Please don’t move, dear piece of furniture,” she gasps mid-hump, caressing its surface with thick construction gloves before dousing it with lighter fluid and watching it burn.
Meet Volley, an (anti?) heroine whose libido is as erratic as her fiery wrath. Joined by Nun (Scheirl), her loner girlfriend with an appetite for roadkill, and Spy (Susana Helmayr), a furtive comic-book artist, the trio join a motley crew of gender-ambiguous renegades living in an urban wasteland of dark alleys and Spartan flats, set in an all-lesbian city in the year 2700. What ensues over 80-plus minutes is irreverence at its campy best. Picture an alien Joan of Arc in a red polyurethane pantsuit. Picture this alien hunting self-combusting armadillos for dinner. Picture a space where the norms of gender, sex, and physics are as riotously torched as dystopian buildings: Austrian John Waters meets Bladerunner from a very lesbian, ’90s point of view.
Shot on Super-8 and blown up to 16mm, Flaming Ears can at first feel like art-school folly, full of stilted dialogue and awkward cuts. But the seemingly amateur aesthetic slowly coheres as the zany, zine-like film-scape assumes an audio-visual syntax all its own. Stop-motion animation — applied to both inanimate objects and live actors — punctuates much of the “action” with DIY drollness. Playful nods to the Schufftan process mingle miniature sets with full-scale humans. Costumes complete with glittery pasties, taped-on boy-brows, and tool-belt suspenders lend an S&M vibe to queer cabaret — perhaps best captured in Volley’s “flaming” horns, two reflective pyramids jutting above her ears like intergalactic pigtails.
Shot decades before “respectability politics” had taken over much of queer cinema, pyromania, necrophilia, and objectophilia are among the many acts of deviance on shameless display. And yet, a bit like Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou and other films of conspicuously stylized violence, the carnage in Flaming Ears never feels real — and is often concocted to look as fake as possible. When a buxom associate of Volley’s is knifed down toward the film’s anarchic conclusion, the blood resembles house paint, splattering, almost Pollock-style, on the flower-patterned wall.
Raunch ricochets throughout the film in ways that continue to surprise. “My sexy butter scrub!” Volley mutters after seducing one of her minions. In club scenes set to robotic bass, characters dangle wooden strap-ons from their crotches that resemble the rosaries worn around their necks. A later, quiet scene shows a bare-assed surgeon in a paper gown washing his hands in a dirty sink.
When the final credits roll, over a midday funeral march composed of the major characters, the actors playing the roles of “clubgoers” and “girls” are interspersed with those credited as “vampires” and “explosives handlers,” a reminder of the raucous antics that preceded. Against the synth-driven dirge in the background, the somber scene is laugh-out-loud funny, one last jab in the ribs of earthly propriety.
For viewers looking for a cohesive plot with relatable characters, Flaming Ears will leave you cold. But for those up for seriously weird, naughty “cyberdyke” mayhem, this movie will likely disturb and delight.
Flaming Ears screens at the Metrograph (7 Ludlow Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through November 24; the Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn (445 Albee Square West, 4th floor, Downtown, Brooklyn) and Alamo Drafthouse San Francisco (2550 Mission Street, San Francisco, California) through December 2; The Beacon (4405 Rainier Ave South, Seattle, Washington) through November 27; and American Cinematheque (1822 North Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California) through November 21.
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