The Circle

by Louise Adams
Saturday Mar 14, 2015
The Circle

Director and co-writer Stefan Haupt intersperses real interviews with a movie version of the true story in "The Circle" ("Der Kreis"), in German (and some French) with English subtitles.

"Confirmed bachelor," Camus fan and closeted Catholic girls' schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag (recreated by charming Matthias Hungerbuhler) became a member the undercover gay organization Der Kreis in 1958 Zurich, Switzerland. Besides publishing a trilingual magazine (which was somewhat tame as to pass the censors - no full frontal "homophile" photography - yet was still mailed to a secret list in a plain brown envelope), the society also hosted themed ur-circuit parties. At a secret nautical ball, Ernst meets and is smitten by hairdresser and Marlene Dietrich-esque transvestite cabaret singer Robi Rapp (Sven Schelker, who looks like "Glee's" Chris Colfer), and their long-term relationship is featured in the nonfictional and reenacted material.

Der Kreis founder Rolf (Stefan Witschi), who preferred the word homoerotic to homosexual, celebrated the organization's 25th anniversary in 1957. In its heyday, the story and image magazine boasted 2,000 subscriptions, including 700 abroad, although the readership was likely higher as it was calculated that at least four people read each copy. The group had sister chapters in France, Scandinavia, Los Angeles and Germany, even though the Fatherland criminalized homosexuality. Switzerland was more tolerant, although there was a series of gay murders, but since "rent boys" (male prostitutes) were involved, no convictions were made. The victims were pilloried in the media, the murderers exonerated and exalted.

RuPaul, his drag racers and allies everywhere should watch this slice of history to pay homage to those who lived a closeted, continental mid-century life and paved the way for the spectrum of free male sexual expression.

Over the next decade, Zurich turned into a cosmopolitan city, likely in no small part due to this active, creative community. But countries like Denmark and the Netherlands started offering more explicit and out gay societies, so, after 34 years, The Circle closed in 1967. Rolf had a nervous breakdown. Those still committed to the cause started a new publication in 1968 called "Club68."

Rapp turned Ostertag's love poems into torch songs, which he still sings today. Ostertag finally came out at age 70, and he and Rapp were the first couple to have a Swiss same-sex marriage.

Christian Felix, Urs Frey, Ivan Madeo also collaborated on the screenplay, and the film, at just over 90 minutes, is quiet, full of the whispers that comprised a closeted, continental mid-century life. RuPaul Charles, his drag racers and allies everywhere should watch this slice of history, and pay homage to those who paid a personal price and paved the way for the spectrum of free male sexual expression.

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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