“Flaming Ears” Is a Kinky DIY Work of Sci-Fi Lesbian Dystopia

“In the year 2700, the year of the toads, Asche was a burnt-out city.”

So begins Flaming Ears, a film that is both a queer artifact of early 90s Austrian cinema and one that still feels daring 30 years later. Despite being shot on super 8, the new restoration arriving in theatres today is beautiful — if you can find beauty in punk dystopia.

Co-directed by Ursula Puerrer, A. Hans Scheirl, and Dietmar Schipek, Flaming Ears is about a comic book artist named Spy whose quest for revenge against nympho pyromaniac, Volley, gets interrupted when she encounters Volley’s girlfriend Nun, who happens to be a reptile-obsessed alien in a red latex suit.

If that plot summary sounds bonkers, it’s nothing compared to the presentation. This is a true work of avant-garde queer art that features furniture humping, disembodied hands, DIY-looking miniature set pieces, and BDSM dance parties where at least one person has a swastika tattoo.

Upon its release in 1992, iconic queer critic B. Ruby Rich compared the film to J.G. Ballard, which makes sense due to its postmodern relationship to things like plot and reality. But amid all the delightful experimentation, the comparison that feels most apt to me is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s landmark work of sapphic cruelty, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. No, this doesn’t have any formal similarities to Fassbinder’s film. But, like that film, Flaming Ears is all about the toxic psychosexual dynamic between three women. Whether or not you follow what exactly is happening, the emotions of Spy, Volley, and Nun beat throughout like a dying heart.

While the film has the very specific setting of a fictional city in the year 2700, its literal location feels of equal importance. This is a work made by a community within a community commenting on a community, and while its character dynamics and queer experimentation can be appreciated by all, there’s a reason the film it calls most to mind is another German-language film made in central Europe.

Dystopic sci-fi is sometimes an expression of fears for the future, but more often it’s an expression of the present, slightly heightened. I don’t know enough about Austria in the early 90s to grasp everything this film is doing, and that’s exactly why it’s so important for something like this to be restored and rediscovered.

Most of the queer cinema that has remained underground in recent years isn’t impossible to find. Whether through illegal downloads or scavenged DVDs, the work is out there. But that doesn’t mean the picture and sound quality are what it deserves, nor that the necessary context has been provided.

I highly recommend going to see this film in theatres if it’s playing near you. The experience of watching such a unique work of queer art is invaluable and, even better, entertaining. But I’m also really excited for KINO to release this restoration on home video, hopefully with interviews or a commentary track to supply some of that added context. And even if that’s not on the disc itself, the more widely distributed a work like this becomes, the more critical writing there is to contextualize it.

Whether you watch it as a formal experience, a twisted character study, or a commentary on 1990s Austria, Flaming Ears is a worthy addition to the canon of lesbian cinema. May its prominence someday match its fiery rage.


Flaming Ears is now playing in select theatres.


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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew Burnett has written 308 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. omg drew!!! I just checked and my uni library (in Germany lol) has this so yayyy i know what i will be watching tomorrow evening <3 thank you for always sharing so many cool film reviews, it is genuinely amazing <3

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