Matt Lambert’s Klappe takes us inside Berlin’s cruising scene – we talk to him, as well as the cast, about public sex, on-screen intimacy and how technology is changing the face of adult cinema
“Cruising is so often depicted in cinema as something seedy,” says filmmaker Matt Lambert. But his new short film Klappe – a celebration of Berlin’s cruising culture and the different types of intimacy afforded by public sex – presents an altogether different view. Following a spontaneous, five-person tryst in a club bathroom, it’s warm, funny, and arguably even wholesome. Directed by Lambert, co-produced by studio Vitium and released by adult filmmaker Erika Lust, Klappe will be hosted on XConfessions – a website, founded by Lust, which features the first crowdsourced series of erotic films in the history of adult cinema. Starring performers Tiresia, Axel Rubberax, Kaiden Ford, Billy Vega and Cain, Klappe is soundtracked with a hypnotic original score by producer LSDXOXO. It will premiere this week at the Porn Film Festival Berlin, an event which has become a focal point for experimental adult cinema.
Deriving its title from the German slang word for “cottage” (a public toilet in which people have sex), Klappe is an ode to cultures of gay public sex, and shows that even the most casual of encounters can be rich with meaning and intimacy. The film is a technical achievement: it’s beautifully lit and shot, and its spiralling camerawork imbues the cramped toilet setting with a sense of expansiveness. What I liked most about it, though, is its sense of playfulness. Regardless of genre, depictions of sex on screen tend to be serious and stony-faced, but Klappe is filled with moments of laughter, gentle awkwardness, and the promise of friendship.
For Lambert, it was important to portray cruising as natural. “In this film, we wanted to make it happen in the daylight (which is often the setting for these scenes in Berlin clubs) and to remove any aspect of shame,” he says. “It’s something that happens very casually, and which ends with a plan to meet for breakfast. That was a conscious decision. We are portraying a special moment, but it’s not something dark or subversive. I hope the subversiveness lies in the fact that we made it feel so un-subversive.”
Klappe succeeds in creating this sense of intimacy in large part through the easy chemistry of its cast. “Some of us got there a few days earlier and some of us already lived in Berlin, so we hung out beforehand and broke the ice. We did long days of filming but I think overall it worked to our favour because it meant that we got a lot of downtime with each other,” says Cain. “We weren’t really acting,” agrees Kaiden. “We were just us being us, and that involved laughing and being cheeky. You can’t really make that stuff up, and I think it came across very well on film.”
There is a glamour and eroticism to Klappe, but it’s also concerned with portraying a more realistic vision of sex. “The moments that a typical porn film would edit out are all the moments that I put in,” says Lambert. “It’s often these potent details that are missing in porn, like people looking for the lube or not always being hard, these moments that happen in real life. I think not everyone having a raging boner is actually kind of radical for porn, because in a real-life situation not everybody is at the same part of their journey. I think showing all these things really humanises the project.”
Eulogies about “the death of cruising” have become their own genre of content in the last ten years, but this is a UK-centric view. In Berlin, the culture has never been healthier, and it’s not incidental that Klappe is set there. “This film feels very uniquely Berlin to me,” says Lambert. “I was in London last week and saw how sanitised most queer nightlife spaces are. Berlin is a unique space. Even if you look at how Grindr has changed the way that people connect, the no-phone policies in clubs here really motivate people to be more present.” For Kaiden, who spends time between both cities, London feels significantly less queer-friendly – even within its queer spaces. “There is so much fetish-shaming,” he says. “Obviously you’re not going to want to have sex at a club if you tell someone you’re into piss-play and they look at you like you’re the craziest person ever.”
“I was in London last week and saw how sanitised most queer nightlife spaces are. Berlin is a unique space... the no-phone policies in clubs here really motivate people to be more present” – Matt Lambert
But while Klappe is a celebration of Berlin, everyone involved is clear that it’s a somewhat idealised depiction. “It's a very segmented city,” says Lambert. “Anyone who’s spent time here will know that while there is an ideal of inclusivity, there are so many sub-categories. Some clubs are only for the most cishet-presenting versions of queerness, others are effectively cis-men-only. Cruising can be exclusive. What we created was something in between lots of different spaces, and which reflects a more contemporary idea of cruising.”
Klappe presents a vision of cruising at its best, or what it could be, rather than a documentary-style depiction of its reality. “In most of the clubs there’s still not enough inclusivity, especially for trans people,” says Tiresia. “What I appreciated about this film is that it was inclusive of different genders and sexual orientations.”
For Billy Vega, the experience of cruising is complicated by being a trans man. “It’s great to be proud of your sexuality, but having access to these spaces is something that most trans people don't have,” he says. “I approach cruising like a performance anyway, because it’s not a space where my body’s normally included. If I have sex in a cruising area or dark room it inevitably becomes like a scene. There’s no way around that – it doesn’t matter how comfortable I feel.” But for Vega, Klappe represented a more utopian vision of public sex. “It felt like everyone was at ease and I was really comfortable. It was like a dream cruising scene in a club.”
The distinction between porn and art is notoriously hard to define (during a 1960s obscenity trial in the US, one Supreme Court judge infamously said, “I know [obscenity] when I see it”.) A film like Klappe sits between categories: while it’s as explicit as anything you’d find on PornHub, it’s also aesthetically sophisticated and thematically considered. “I've done a lot of porn movies and it’s so far away from what this is,” says Axel. “If you want to do artsy porn, it never turns out to be art because the main focus is sex, cum and fucking. I don’t think there’s a place for art in normal porn when the goal is just to make people wank off.”
For Lambert, these labels are inherently limiting. “Kappe is a short film, it‘s a comedy, it’s a music video, it’s all those things in between and it happens to be explicit,” he says. “If you watch it purely as porn, you’ll be missing something. And if you solely want to jerk off, there’s definitely stuff out there that’s better for that.” He likes to think of his work as being aspirational: it’s about encouraging people to go out and have sex for themselves, rather than staying at home and watching other people do it.
As with any industry, the kind of adult cinema being produced is influenced by technology and economic constraints. According to Lambert, there is an emerging movement of independent filmmakers creating artistic, queer, and explicit cinema, some of which finds a home at festivals like the Porn Film Festival Berlin. But whether people are willing to pay for this kind of work is a different question. “It’s like fast food versus the tasting menu,” says Lambert. “The latter costs more money and definitely becomes a more unique thing. There’s a big disconnect between the more artistic work and the stuff that people are watching on a day-to-day basis, and which studios are more willing to fund. To make something like Kappe – which required a full crew and intense post-production – is more expensive, and ultimately less profitable, than filming two people having sex in a bedroom with natural light.”
“Our sexuality is always evolving: whatever narrative we think we need now, in five years what’s that going to look like?” – Matt Lambert
The rise of OnlyFans, and other online platforms like it, has only made these economic incentives more pressing. “I would say that OnlyFans encourages fast-consuming porn. You have to update every two or three days, you have to always provide new porn, and it’s always new faces – you can be gone within two months,” says Axel. Before the digital platform model became so dominant, lots of porn studios were still filming with proper sets, lighting and make-up, whereas now, according to Axel, “it tends to be one person holding a camera in a shitty room”. When it comes to the bottom line, it doesn’t make much sense to prioritise aesthetic quality.
But whatever the economic constraints at play, it’s clear that there is a growing scene of people who are invested in making more experimental adult cinema. For Lambert and the cast of Klappe, the possibilities are endless. “There are millions of stories out there in the world,” says Lambert. “To deny that sexuality is a major part of who we are, how we communicate and how we exist silences a whole part of our identities. I also think porn is still a way that people learn about sexuality and figure things out.” He would like to revisit porn tropes with a more thoughtful, humanistic and contemporary lens. “There are an infinite amount of scenes to create – like us, our sexuality is always evolving: whatever narrative we think we need now, in five years what's that going to look like?”
“I think we need more camp,” says Kaiden. “We need amazing outfits and more interesting stories. We need bigger fantasies.” Axel wants to see more different body types on screen: “Nowadays in porn, it’s always the same, you’re either a twink or a muscly guy, or you’re just trash,” he says.
Tiresia agrees: “When it comes to cruising and sex, there’s a lot of putting people in boxes. I have never felt comfortable in a cruising room wearing a short skirt... There’s too much wanting to put people into categories: you’re a twink, you’re a bear, you’re this or you’re that. I would love to see more representation of types of genders, gender identities and sexual orientations. We all have sex. We all have desires and fantasies. We are all sexy.”