Lowbrow in High Places: When Lederhosen Porn Was King

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Four decades ago, the southern German state of Bavaria became the birthplace of a film genre like no other. The alpine meadows were rugged, the men wore lederhosen, the porn was soft -- and Germany was hooked.

"Close your eyes and ears," warns an off-screen voice, "because here comes a sex comedy that's all about bonking and banging." Then Bavarian character Sepp appears on screen. As he assumes a wide-legged stance in an Alpine pasture, a cow gazes awe-struck at the fly of his lederhosen. Thunderbolts shoot out of his tight leather shorts, bulging with excessive man-power.

A woman begins to sing a letter to her husband: "Dear Oscar, I'm doing well and am completely delighted because the mountains here are magnificent and there's a whole lot of f…ilming!" Another woman joins in: "One could really paint it, this Bavarian sky -- no, what I'm holding here in my hand is Sepp's p…aintbrush." Then the Bavarian's fly opens spontaneously and out comes a huge, red … heart bearing the movie's title: "Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhos'n," or "From Lederhosen with Love."

This smutty trailer, which advertised the upcoming premiere of the lederhosen film in German cinemas in March 1973, already made it unmistakably clear what theatergoers could expect: lusty peeping Bavarians tipping back from windows on ladders, jealous wives chasing their husbands with wooden spoons and, of course, hordes of pretty young women streaming into Bavaria from all over the world to be delighted by the region's potent men, wearing their traditional leather get-ups, of course.

Granted, critics panned the film. But Austrian film director Franz Marischka had still created a work of art that most filmmakers can only dream of. In addition to making what was an unbelievable hit in German cinemas, Marischka also founded an entire genre: the lederhosen film. For years to come, soft porn films shot in Alpine settings would be the thing in German theaters. It made Marischka a wealthy man but, in the end, his creation would become his curse.

Sex Instead of Art

At first, young Franz actually seemed destined for a somewhat less off-color career. Born on July 2, 1918 into a prominent family of artists in Vienna, his father was an actor, singer and director, and his mother a famous opera singer. His grandfather, uncle and half-brother were all stars in the art world, and the family nurtured close ties with other glitterati in Austria's cultural scene.

Franz tried to live up to his family's reputation. In early 1938, he enrolled to study acting at the Max Reinhardt Seminar, the drama school at Vienna's University of Music and Performing Arts. But on March 12, Nazi troops marched into Austria and annexed the country. Franz was thrown out of school on account of his mother's Jewish roots. He then flew to England, where he got his first on-stage experience. But he couldn't establish himself as an actor either there or in Vienna, where he returned in 1946. Feeling like he couldn't escape the shadow of his famous father, he changed course and tried his hand at screenwriting and directing.

His directorial debut came in 1959 with a spy-thriller spoof, followed by several musical comedies inspired by fellow Austrian filmmaker Billy Wilder. But even if he didn't reach the same heights as Wilder, Marischka soon discovered that he also had a special talent: his business sense.

In the 1970s, television was starting to become more popular than the movies. But Marischka had a simple idea for enticing the masses back in front of the silver screen:sex. The sexual revolution had also taken hold of prudish Germany, and more and more exposed flesh was being tolerated in the media. With this in mind, Marischka tried his luck with soft porn somewhat poorly disguised as milieu films about life among mountain farmers.

Early attempts to sell his works as social critique were aborted when they prompted cinema owners to cancel their bookings. So Marischka reverted to the simple recipe of vapid sex films against a backdrop of rural life, beer and Bavarian-style bunga bunga. It was a smashing success. "Laß jucken, Kumpel," or "Scratch Your Itch, Buddy," was the fifth-largest grossing German movie of 1972, even pulling down a "Golden Screen" prize for selling over 3 million tickets within 18 months.

Mountains of Success

That same year, Marischka struck upon an idea that would have far-reaching consequences on the rest of his career. In the Munich-based magazine tz, he reportedly read a story about supposed gigolos who offered their libidinal services to sex-starved female tourists in Bavarian holiday locations. Enthused, it only took him 20 minutes to win the backing of his producers for a new film idea: Alfredo, the callboy, wants to vacation in Pfronten, a small town high in the Bavarian Alps. But, once there, he gets caught up in a battle between two inns competing to lure lusty lady tourists with male prostitutes.

"From Lederhosen with Love," which came out the next year, was pilloried by the critics and probably did little to impress the more high-brow artists among his own extended family. But the public loved the sexually explicit Alpine slapstick, and the movie attracted more viewers than any other that year in Germany -- and kicked off a film series that would rake in some 12 million deutsche marks (roughly €6 million).

Indeed, Germany was seized by a veritable lederhosen fever, and "Made in Germany" soft-porn films inundated domestic theaters. Among Marischka's own titles in this flood was "From Lederhosen with Love 2 -- Two Buddies in the Meadow" (1974), "Two Danes in Lederhosen" (1978) and "Three Lederhosen on St. Tropez" (1980). There were also plenty of copy-cats films on the market, with catchy titles like "The Lederhosen Itch When You're Yodeling" (1974) or "From Lederhosen with Love -- Where the Torrent Whooshes through the Knickers" (1974). In fact, there was also reportedly a sharp and sudden increase in the number of people overnighting in Pfronten, where "From Lederhosen with Love" was filmed.

Post-Climax and Coronation

By now, Marischka had succeeded in making a name for himself as a director, but his glory days would be short-lived. Sex films grew less popular in the late 1970s, soft-porn shoots migrated to sunnier southern locations, and the stars of lederhosen porn went on to work on less raunchy projects. However, Marischka was so associated with the yodel porn genre that hardly anyone seems to have been interested in offering him serious film projects. In 1983, after directing a few cheap sex films he was ashamed of, Marischka hung up his director's cap for good.

He then turned to writing plays and even opened his own musical theater in Munich in 1986. But after the project went bust a few months later, he withdrew into private life.

Although his lederhosen films enjoyed a brief resurgence of popularity in the late 1980s, when private television stations tried to use soft porn to boost viewer numbers, Marischka's fame was thereafter forgotten.

Nevertheless, lederhosen would follow him till the very end. After he died of cancer on Feb. 18, 2009 in a Munich hospital, German daily Die Welt wrote: "Uncrowned king of German nudie flicks dies at 90 in lederhosen capital."

This article originally appeared in German on einestages.de, SPIEGEL ONLINE's history portal.

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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