Different From The Others

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Different From The Others Review


In the dialogue of the German film Different from the Others we find this line: "Love for one's own sex can be just as pure and noble as that for the opposite sex. This orientation is to be found among many respectable people in all levels of society." Today, years after even Tinky-Winky has been outed, there's nothing very shocking in that sentiment. The big surprise comes when you learn the year of the film's release: 1919.

That was a long time ago; Tinky-Winky would be in the closet for another 80-some years. Kino, distributors of the new DVD release of Different from the Others, makes the case that the film was the first to address the issue of homosexuality head-on - and to do so compassionately, no less - and it's hard to imagine that they're wrong.

How did it happen? The historical moment that produced Different from the Others is at least as interesting as the film itself: During WWI, director Richard Oswald and self-described "sexologist" Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld began collaborating on a series of "enlightenment" films dealing with such adult topics as venereal disease and abortion. With Germany's loss in the war came the Weimar Republic - a period whose decadence acted as a backdrop for Cabaret, to put it in terms that even we movie-lovers can understand - and in 1919 the country found itself in the unique position of having no censorship guidelines governing its nascent silent film industry. Oswald and Hirschfeld seized the opportunity to produce and release Different from the Others, which was to be their most controversial film. The lack of censorship did not go unnoticed by others who were less altruistic in their motives, however, and the resulting glut of far more sordid "enlightenment" films caused a backlash that ended with censorship being reinstated in Germany in 1920. Despite its chaste content and noble intentions, Different from the Others was at the heart of the public controversy, and the film was banned that same year. Soon the Nazis were to come to power, and I don't think I need to brief you on their feelings towards it; the result was that Different from the Others now exists only in fragments.

Kino has done an admirable job of stringing these fragments together, along with existing excerpts from the screenplay, stills, and other stray elements, into an approximation of what audiences saw in 1919. The story told is that of Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt, who also played the monster in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), a respected concert pianist who takes as a pupil a handsome young man named Kurt (Fritz Schulz). An unspoken love blooms between the two men, but before even hands are held a blackmailer arrives at Körner's home demanding hush money. (Germany's notorious Paragraph 175 provided harsh penalties for homosexuality as we shall see presently.) Kurt, learning of this unsavory business and ashamed of his role in it, flees home and lives as a vagabond; matters are further complicated when Kurt's sister reveals her love for Körner, and Kurt's family is thus brought into the fray. Körner visits a sexologist (Hirschfeld) and he and the audience are lectured on the essential wholesomeness of homosexuality; and, buoyed by what he's learned, Körner bravely faces his blackmailer in court.

Of considerable peripheral interest is the crash course on attitudes toward homosexuality in the modern era that Different from the Others provides. It seems that, following the French Revolution, Napoleonic Codes decriminalized homosexuality wherever they were instated, in some cases commuting sentences of death into complete freedom. In Germany, however, the institution of Paragraph 175 (dealing with the crime of "unnatural vice between men") in 1871 mandated five-year prison terms for gays (practicing or not, judging from the evidence of the film); the law did little to prevent homosexuality, of course, but it did create a kind of burgeoning cottage industry for blackmail. In 1897, Dr. Hirschfeld responded by forming the first modern advocacy group for this "biological third sex," and Different from the Others remains the most lasting of the fruits this movement bore. It would be nearly a century before Paragraph 175 was finally repealed in 1994.

Dramatically it's hard to judge Different from the Others today for the reason that too much of the original footage is lost, but the film remains remarkable for its sophisticated handling of its theme; by comparison, 1982's Making Love is hesitant and coy, and 1980's Cruising ridiculously homophobic. Existing footage swerves occasionally into the melodramatic (I'm thinking here of a scene in which a parade of famous gays from the past - including Tchaikovsky, Leonardo da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, and King Ludwig of Bavaria - appears before Körner in a reverie), and Veidt can be something of a spectacle in his dressing gown. But as a historical document, the film is an incredible find; those with an interest in the struggle for acceptance of gays will not want to miss it.

Aka Anders als die Andern.



Different From The Others

Facts and Figures

Run time: 50 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 28th May 1919

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Paul Körner, as Else Sivers, as Doctor / Sexologist

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