I mentioned this film back in June when I was watching the Pioneers of Queer Cinema bundle (specifically 1924’s Michael in this instance), but it’s finally time to talk about Anders als die Andern, AKA Different from the Others, the first film ever made with a pro-gay message. Yay for queer history!
The story follows violinist Paul Körner (Mr. Conrad Veidt, last mentioned in 1928’s The Man Who Laughs) and his pupil, Kurt. The two fall in love and are rather open about their feelings for each other. Unfortunately, a blackmailer preys on Paul using the threat of Paragraph 175, a section of Germany’s criminal code that–at the time, and until it was repealed in 1994–criminalized male homosexuality. Kurt runs away after a fight with the blackmailer, and we learn through flashbacks how Paul has always been gay and that he has a history with the blackmailer–a man who may actually be gay himself. The two end up in court and while the blackmailer gets 3 years and Paul only gets a week in prison, Paul’s career is ruined by his public outing. Paul kills himself, and Kurt almost joins him were it not for the intervention of a physician and sexologist (co-writer Magnus Hirschfeld essentially playing himself), saying that Paul would want him to live and fight for equal rights.
While several early films have queer overtones (see Michael linked above and how the gay plot works due to subtext), this film was very open about its main characters being gay. And that was how Magnus Hirschfeld generally rolled. An advocate for gay and trans rights, Hirschfeld coined the word “transvestite” (which is NOT the generally preferred way to refer to trans people in the 21st century, but was insanely progressive for its time) and founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, or Institute for Sex Research. Seriously, read up on him and you’ll see what an amazing person he was.
As for the movie itself, it’s a little hard to properly review since it’s so fragmented. The title cards are pulling far more weight than usual for a silent film because so many sequences were lost. It’s more of a historical relic than a film, really; you don’t watch it for the plot, but to see proof that over 100 years ago there were people still fighting for gay rights. I’ll close on how it’s remarkable that the oldest film I’ve ever seen was progressive enough to have this (translated) text in it:
You mustn’t think poorly of your son because he is homosexual. He is not at all to blame for his orientation. It is neither a vice nor a crime, indeed, not even an illness, but instead a variation, one of the borderline cases that occur frequently in nature.
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