Watching Resolution: Different from the Others (1919)

3. A silent or dialogue-free film: Different from the Others (1919)

List Progress: 4/12

So much of queer history has been overlooked, erased or lost over the span of time, so what does remain is precious. Different from the Others (Anders als die Andern in the original German) is a 1919 silent film, and contains one of the first direct references to homosexuality in the history of cinema, and is almost certainly the first pro-gay film ever made. The film is a polemic, a simple and direct story making the full-throated argument that, in opposition to Germany’s Paragraph 175 law of the time, homosexuality should not be illegal and that queer people should be left alone to live their lives undisturbed. There is not a lot of nuance in the argument for modern audiences, but for people fighting for their lives, it was radical and in many ways still is today.

The film was helmed by doctor and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, a long-time proponent of queer rights. Conrad Veidt (who would become famous the next year for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) plays a violinist who falls in love with one of his students, and is blackmailed by someone who sees them together.  The extortioner (played by Reinhold Schünzel) had previously enticed the violinist into making a move on him and has been haunting him ever since, constantly dangling the threat of exposure and legal prosecution. The violinist eventually reaches his limit and takes a stand against his blackmailer, but because of the legal, social and personal obstacles, the story has nowhere to go but to end in tragedy. In case there is any ambiguity, Hirschfeld appears in the film himself as a doctor, defending the violinist and his lover and denouncing Paragraph 175.

Different from the Others was so widely censored and opposed that a full cut of the film no longer exists. Large portions are missing, with summaries of the missing scenes included as intertitles and the occasional still set photograph. Entire characters, such as the student’s sister who is infatuated with the violinist, have been lost to time, but Veidt and Schünzel’s character arcs have thankfully been kept largely intact. The silent film style of acting is quite different then contemporary styles, with much larger motions and expressions to convey meaning, but both men find the nuance and humanity in their characters. Veidt as the violinist is begging the world to see him as a person, and has his plea soundly rejected. But even back in 1919, there were people who made this film, who watched it, and who agreed with it. It was only a step in the right direction, but still one worth celebrating.

Would I Recommend It: For viewers with a pre-existing interest in queer history or silent film. Not quite for the casual viewer.

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