Synopsis: Brilliant concert violinist Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt) is only too happy to take on young music student Kurt Sivers (Fritz Schulz) as his pupil. The two men find they have more than a love of music in common, and are soon spending all their time together. However, behind Körner’s polished façade lies a terrible secret: according to the law of the land, he is nothing more than a lowly criminal, guilty of the crime of feeling love for his own sex. Will Körner allow himself to be continuously blackmailed by the sleazy Franz Bollek (Reinhold Schünzel) in order to keep his predilection hidden? Or will he openly accuse Bollek of extortion and take him to court – knowing that his own crime may be revealed in the process?
If we’re going to start from the very beginning (a very good place to start), let’s go ahead and state the obvious: depictions of gays, lesbians, or otherwise non-heterosexual, non-gender-binary folks were considered highly taboo in mainstream film until pretty recently. A lot of the time, if you’re looking for queer themes in classic film, you’re going to have to sift through a lot of subtext and coded images to find what you’re looking for – and even then, you may be accused of seeing something that may not really be there at all. This is not the case with Richard Oswald‘s Different from the Others (German title Anders als die Andern), which the director co-wrote with the brilliant German sexologist and gay rights advocate Magnus Hirschfeld. (Seriously, look up some of his work; he was truly a pioneer.) Produced during the Weimar Republic during the brief period after World War I when censorship was temporarily lifted in all German media, Different from the Others is noteworthy as one of the earliest, if not the first, unequivocally sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality in the history of cinema. Sadly, it comes as no surprise that it exists today only in a fragmented state, as many prints of the film – along with Magnus Hirschfeld’s entire library – were destroyed as examples of leftist “decadence” when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Fortunately, a collaboration between Kino International and Filmmuseum München has led to a beautiful restoration of the surviving segments and a bold reconstruction of the rest. The film is also given extra context in the intertitles, and any missing portions are described using notes gleaned from contemporary advertisements for the film. (more…)