DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS
Directed by Richard Oswald, 1919, Germany
Made in 1919, DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS (ANDERS ALS DIE ANDERN) is arguably the first feature film made explicitly about a gay person. The film follows the life of a gay violinist and music teacher, Paul Korner in the early 1900s in Germany. The film shows his expulsion from school, pressure to be ‘normal’, unsuccessful hypnosis to change his orientation, an attempt at a gay relationship and the result of malicious blackmail on his career and ultimately – his life. In 1871, Paragraph 175 had been added to Germany’s Imperial Penal Code and criminalizing homosexuality and subsequently promoting blackmail of LGBT people.
The film was directed by Richard Oswald (1880 – 1963) in collaboration with Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 – 1935), the famed psychologist who founded the German homosexual emancipation movement in 1897. Oswald asked Hirschfield to write him a gay story. Hirschfeld served as advisor, oversaw the script, and acted as the uncredited sexologist in the film. Hirschfeld claimed that homosexuals were a biological ‘third sex,’ a social minority and should not be discriminated against.
“Nature is boundless in its creations. Between all opposites there are transitions, and that is true of the sexes. Therefore, apart from man and woman, there are also men with physical and psychological qualities of a woman as well as women, with all sorts of male characteristics…. Feminism and homosexuality often coincide, but by no means always; thus there are feminine men who are not homosexual, as well as homosexuals who make little or no female impression… The persecution of homosexuals belongs in the same sad chapter of human history in which the persecutions of heretics and witches are inscribed. These unfortunates were punished with fire and sword for 1500 years... May justice soon prevail over injustice in this area, science conquer superstition, love achieve victory over hatred!”
- Magnus Hirschfeld, DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS (1919)
Given the recent struggle in California for our civil rights, the importance of preserving this film is even more timely. We viscerally understand the painful sting from homophobia. Imagine this film in its historical context. 1919, World War I just had ended, the new socialist regime in Russia repealed an anti-sodomy statute, the Weimar Republic was founded – including the strengthening of freedom of speech, women’s suffrage and homosexual rights. This film was made during the short time that German censorship was lifted.
The film opened in May 1919 in Berlin and despite growing public protest became a box office hit and screened throughout Europe. A dance scene showing anonymous androgynous characters ignited a riot in one Berlin cinema. The film and its directors began facing censorship for allegedly glorifying homosexuality and by July 1919 the film had been banned by local police in Stuttgart, Munich, Thuringen and Saxony and could only be legally screened in Berlin and some North German provinces. In 1920, the film was altogether banned for endangering public order and security. This ban foreshadowed the Nazi persecution and the intensifying homophobia and anti-Semitism of the coming years.
Once the Nazis were in power, they attempted to destroy all gay media in Germany. Hirschfeld’s archive was destroyed and it has been assumed that the original film and any copies were impounded and destroyed by the Nazis, who considered Hirschfeld as emblematic of the Weimar democracy.
The only surviving material is a 40 minute fragment, from an already shortened and reedited rerelease version that Hirshfeld put out in 1927, called INNOCENTLY PERSECUTED! (UNSCULDIG GEAECHTET!). That fragment was at GOSFILMOFOND (Russian Film Archive) until it was repatriated to the Bundesarchiv (Federal German Archive) in 1970. While the Filmmuseum München spearheaded a video preservation that pieced together film fragments, documents and photos, there has never been a restoration to film – the only reliable archival medium. Outfest and the UCLA Film & Television Archive are proud to announce DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS as the Legacy Project’s next film restoration project, in collaboration with Filmmuseum München. Our work on this film will ensure that the message of tolerance and acceptance that was made so courageously in 1919 in Germany will continue to inspire this generation.
The article “Cinema and Censorship in the Weimar Republic: The case of Anders als die Andern”, written by James D. Steakley, was referenced in this writing. Film History, Volume 11, (1999): pp 181 – 203.