The world's first gay movie? Anders als die Andern, made in 1919, has been restored, though some scenes are still lost, a testament to the vicissitudes of an era when homosexuality was an unspeakable crime. In Anders als die Anderen, Paul Körner, a virtuoso violinist, has a successful career, but he knows he's "different to the others" in mainstream society. In a vision, he sees a parade of gay people throughout history, forced to conceal their identity in a hostile world. Körner has an adoring fan, Kurt Sievers, who follows him everywhere. Kurt's pretty innocent and loves Körner as an artist. When a blackmailer confronts Körner, Kurt is shocked and runs away. Eventually, the blackmailer is tried and sentenced, but Körner is jailed too because homosexuality was then a crime. Ostracised, and his career in ruins, he commits suicide. Young Kurt wants to die, too, but is told by Magnus Hirschfeld (no less) that he must live on, to fight injustice.
"Science, not superstition!" The film uses "scientific" testimony to prove that being gay is part of human nature. Magnus Hirschfeld is seen giving an illustrated lecture with photos of "virile women" and transvestite men posing in their underwear, like specimens in a zoo. To modern eyes, that's offensive, but less so a hundred years ago when people went to freak shows and exhibited skeletons of Africans and other "sub-races". Dodgy science, as if human nature can be so easily classified. Maybe I've jjust got an aversion to pinning labels on people. At least Hirschfeld mentions the French Revolution and the idea that men are born equal. The idea that all people have a right to an identity fits better with modern thinking, though the rise of kook konservatism would deny that. The director was Richard Oswald (1883-1963), who made dozens of films in the Weimar era, including the well-known Alraune (1928) starring Brigitte Helm, which deals with quack science. Körner is played by Conrad Veidt, matinee idol, who made many films in Germany before escaping to star in many more films as a dodgy German. I also like the film for its sets - "modern" architecture of the time, much of it destroyed in the Depression and war that followed..