According to Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, “An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights might also be imposed.” In 1935, the Third Reich revised Paragraph 175 to make clear the punishment: “Confinement in a penitentiary not to exceed ten years”. Some homosexuals were, however, sent to Nazi concentration camps. Paragraph 175 was not, as this play, Different From The Others, makes clear, deleted from the criminal code until 1994.
What is markedly interesting about the pro-homosexual silent movie Anders als die Andern, released in 1919, is that it was ahead of its time then and remains deeply relevant today, at least in terms of its call for tolerance and acceptance. Richard Oswald (1880-1963) (Christopher Sherwood), a film director and Dr Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) (Jeremy Booth), a sexologist (as the play would have it) join forces to write Anders als die Andern, which translates as Different From The Others, essentially an attempt to persuade the public to see Paragraph 175 as something wholly unnecessary and wrong.
The film’s plot is readily available elsewhere so I will not regurgitate it here. Conrad Veidt (1893-1943) (Jordan Alexander) and Kurt Giese (1905-1979) (Simon Stallard) star, with supporting roles played by (amongst others) Reinhold Schünzel (1888-1954) (Benjamin Garrison) and Anita Berber (1899-1928) (Beth Eyre). The play provides its audiences with access – if that’s the right word – to the storyboard development as well as the casting process, a full (if imagined, because some creative licence is necessary due to incomplete information) behind the scenes look at the production of this motion picture.
It certainly hit a nerve: Oswald was unsure about Dr Hirschfeld’s ability to get the film distributed, but it was shown across Germany and the Netherlands, until the German authorities banned it, claiming (again, as the play would have it) that it could potentially be used for the recruitment of homosexuals. Cue Dr Hirschfeld trying in vain by response to assert that homosexuality doesn’t work like that. Thanks to a restoration process, the background to which this one-act play somehow finds time to portray the story to, the film was eventually shown at Outfest, an LGBT+ festival in Los Angeles, and then at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival.
Stallard’s Giese finds himself mixing business with pleasure, while Eyre’s Berber turns out to be one of those people whose abrasive nature, fuelled by addiction, is tolerated on account of her talent. As someone who fairly regularly notices when the sound design threatens to overpower the dialogue, it is both reassuring and refreshing to find a complete lack of incidental music or unnecessary noise – it’s relatively rare these days to come across a production that truly lets the dialogue speak for itself.
It is perhaps something of an indictment of supposedly more progressive and liberal times that Hollywood, one hundred years from the release of Different From The Others, continues to wrestle with the idea of central characters in movies that happen to be gay. The flip side is that anyone with an internet connection can now watch the film for free. That, together with this thoughtful and well-executed production, speaks love and acceptance in a way that Hirschfeld could not have foreseen – as the title character in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar puts it, “How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown!”
Review by Chris Omaweng
At the end of the First World War there existed a moment, a mere 20 months when Europe was liberal and free. Men held hands in public, Moscow and St Petersburg were gay and free from discrimination, Germany feeling the full
brunt of blame had yet to establish itself. In that minute window of opportunity came something quite extraordinary.
THE FIRST PRO-GAY FILM EVER MADE – 100 years since it’s release comes the backstage story of the film.
“DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS” BERLIN 1919: Magnus Hirschfeld, the famous sexologist, concerned with the increase in male suicide decides to make a film to educate young gay men. He hires Richard Oswald to direct; it stars Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Casablanca) Anita Berber, Reinhold Schunzel.
Magnus’s determination, the actor’s stories, the love story, the distribution, the aftermath and the ultimate betrayal. The Nazi’s destroyed all prints but one survived.
The inter-titles are so progressive they could’ve been written by modern day activists. I came across it online. Gay history that demands to be told.
Different From the Others
By Claudio Macor
Director Jenny Eastrop
29th October – 16th November
White Bear Theatre