Karine Jean-Pierre
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The First Gay Film: Different From the Others From 1919

Different from the Others

The first known film with a gay love story was made more than 100 years ago.

Greatly predating Brokeback Mountain, Making Love, and all the rest, the 1919 German film Different From the Others tells the story of two men who fall in love, one a prominent musician and the other his protégé, and are threatened by a blackmailer. The film argues for the acceptance of homosexuality.

The Outfest UCLA Legacy Project restored the film to the extent possible a few years ago. The Legacy Project is a partnership between Outfest, Los Angeles’s LGBTQ+ film festival, and the University of California, Los Angeles, Film and Television Archive. It screened at New York City's NewFest in 2016.

“To use the term ‘restore’ would be wrong,” says Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the archive, told Back2Stonewall recently. “There’s not enough footage for a real restoration. But what we have put together allows people to experience the remarkable culture that existed in Berlin in the 1920s, which was wiped out, of course, by the Nazis. As far as I know, this is the earliest document we have of gays and lesbians being represented on-screen.”

LGBTQ+ rights activist Magnus Hirschfeld wrote Different From the Others with Richard Oswald, and Oswald directed it. There are only about 40 minutes of the film still existing, the site reports. It was banned soon after its release, and when the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, they destroyed most copies of it. However, some of the film had been edited into a 1927 release called Laws of Love, in which Hirschfeld gives lectures about sex and reproduction.

It stars Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schultz as the lovers. Fans of classic films know Veidt primarily for two movies, Casablanca and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, although he made more than 100. Veidt had fled anti-Semitic persecution in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, first for London, then for Hollywood — he was not Jewish, but his wife was — but often ended up playing Nazis, like Casablanca’s Major Strasser. It was his next-to-last film; he died of a heart attack in 1943, aged 50. Schultz also ran afoul of the Nazis and moved to Switzerland for a time; he had an extensive film and stage career and died in 1972 at age 76.

Oswald and Hirschfeld fled the Nazis as well. Oswald settled in the U.S. to produce and direct films; his son Gerd Oswald also became a director. Richard Oswald died in 1963 at age 82. Hirschfeld suffered most of all, being both a gay man and a Jew. He was often physically attacked, and when he went on a speaking tour in the early 1930s, he was blocked from returning to Germany. He died in France in 1935, aged 67.

View clips from Different From the Others and a feature about the restoration below.

 

Tags: film, Outfest

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