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“Different from the Others”

Lawrence Bush
June 29, 2017

“Different from the Others” (Anders als die Andern), a silent film offering a sympathetic portrait of homosexuality, was released in Germany on this date in 1919. Written by Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the Institute for Sexual Science in the Weimar Republic, and Richard Oswald (Ornstein), who also directed the film, “Different from the Others” portrayed the downfall of a successful violinist who falls in love with one of his male students and is blackmailed for it. Flashbacks show us how the violinist became aware of his homosexuality, tried to flee it, and ultimately accepted himself. He ends up in court, with a sympathetic judge, but the ensuing scandal ruins his career and drives him to suicide. The film’s basic plot was reused in the 1961 film Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde. Richard Oswald was the director of some 100 films in the early days of German cinema, including The Picture of Dorian Gray (1917), Peer Gynt (1918), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1919). He fled the Nazis to France and then the U.S., returning to Germany following World War II. Hirschfeld (who also had a role in the film) died of a heart attack in 1935 after witnessing the destruction of his Institute by the Nazis. The movie explored his theory of “sexual intermediacy,” which embraced a broad sexual spectrum comprising heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism, and transvestism (a word invented by Hirschfeld). The violinist in “Different from the Others” first meets his blackmailer at a costume party, and the blackmailer also visits a drag club; these scenes are the earliest film footage of gay men and lesbians dancing. Initially shipped in forty copies throughout Germany and the Netherlands, the film was banned a year later and allowed to be screened only to doctors and lawyers. The Nazis destroyed the majority of the prints; only one is known to exist today. You can see a couple of clips below.

“Soon the day will come when science will win victory over error, justice a victory over injustice, and human love a victory over human hatred and ignorance.” --Magnus Hirschfeld

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.