Different From the Others (1919): The First Gay Rights Movie Ever … Later Destroyed by the Nazis

From Albert Kin­sey, to Sig­mund Freud, to Mag­nus Hirschfeld, promi­nent social sci­en­tists have offered dis­sent­ing opin­ions to pre­vail­ing main­stream ideas about homo­sex­u­al­i­ty as a con­se­quence of parental or soci­etal influ­ences. This doesn’t mean those researchers have agreed with each oth­er, or with cur­rent ideas, but their con­clu­sions were con­tro­ver­sial and star­tling to a con­sen­sus often com­plic­it in the crim­i­nal­iza­tion and polit­i­cal repres­sion of gays and les­bians. If you haven’t heard the last name on that list above, there’s prob­a­bly a good rea­son: Hirschfeld—a gay, Jew­ish physi­cian, sex­ol­o­gist, and advo­cate in Weimar Germany—had much of his work burned by the Nazis in their 1933 rise to pow­er.

One of Hirschfeld’s works destroyed in Nazi fires was a film he co-wrote and co-starred in called Dif­fer­ent From the Oth­ers, the first gay rights movie in his­to­ry. Released in 1919, and banned in 1920, the film explored a doomed rela­tion­ship between a vio­lin­ist, played by silent star Con­rad Vei­dt, and his stu­dent. Exten­sive flash­back scenes show both char­ac­ters’ ear­ly sex­u­al expe­ri­ences, their failed attempts to change their sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion (includ­ing treat­ment with bogus “ex-gay” ther­a­pies), and their even­tu­al self-accep­tance. In their present day, the cou­ple is open­ly affec­tion­ate, until the vio­lin­ist is black­mailed and dragged into court by an extor­tion­ist, then aban­doned by his friends and fam­i­ly. He com­mits sui­cide, and his lover vows to fight the law that crim­i­nal­ized homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Ger­many, known as Para­graph 175.

Dif­fer­ent From the Oth­ers would be lost to his­to­ry were it not for Hirschfeld’s preser­va­tion of 40 min­utes of footage in a sep­a­rate doc­u­men­tary. You can view the sur­viv­ing film above, with Eng­lish title cards. The film was part of a didac­tic series on themes of sex­u­al­i­ty that Hirschfeld made with direc­tor Richard Oswald. In each one, Hirschfeld appears as a doc­tor who inter­venes on behalf of per­se­cut­ed indi­vid­u­als. In Dif­fer­ent from the Oth­ers, he does so with the violinist’s par­ents, telling them, “You must not con­demn your son because he is a homo­sex­u­al, he is not to blame for his ori­en­ta­tion. It is not wrong, nor should it be a crime. Indeed, it is not even an ill­ness, mere­ly a vari­a­tion, and one that is com­mon to all of nature.”

In many oth­er such scenes, most of them now lost, Hirschfeld explic­it­ly states his argu­ment that, as The New York Times writes, “homo­pho­bia, not homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, was a scourge of soci­ety.” The then-rad­i­cal point of view found lit­tle con­tem­po­rary support—screenings were restrict­ed sole­ly to med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers and lawyers until the film’s destruction—but it makes this arti­fact of tremen­dous inter­est to film his­to­ri­ans and activists today. In addi­tion to Hirschfeld’s pio­neer­ing activism, the film is notable for star­ring Viedt, who went on to fame for his role in The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari.

Despite its many lacu­nae and entire miss­ing scenes, and char­ac­ters, Dif­fer­ent From the Oth­ers is cur­rent­ly being restored and turned into an expand­ed, “watch­able fea­ture,” using the sur­viv­ing rem­nants, along with found pho­tos and film stills, by the Out­fest-UCLA Lega­cy Project (see their ful­ly-fund­ed Kick­starter here). Many scenes—such as a lengthy the­o­ret­i­cal lec­ture by Hirschfeld—will be recon­struct­ed from a syn­op­sis, “a few reviews, and lit­tle else.” “You’re not see­ing the orig­i­nal,” admits UCLA Film & Tele­vi­sion Archive direc­tor Jan-Christo­pher Horek of the com­ing recon­struc­tion, “because we don’t know what the orig­i­nal looks like.” Nev­er­the­less, in what­ev­er form, Dif­fer­ent From the Oth­ers rep­re­sents a per­spec­tive at least “50 years ahead of its time,” says Horak, with an “enlight­ened the­o­ry that you wouldn’t see in this coun­try prob­a­bly until the ‘70s or ‘80s.”

Dif­fer­ent from the Oth­ers will be added to our list of Great Silent Films, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rudolf Braz­da, Last Man to Wear the Pink Tri­an­gle Dur­ing the Holo­caust, Tells His Sto­ry

Sig­mund Freud Writes to Con­cerned Moth­er: “Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is Noth­ing to Be Ashamed Of” (1935)

The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari: See the Restored Ver­sion of the 1920 Hor­ror Clas­sic with Its Orig­i­nal Col­or Tint­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.