Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #39: Different from the Rest

The following review was written for the newly launched GLBT publication, Proud. Everyone at Gen X pitched in at least one. This one was rejected. I do not blame them one smidge as it is dry as dust and what I might generously call "strained". Anyway, publishing it here gets me one movie further in the great Gen X watch-off. Now my decks are truly cleared and Moviepalooza can begin in earnest.

Different from the Rest

Germany, 1919. Directed by Richard Oswald. Starring Conrad Veidt.

The preamble to the recent restoration of Different from the Rest claims that it is the first film ever to deal with homosexuality head-on, rather than allude to it. It's heartening to report that the film is enlightened, even by today's standards, taking an activist stance against Germany's rigid anti-homosexuality laws. Ahead of its time, to be sure, as it wasn't until 1994 - 75 years after the film was made - that the last remnants of the laws were abolished. The film was banned outright in 1920, and only exists today in a fragment discovered at a Russian film archive. Not even a continuity script survives, so the restoration of the film had to rely on contemportary reviews of the film and scholarly papers either affirming or decrying the film. Needless to say, it's not a film on which one can make a definitive stand - enough of the film is missing that one of the three most important characters, one of the gay men's sister, does not exist in the extant footage, and only appears via two production stills.

The plot concerns an esteemed concert violinist, Paul Korner, played by Conrad Veidt, Cesare the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (made the same year) and Major Strasser in Casablanca. He and a younger male student fall in love, an affair torn apart by a vicious blackmailer. One of the film's central theses is that the existing laws could not prevent homosexuality, being biological rather than a choice, but would create a boom in blackmail.

The extant footage sticks pretty closely to Veidt's home, where much of the drama takes place, thus reducing the dramatis personae who exist strictly in subplots. Extensive intertitles and use of stills help fill in the blanks, of which there are many. The acting is quite fine, with little of the over-the-top angst once expects from many silent films, remarklably missing given that the footage we are left with is primarily concerned with angst.

In all, Different from the Rest is a curiosity. It is inarguable that what we are left with is primarily of historical interest, but one can't fault the filmmakers for that. Some of the production stills suggest a touch of expressionism to a series of dream sequences that depict a parade of historical figures destroyed by society's cruel intolerance of homosexuality (Oscar Wilde, King Ludwig II, with Paul Korner joining the ranks when the parade appears again at the end), which makes one even more anxious to see the footage denied us by history.

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