From the opening credits: real-life gay rights campaigner Magnus Hirschfeld plays himself.
What is this?
It’s a German film, directed by Richard Oswald, originally released in 1919.
Did you say 1919?
You usually review LGBT-themed stuff. But this obviously isn’t, if it's that old.
Oh, but it is! It’s the story of a young man, a concert pianist, who falls in love with an even younger man, a violinist. A blackmailer appears, threatening to reveal the truth, and the violinist decides to scram. And then the pianist is publicly outed, and eventually kills himself. It’s a real gay love story.
But is the same-sex love all “suggested” in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink kind of way? I mean ... this is 1919!
Not at all. There are even flashback sequences where we learn that the pianist, Paul, went to a sexologist to try to get himself straightened out. And there’s a sequence where Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (a real-life psychologist, and a big figure in gay history) explains that homosexuality is just a normal deviation from the majority.
This is a German film? But twenty years later they were sending homosexual men to concentration camps!
Intriguing, that, isn’t it? Things can go backwards real fast. But yes, in liberal post-WWI Germany there was a movement to legalize homosexuality. It’s astonishing, to watch this hundred-year-old film and see guys being as queer as anything you’d see today.
Is the film any good?
The thing is, the film only exists in fragments, so parts of the DVD are just still photos accompanied by title cards explaining the missing scenes. It’s hard to really judge the film, because it doesn’t fully exist. But what’s there is certainly interesting! Sure, it’s an old film, and moves slowly. There are moments that are funny to modern eyes (like the scene where Kurt goes all ineffectual in a drama-queen way, all fluttering eyes and trembling hands wiping his face, as Paul and the blackmailer fight it out behind him). But Conrad Veidt is easy on the eyes. And it’s nice to see these gay ancestors.
But you can’t really give it any stars (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system) if it doesn’t really exist.
Yes, I can: 1 star. This is a fascinating historical document, and I think any modern-day queer folk would find it worth 53 minutes of their time.