Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt)

There was a law put on the German books in 1871 that criminalized homosexuality and sent extortion through the roof and it wasn’t fully repealed until 1994. There was a brief period after WWI when laws were liberalized and many “enlightenment films” were made including this one. It plays very much like Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates in that it’s really a cinematic soapbox for a lecture on an important topic. It just so happens that it was done in 1919 and covered subjects people still don’t understand and get up in arms about today.

The story is about a violinist named Paul Körner who develops a relationship with another guy. Then things fall apart for both of them when a blackmailer comes into the picture. The core of the film isn’t the story, but the education not only about homosexuals, but inter-sexed, crossdressers, etc. It’s more accurate information then most people get from films today. To see a film from 1919 that doesn’t automatically equate crossdressing and homosexuality is amazing. Film and TV today still make that mistake.

However, two parts jumped out at me. One, when an experiment is cited that claims “sexual intermediates who seemingly differ only on a psychological level are in fact physically determined.” That may be true, but it’s a double edged sword. On the one hand, it means homosexuality isn’t contagious, but on the other it means it can be “fixed”. Two, when they say that “such people are not suited for marriage. Nature itself forbids it.” However, the character who says it is talking to the girl who has a thing for the gay guy so I don’t think the film was saying what we think it is about gay marriage. Nevertheless, it’s bothersome.

As a movie, it is unremarkable. As a film that dealt explicitly with homosexuality in 1919, it’s worth a look.