On Dec. 5, the Provincetown Film Society hosts a screening of a restored version of the landmark 1919 German silent “Different From the Others,” at the historic Strand Theatre in Dorchester.
Historians consider the film the earliest known feature about LGBT people and the only LGBT-themed movie from Germany’s Weimar era (1919-33) that survived destruction after Hitler’s rise to power. The film was directed by Richard Oswald and co-written with psychologist and gay rights pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld, who ran the groundbreaking Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. “Different From the Others” stars Conrad Veidt, whose best-known silents include “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) and “The Man Who Laughs” (1928). Veidt later portrayed Colonel Strasser in “Casablanca" (1942).
The Strand event, a fund-raiser for the PFS and The Trevor Project, features popular Provincetown musician Billy Hough, who’ll perform his original score with a vocal ensemble led by Grammy-winning tenor Jason McStoots. There will be a post-screening discussion with film historian and author Michael Bronski and an additional live performance from Hough.
In the film, Veidt plays Paul Körner, a successful violinist whose career as well as his relationship with student Kurt Sivers (Fritz Schulz) are jeopardized by a blackmailer. He threatens to expose Körner’s homosexuality, a crime under Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 (the film’s original title). The paragraph in the German criminal code led to prison sentences for thousands of Germans for "unnatural vice between men.” “Different From the Others” is notable for its sympathetic portrayal of homosexuality in general and this gay couple in particular.
Most of the estimated 40 prints of the film are believed to have been destroyed by the Nazis. A partial single print was discovered in the Soviet Union some three decades ago; and in 2012 the UCLA Film and Television Archive undertook a complete restoration.
The great Buster
Silent classics are also on the bill when New Hampshire’s Jeff Rapsis provides live piano accompaniment for Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.” (1924) and “The Cameraman” (1928). The screening takes place Dec. 9 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre as part of its Sounds of Silents series. “Keaton’s features are the Beethoven symphonies of silent films,” Rapsis said in a phone interview. “The comedy is universal but each one has a specific quality.” Rapsis should know; he’s performed live, improvised scores for numerous silents over the years, from Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd comedies to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” (Rapsis will provide the music for Lang’s 1927 masterpiece on Dec. 15 at 4 p.m., at Natick’s Center for the Arts.)
Rapsis particularly likes this Keaton double feature because both films deal intimately with moviemaking. One of Keaton’s best-loved films, the 45-minute “Sherlock Jr.” features him as the projectionist at a small-town theater. His real ambition is to become a private detective and win the heart of a local girl. In the film-within-a-film, Keaton as the projectionist falls asleep while the film is running and dreams he’s entered the melodrama on the screen. This ingenious film fantasy sequence inspired Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985).
In “The Cameraman,” one of Keaton’s last silents and the first film he made after his infamous signing with MGM, he plays a hapless photographer who takes up newsreel work to impress a secretary who works for MGM Newsreels and soon finds himself in the middle of a major news story. With their finely choreographed slapstick set pieces that start slowly and then “spiral to madness,” Rapsis said he’s learned that when it comes to musical accompaniment for Keaton’s silents, “less is more.”
“One of the great glories of silent cinema is the audience laughter,” he said. “It’s a spontaneous combustion and it doesn’t happen if the audience members can’t hear each other laughing. So you don’t step on the audience’s ability to hear one another.”