Sunday, August 1, 2021

Viet Harlan | Anders als du und ich (§175) (Different from You and Me) a. k. a. Bewildered Youth

the cure for no disease

by Douglas Messerli

Felix Lützkendorf and Hans Giese (screenplay and advisors), Viet Harlan (director) Anders als du und ich (§175) (Different from You and Me) a.k.a Bewildered Youth / 1957

The 1957 German film Anders als du und ich (§175) (Different from You and Me) is one of the most fascinating, irritating, frustrating, pernicious, absurd films about LGBTQ life released in the 20th Century. Directed by Veit Harlan, the protégé of Joseph Goebbels and director of the classic anti-Semitic propaganda film Jud Süß (1940), Harlen evidently sought to rehabilitate himself in the public eye by not only taking on a controversial topic, highly taboo in post-War II Germany, in presenting a mother and her husband who heroically attempt to save their son from homosexuality, but to embrace the moral challenge of speaking out against the German law, §181, of procuring—in this case committed by a mother through her encouragement a 20-year old live-in maid to sexually engage their 17-year old son and thus cure him of his homosexual tendencies.

     The ideas of and values of this this film are now recognized to be so utterly medically incorrect, morally corrupt, and basically confused—and now so woefully undated—that it is difficult to know where to begin in discussing the work. We might just allow that Harlen’s film was, if nothing else, brave in the way it openly treated, for the first time since the Weimar cinema of Magnus Hirschfeld, Richard Oswald, Carl Theodore Dreyer, and G. W. Pabst LGBTQ issues head on. But even that comparison points up just how open-minded the German Weimar Republic was in relationship to the Nazi rule and everything that followed until the late 1960s. The fact that even Harlen’s tame and obviously terrified approach to the subject was banned and censored simply reiterates how thoroughly Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s Federal Republic of Germany were still trapped in many of the Nazi-created values and restrictions.

      Even to relate the plot makes the whole sound quite absurd if not for the fact that this film was based, in part, on a true series of events, a truth which the censors also attempted to cover up by erasing the statement printed in the original print.

      Klaus (Christian Wolff), the 17-year-old son of Werner and Christa Teichmann  (Paul Dahlke and Paula Wessely) is a straight A student, doing well at school and popular with his fellow students. Yet the life he leads has begun to worry his conservative father, a wealthy bank director. For them, the fact that he spends of his free time with Manfred Glatz (Guenther Theil) is evidence of a kind of impending sickness. The son of a ballet dancer, apparently now dead, and a seamstress, Manfred is perceived as being “different” by both students and parents, and is regularly bullied for his wan appearance and seemingly effeminate ways, which as far as we can see consist of writing poetry, one of his poems having just appeared in a local newspaper, and secretly writing fiction.

     Just as disturbing to his petite bourgeoise parents—his father even proud to be described as that—is that Klaus has begin to paint abstract art and has taken a great interest, apparently through Manfred’s influence, in electronic and Musique concrète, you know the work of figures such as Pierre Henry, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Jean Barraqué, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edgard Varèse, Iannis Xenakis, Michel Philippot, and Arthur Honegger, influencing later, James Tenney, Alvin Lucier, and Luciano Berio. John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, David Tudor and Christian Wolff (Cage’s pupil, not this film’s actor).

      Some of Klaus’ art has even been placed in a local Berlin gallery, although we gather that his success there, much like Manfred’s poetry publication has less to do with his innate talent than in the interests of a local homosexual predator, Dr. Boris Winkler (Friedrich Joloff), who has already brought Manfred into his inner circle of gay party boys and desires to get to know Klaus better as well.

      The introduction of a true predator into this story, warning against his actions much in the manner of the US Sid Davis’ Boys Beware short films, further muddies the water in a movie that already hints that homosexuals represent a “third sex,” an idea straight out of Magnus Hirschfeld’s thinking and which the movie, in one of is fortunately deleted scenes debunks, while however arguing, as do figures in the movie itself, that being gay is curable if nipped in the bud in adolescent while providing the Freudian suggestion that homosexuality is a learned response that, if it takes hold of the psyche, must be described as a disease.

      Finally, the fact that young Klaus seems to take absolutely no interest in women makes it clear that their son is in danger, a situation which the old-fashioned Mr. Teichmann resolves to rectify by locking his son away in his room so that he cannot spend his nights with Manfred and, in particular, find his way to the “dungeons” of Winkler’s evil arts club, where men not only recite poetry, watch cinema, listen to music, but are entertained by nearly nude young men who wrestle in the Roman-Greco style. Like any hot-blooded youth, Klaus simply takes the easy way out by crawling through his bedroom window. 

      When his father discovers his son has gone missing, he and his brother-in-law, the more sane-headed and obviously more experienced, if just as homophobic Max (Hans Nielsen). Beginning their voyage at Dr. Winkler’s home, they are told by his protective and stalwart butler that he is not at home; at Mrs. Glatz’s house they are given no warmer greeting, and she only suggests they visit the bars that Winkler is known to frequent. But after Teichmann threatens to call the police on Winkler, who has to Mrs. Glatz’s delight promised to pay for his education, she patiently hears out  Max’s censor-inspired homily about her moral duty to protect her son from someone of his reputation—a reputation that they know absolutely nothing about but is actually far worse than they realize.

      At the bar, both men encounter numerous drag performers and cross-dressers, to Werner’s shock and, evidently, to Max’s knowledge and delight. In an attempt to calm down his sister’s husband, he tries to get him drink but succeeds only with himself.

     The next evening his father demands that Klaus attend a co-ed party, where, it becomes apparent, that Klaus is not only able to communicate to women but is gifted dancer of rock‘n’roll. Manfred, having been waiting for his friend to break away from the party, stands outside the estate gate asking an adult to take a message to  Klaus, who soon abandons his female companion to join his friend who spends the night reading aloud from his new novel, The Rainbow—perhaps another D. H. Lawrence in the making.

      In the meantime, Klaus’ mother, having overheard her husband’s insinuations about her son’s sexuality looks the subject up in the family reference books, reading all about the “third sex.” She visits her private doctor who tells her quite outrightly that if she wants to save her son, she must encourage his interest in a woman, which the censors oddly re-dubbed to read “love,” thus removing him from later suspicion of hooking Klaus up with a girl, and at the same time making the presumption that love is defined by its heterosexual normative meaning only.

          While Werner Teichmann stews, frets, and simmers, his wife at least takes action, sitting down with her beautiful maid, Gerda Böttcher (Hilde Körber), whom she senses is secretly in love with Klaus, to hint that its time to use all the feminine wiles her sisters have taught her from birth on how to get her man. Announcing that she and her husband are taking a several day vacation, she leaves the house in Gerda’s care, along with her son.

      Even though Manfred has been planning to use this opportunity to move in with Klaus, Gerda quickly sends him packing, quickly spinning a web to entrap Klaus with her own beauty and the pretense of her inviable purity. The kid his hooked before you can even hum along to the radio Chopin song she has tuned into, and miracle of miracles he’s just as suddenly cured. He now has no longer any time for Manfred, and runs home daily to be with Gerda, with whom he’s now convinced is his true love.

       Since Teichmann senior has now ordered the police to check out Winkler’s background, and one of his own favorites has already blackmailed him into paying off his scooter debt, he realizes its time to pack up his bag and head for a country in which there no legal restrictions such as German Paragraph 173. In the original he discusses his sexual involvement with boys as young as 16, comments which are cut in the later version so that no one might imagine that someone like Winkler could have arisen to such a position of power in German society. In the original he apparently makes a successful escape, leaving poor Manfred behind without either him or Klaus to protect him, but in the final censored version he is arrested as he is about to get on the train.

       To get even with Teichmann’s actions, however, Winkler turns the table, giving evidence that Klaus’ mother has “procured” the maid to have sex with her son, another obsolete German law.

       Although nearly anyone who might sympathize with a worried mother, would perceive her as innocent, the terribly corrupt sword of German law, this paragraph 181, goes after the mother as surely as it has gone after Winkler for just being a promiscuous gay man, even if had had nothing to do with a coven of handsome young boys. Winkler, Manfred, and even her husband, son, and maid are forced to testify that she has indeed “arranged” for the sexual liaison that has “cured” her son. And in the original she is sentenced, leniently so the Judge insists, for six months in prison, which was redubbed to read that she was simply put on probation.

     But her final lines to her husband, fortunately, were not changed. As he runs to her side, she sadly glances his way to tell him: “You’re guilty, and you don’t even know it.”

      We can only imagine that the Teichmanns’ relationship has been shaken by their determination to “save” their own son for a love which has not, in their case, been so very successful. And, of course, the film’s implication is that they need not make all the fuss in the first place, since their son was never a homosexual, but simply spent his time with a boy who loved him.

      In the end this film reveals the continued corruptness of the culture which, from the very earliest days of the Nazi ris, put an obsolete paragraph of law into full effect. Love remains a special German heterosexual specialty that doesn’t apply evidently to LGBTQ individuals, as it previously had not also applied to Jews, gypsies, or even certain kinds of experimental (decadent) artists. Gay sex was not decriminalized  until 1968 (East Germany) and 1969 (West).

       Of course, the hysteria about homosexuality was not just manifested in Germany but throughout the world. And it is now with near horror that I see this 1957 film at a time that I recall was one of the most important years of my early life. I was only 10 that year, but already had fallen in love with theater and literature in general. That year I began a daily listing of major events, so I knew that—in the world outside the terribly inverted vision that this film presents—things were quickly changing. Russia had launched Sputnik I and II with the dog Laika. Despite attempts to stop it Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. I was beginning to perceive things, and I too realized that I was different from anyone else I knew.

      Although I didn’t realize it at the time, The Wolfenden report was published in England arguing that homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offense. Although the report had little effect until the Sexual Offences Act was passed in 1967, it did lead to the foundation of the establishment of The Homosexual Law Reform Society in England. Two years earlier the New York chapter of the Mattachine Society was founded and The Daughters of Bilitis, the first US organization specifically for lesbians, was founded in San Francisco. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems was published just one year earlier and although it was banned, declared obscene, and its publisher arrested, in October of 1957 US Judge Clayton W. Horn declared that decision void. Also in 1957 gay poet Frank O’Hara published his book Meditations in Emergency. That year another gay poet Jack Spicer began a workshop called Poetry as Magic at San Francisco State College, attended by Robert Duncan, Helen Adam, and James Broughton, among others. 

Los Angeles, August 1, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (August 2021).

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