Maedchen in Uniform (1931) A
German (Girls in Uniform)
Inspired by the lesbian German poet Christa Winsloe’s antifascist play “Gestern und Heute,” “Maedchen in Uniform” is still the most famous lesbian-themed feature ever made.
Produced in 1931, before the rise of Nazism, Leontine Sagan’s “Maedchen” belongs to a cycle of anti-authoritarian films produced in the ate Weimar Republic.
The first cooperatively made German film, “Maedchen” was also one of the first made by politicized women. German gay and lesbian screen characters were not tolerated, to say the least, when Hitler came to power.
Though a feature debut, “Maedchen” displays narrative fluency, assured visual stylem and emotional impact, and I can only specualte what kind of career director Sagan, who was also an actress and theater director would have had in different socio-political contexts.
Hertha Thiele plays a new student, Manuela, in an exclusive boarding school, serving as a symbol of totalitarianism. Marching soldiers in the opening montage are mirrored by marching uniformed schoolgirls.
Motherless, she feels lonely and alienated, having been deserted by her family. Miserable at the semi-military academy, Manuela keeps distance from the rest of the girls. For most girls, the highlight of the day is one human gestue, the goodnight kiss from the fraulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck). Persecuted for her solitary stance by principal Emilia Unda, Hertha is drawn to her sympathetic teacher, and what starts as a friendship soon blossoms into a romance.
Manuela’s crush on her teacher is reciprocated. During a school’s assembly, Manueal proclaims her love in public. As a result, the scandalized headmistress banish her to the infirmary.
Public revelation of this relationship proves disastrous to both student and teacher. But, ultimately, it’s the harsh, the unforgiving principal Unda who suffers the most, when the girls show group solidarity against the inhuman, emotionally sterile headmistress.
At the end, the tormented, Manuela tries to leap from the top of the stairwall, but she is rescued by her classmates, who defy the decree. It’s noteworthy, that in the play, Manuela jumps from a window. The movie’s ending was changed by Hitler’s ascent in 1931.
Among many interesting ideas contained in “Maedchen” is the notion that it is a woman who enforces militaristic and patriarchal values, suggesting that that abuse and corruption of power goes beyond simplistic sexual boundaries.
The bright author Boze Hadleigh notes that, shortly after its release, the ending of “Maedchen” was again changed by Nazi censors, showing the non-conformist Manuela falls and dies. When the film became a hit in Europe, Goebbels banned it altogether.
“Maedchen” became the first lesbian film shown in in the U.S. (I saw it for the fiest time in a gay festival in the late 1970s). Feminist directors and scholars have emraced the film as a smapler of a work that displays a distinctive woman’s point of view.
In her perceptive review years later, the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael wrote: “The teacher is not viewed as decadent or naughty; she is on the side of the liberal, humanitarian angels, yet unmistakably lesbian. This legendary film is always described as sensitive, and it is; it’s also a rather loaded piece of special pleading.”
“Maedchen in Uniform” was remade in 1958, starring Romy Schneider as Manuela, but this version is inferior: with some of the original film’s frankness prevails, it lacks the honest, graphic eroticism of the 1931 film.
Emilia Unda as The Principal
Dorothea Wieck as Fraulein Von Bernburg
Hedwig Schlichter as Fraulein Von Kesten
Hertha Thiele as Manuela Von Meinhardie
Ellen Schwannecke as Ilse von Westhagen
Running time: 90 Minutes.
Directed by Leontine Sagan
Written By: Christa Winsloe, Friedrich Dammann Andam
Leave a Reply
- Almodovar Tribute: Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown
- Almodovar Tribute: Law of Desire
- Soderbergh Tribute: Out of Sight
- Almodovar Tribute: Matador
- 20 Feet from Stardom
- Almodovar Tribute: What Have I Done to Deserve It?
- Soderbergh Tribute: The Underneath
- Almodovar Tribute: Dark Habits
- Soderbergh Tribute: King of the Hill
- Man of Steel
- Almodovar Tribute: Labyrinth of Passion
- Soderbergh Tribute: Kafka–Sophomore Jinx