MAEDCHEN IN UNIFORM
Germany. 1931. B&W. German with English subtitles. 90 min.
Director: Leontine Sagan.
Cast: Hertha Thiele, Dorothea Wieck, Emilia Unda
Script: Christa Winsloe and F.D. Andam, from the play Gestern und Heute by Christa Winsloe
Maedchen in Uniform is the only film in Season One which is not silent, but we see it as a ‘transitional’ film in so far as it is very much indebted to the expansiveness and expressiveness of the best silent cinema we have seen, relying on images to deal with the feelings of the characters, move the action forward, and create a certain mood. The soft textures and the ‘sculpting’ of light which were mastered by German filmmakers of the silent era (particularly the gay director F.W. Murnau, of Nosferatu fame) is also evident here. Maedchen tells the story of an adolescent girl in a women-only private college ruled as if by martial order. The girl falls in love with one of the teachers, the only kind-hearted member of the staff, who is equally taken by her. This alliance is unlikely to survive in such a hostile environment, but their bond is strong enough to drive them to attack the very system which operates in the institution. This film is about love as resource and treasure, but also about love as a weapon against oppression; it is not by chance that the microcosm of the private college in Madchen has often been read as a metaphor for the rise of the Nazis in Germany at the time.
The film is also about physical closeness, and about the electricity of the queer touch. In fact, the critic Parker Tayler once described Maedchen as “A chaste ode to sexuality”. There was a remake of the film in 1958 starring Romy Schneider; a nice version, but not a patch on the sublime original. Queer, anti-authoritarian, feminist, it is no surprise that the film was banned on both sides of the Atlantic, and then heavily censored for many years. Based on a play by lesbian author Christa Winsloe, who also co-wrote the script, the 1931 Maedchen in Uniform was directed by another lesbian, Leontine Sagan. An exposé of authoritarian inhumanity, the film itself adopted an alternative mode of working, with the full team functioning as a cooperative and sharing all profits equally. Vito Russo has described Maedchen as: “One of the few films to have an inherently gay sensibility”. Maedchen in Uniform is also a certifiable classic, one of the most moving, hard-hitting, and beautiful films in the history of cinema.
© Dublin Film Qlub 2010
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