Edition Filmmuseum 116

Robert Reinert combines exotic thrills with erotic visuals in his film Opium, which accompanies an English doctor to China and India on his research into the effects of opium. The color tints and tones reinforce the psychedelic vibe of the frivolous dreams populated by elves and satyrs. The typography of the intertitles changes according to the location. Mutilated by censors and distributors, Reinert's classic has now been painstakingly recon- structed. This colour reconstruction was based on nitrate source elements from the film museums in Munich and Düsseldorf, and the Austrian Film Archive. At a length equivalent to 2,150 metres of celluloid, this is closer to the original release than any version known to have survived. In the DVD booklet, Stefan Drössler examines the unknown biography of Robert Reinert. As a special feature the DVD also offers a fragment of the legendary lost Reinert film Sterbende Völker.

The Film

Opium - Germany 1919 - Directed and written by: Robert Reinert - Cinematography: Helmar Lerski - Cast: Eduard von Winterstein, Hanna Ralph, Werner Krauß, Sybill Morel, Friedrich Kühne, Conrad Veidt, Loni Nest - Produced by: Monumentalfilm Robert Reinert, Munich - Premiere: January 7, 1919 (Munich) - 2018 Rekonstruction: Filmmuseum München & Filmmuseum Düsseldorf - Edited by: Stefan Droessler, Andreas Thein - Digital image restoration: Christian Ketels, Iris Rosendorn, Stefan Wimmer - Music: Richard Siedhoff, Mykyta Sierov - Live recording of a performance at the Bonn International Silent Festival on August 17, 2018

About the Film

A sort of Weimar-era Reefer Madness, warning of the dangers of drugs while reveling in hallucinogenic imagery of fauns and nymphs cavorting in the sunshinesuch were the narcotic visions of the film's delirious opium-smokers. Werner Krauss plays a wicked Chinese opium dealer who lures a professor (Eduard von Winterstein) into sampling the drug he has only previously studied scientifically. Conrad Veidt costars as the professor's assistant who is in love with his wife. The performances are striking albeit rather chaotic, but it's the atmosphere and the look of the film that burns brightestwhether in its rampant exoticism, those narcotized pastoral daydreams, or a startling encounter with a lion, in rural India no less.

Opium was in a position to astound, if not traumatize, as it screened in a new tinted restoration that is far more complete than the versions that have circulated over the years. As Stefan Drössler from the Filmmuseum München explained, the restoration involved more imagination than most, as the film was reconstructed from two negatives (the domestic and export versions) that in places hardly matched at all. What was especially touching was that Drössler had managed to find out more about Reinert himself and his lifeincluding the information that he had suffered from mental illness and been treated with cranial surgery. The audacious and often otherworldly imagery in Opium, Nerven, and his 1916 fantasy Homunculus may reflect the wayward imagination of a psychologically damaged man, or just the compulsive creativity of a man who wrote and directed prolifically until his sudden death of a heart attack in 1928, in his fifties.

Pamela Hutchinson, Criterion Blog, August 5, 2019

Opium the film is itself like a fever dream. There is an inspired, charged, foolhardy, devil-may-care attitude in the film, yet at the core it is deadly serious. It is about the lure of an escape to a world of drug addiction when the reality of the world is overwhelmingly hard to face. Nobody is safe from madness. All the three doctors with a mission to save the world succumb themselves to opium addiction, and all their lives are ruined.

Robert Reinert relishes in dramatic excess. During the period of no censorship he indulges in reckless abandon. Opium may be at the surface a sensation film but Reinert, Helmar Lerski, and their team are at home in the realm of dreams and nightmares. There is a genuine oneiric quality in the delirium that is Opium. As Horak and Bordwell have observed Reinert is a distinguished special case in the development of film aesthetics. In no way does he hide his background in the histrionic legacy of the overdone pantomime of the early cinema, including Film d'Art. He flaunts it and seems to take infinite pleasure in it. Especially Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt make a virtue out of the old-fashioned burden of overacting. It is a pleasure to watch them together here in a film made before Caligari.

The film has art intertitles in styles of Chinoiserie, Indianesque and English sobriety. The wording is impressive both in lengthy descriptions and blunt statements such as "KEIN AUSGANG" (no exit) and "SCHICKSAL" (destiny).

Antti Alanen, Film Diary, November 19, 2015

DVD features

  • Opium 1919, 92'
  • Musical accompaniment by Richard Siedhoff & Mykyta Sierov
  • Documents and side-by-side comparisons of Opium 4'
  • Fragments of Robert Reinert's Sterbende Völker (1922) 9'
  • Booklet with texts by Stefan Droessler and Robert Reinert

Edited by: Filmmuseum München
DVD authoring: Gunther Bittmann, Tobias Dressel
DVD supervision: Stefan Droessler

First Edition January 2021

TV Format Original format Audio format Language Subtitles Region code

4:3 (PAL)
Dolby Digital 2.0 (Stereo)
German intertitles
All Regions


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