Nerves (1919)

One of David Bordwell’s top films of 1919; when I spotted it on a recent excursion to Abbey’s, I thought I might give it a go. Director Robert Reinert appears to be one of the forgotten men of German cinema, seemingly the combined result of his relatively early death (1928), neglect within his own lifetime and loss of most of his work since then, his own propensity for making overblown box-office disasters, and the simple fact that he peaked just before Caligari was released only a couple of months after this film. Nerves is on DVD from Edition Filmmuseum, who’ve restored the film to around 110 minutes. At that length about a third of the film is still lost, but apparently that’s still a big improvement over what had been available hitherto. Elsewhere Bordwell calls it one of the strangest films of the silent era, which judgement I’ll concur with. In 1919 Germany had not only just lost a war, it had undergone a series of uprisings that would continue for years (Adolf Hitler’s 1923 beer hall putsch was just one of them), and Reinert wanted to show the “nervous tension” of the age. This filmic illustration was more than a little mad itself, both in terms of technique and narrative; the latter concerns a far-right aristocrat who is opposed by a populist teacher, plus various relatives of same, all mixed up in a saga of lust, madness, arson, suicide, “hereditary taints”, rioting, etc. The pacing of all this is rendered strange enough by the swathes of missing material, but let’s face it, if the film were intact it’d only be even more excessive. Reinert’s forte was apparently the over-the-top melodrama, and this is nothing if not a striking example of same, so superheated you could warm your house with it for the whole of winter. I’m only sorry the other 50-odd minutes of it is still missing. Must try and find Reinert’s Opium from the same year now…

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