Cast & Crew
This silent silhouetted animation is based on the Arabian Nights' tales.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Her silhouette film technique involved elaborately detailed and jointed paper puppets, multiplane camera techniques and fascinating experiments on film stock with wax and sand. A Berlin-born avant-garde artist, who chose conventional fairy tales as her subject matter, Reiniger was only 23 when she made the film. Though she has been largely overlooked by film historians for her innovations in film form and animation, Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed has been acclaimed by contemporary viewers like the San Francisco Examiner's Wesley Morris, who called the film "a rapturous animated kaleidoscope."
The German production borrowed from the exoticism of the Middle East and The Arabian Nights to tell the fantastical story of a Prince Achmed and his series of adventures after a wicked African sorcerer tricks him into mounting a magical horse who spirits Achmed away to the enchanted island of Waq Waq. There the prince falls in love with the beautiful Princess Peri Banu, who lives on the island and whom he tells, "I am yours to command until the end of time." But once again, the evil sorcerer conspires to harm the prince, and manages to spirit the princess away to China, where he has arranged for her to marry the emperor. Achmed later joins forces with the sorcerer's archenemy, the Witch of the Fiery Mountains, and then with Aladdin and his magic lantern, to retrieve his princess love in a suitably fairy-tale denouement.
The animated figures in Achmed move against a changing backdrop of vivid color tinting, and ornate scenery, from the lake where Prince Achmed first finds Princess Peri Banu bathing, to the frightening flying goblins who spirit the sorcerer away to do his bidding, and look like ancestor's of the evil flying monkeys of The Wizard of Oz (1939) or elaborate woodcuts brought to life.
Director Jean Renoir called Reiniger's film "a masterpiece" and effusively proclaimed the director "born with magic hands." The film was recently restored to its original color tinting and given a new orchestral recording of a compelling 1926 score by Wolfgang Zeller.
The animation technique used by Reiniger in Achmed was eventually replaced by cel animation like that favored by Max Fleischer and Walt Disney, whose own Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) is often erroneously cited as the first animated feature.
Reiniger was unusual in making conventional fairy tales rather than the more experimental or political works favored by fellow members of the avant-garde. In fact, her animation assistant on Achmed, Walther Ruttmann (director of Berlin, the Symphony of a Great City, 1927), asked her why she did not make more political films. She replied, "I believe more in the truth of fairy tales than that found in the newspapers."
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Screenplay: Lotte Reiniger
Music: Wolfgang Zeller
by Felicia Feaster
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
The Adventures of Prince Achmed - Lotte Reiniger - Queen of Silhouette Animation
The original hand-tinted color print of The Adventures of Prince Achmed was actually destroyed but this restored version was made in complete accord with Reiniger's original tinting instructions. Restored by the Deutsches Filmmuseum Frankfurt with tinting and printing by L'Immagine Ritrovata, Reiniger's exotic fantasy is presented in German intertitles with English subtitles and is accompanied by a new orchestral recording of the original score by Wolfgang Zeller. On a purely visual level alone, The Adventures of Prince Achmed still has the power to dazzle and fascinate children (and adults) with its seductive imagery, which is not like anything you'll ever see on Sponge Bob or The Cartoon Network.
During her early years, Reiniger was a student at Max Reinhardt's theatre school in Berlin and first became adept at the silhouette technique through designing intertitles for German films. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II forced her to move to England, which eventually became her second home. Despite a lifelong struggle to find funding for her work, Reiniger was said to have produced more than 200 animated films, most of them shorts, produced and photographed by her husband/collaborator, Carl Koch; they worked together from 1921 until Carl's death in 1963. Other Reiniger career highlights, besides The Adventures of Prince Achmed, include Carmen (1933), The Grasshopper and the Ant (1954), The Frog Prince (1954) and the work she did for the National Film Board of Canada in the '70s. Of her work, The British Film Institute said, "Lotte Reiniger's silhouettes are in the tradition of the Eastern shadow theatre and retain the decorative ingenuity, the humor and inventiveness of this ancient craft, to which she applies the technical resources of the cinema. Only the cinema screen can do justice to her unique and fragile art."
The Milestone DVD edition of The Adventures of Prince Achmed comes with several bonus features including an optional audio track with spoken intertitles and a stills gallery. But the real treats are a 1921 animated advertising short by Reiniger entitled The Secret of the Marquise and Lotte Reiniger: Homage to the Inventor of the Silhouette Film, an entertaining and informative documentary written and directed by Katja Raganelli.
For more information about The Adventures of Prince Achmed, visit Milestone.To purchase a copy of The Adventures of Prince Achmed, visit TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford