After watching Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger last week in class I was eager to learn more about this fascinating film. Luckily I found that the British Film Institute had released it in DVD as a part of their Milestone Collection. The work of Lotte Reinger was also highlighted in a bonus documentary. The final film that was so work intensive to make shows an amazing delicacy in the movement of its characters.
Lotte Reiniger saw herself as an entertainer instead of an artist. Her addiction to silhouette making was something that started at an early age. By the age of 14 she had her first shadow puppet theater. Her creativity lead to the creation of the first full length animated movie Prince Achmed which was done with silhouette figures on color backgrounds.
This endeavor kept Lotte at her light board for three years. The camera work was done with a multi-plane camera that captured 300,000 separate frames. Since the height of the attic workroom was not very high, most of the frames were set up at floor level. After filming the movements were synchronized to the score that was written by Wolfgang Zeller. The film opened to mixed reviews. Audiences were not accustomed to serious animation. Financially it was a disaster — it took 50 years for it to show a profit.
My fascination in watching the film for a second and third time was the movement of the characters’ hands. Of course the hands of the sorcerer and witch were undeniably powerful and wicked as they set about casting their spells. But, I was amazed at the emotion Reiniger showed in the control and placement of the hands of her characters in non-violent action . The following screen capture shows the expressive hand gesture of my favorite scene when Prince Achmed closes his hand in a defiant fist as the sorcerer struggles with his sister Dinarsade.
Later in the film the picture of Aladdin as he reaches to hold Dinarsade’s hand conveys such a tender moment with its fluid movement.
I was able to find pictures on the web that were taken during the creation of some of Reiniger’s silhouette films … they help us understand the painstaking work it took to bring this first animation into being.
There there are always those who like to add their spin to a work of art. I found this on a chinese website!
The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger, DVD, Milestone Collection, British Film Institute
Documentary: Lotte Reiniger: Homage to the Inventor of the Silhouette Film, DVD, Milestone Collection, British Film Institute.