The Art of Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

I might not have discovered the beautifully imagined magical world of Lotte Reiniger if it wasn’t for Fritzi’s Voracious appetite for the innovative spirit of women in the film industry particularly silent films. My particular favorite is her Thumbelina or Däumelinchen -An ethereal journey that is engaging and lovely.

In reverence to Women’s History Month, Movies Silently is hosting the wonderful — Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon : Sponsored by Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology -from Flicker Alley, and it’s a pleasure and an honor to be included in the invent.

Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger (1899-1981) was a visionary German filmmaker who pioneered silhouette or “profile art animation”. Reiniger was fascinated with cutouts and puppetry from childhood.

Her work developing a back-lit glass animation table with a multiplane camera to create effects that predates animators like Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks by at least a decade. she adapted old European stories and fables like “Cinderella,” “Thumbelina,” and “Hansel and Gretel” into a striking visual style and groundbreaking for the 1920s — working well into the 1950s with fabulous fables like The Frog Prince 1954, The Grasshopper and the Ant 1954, Jack and the Bean Stalk 1955.

Aladdin, the Magic Lamp and the demons of Wak-Wak!

The Adventures of Prince Achmed made in Black & White with tinted tones is based on stories from “The Arabian Nights” is considered her masterwork, which she worked on for over three years. The film predates Disney’s SNOW WHITE by eleven years.

The original score was composed by German composer Wolfgang Zelle. The score was developed in concert with animation, as Reiniger created photograms for the orchestra which were performed live in the theaters.

Her passion for animation started as a child. She was fascinated with Chinese silhouette puppetry and traditional Indonesian shadow puppet theater and built her own puppet theatre. As a teenager, during the dawn of cinema, Lotte was drawn to the special effects in films like those of Georges Méliès and Paul Wegener.

After attending a lecture by Wegener, she joined the acting troupe he belonged to, and started making costumes and props backstage at the Theatre of Max Reinhardt.

At 19 years old, Lotte created the animation for the intertitles in Wegener’s Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin), creating wooden rats for animation. This work led to her admittance into the experimental animation and short film studio in the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research). Here, she met her future husband and animation partner Carl Koch, and rubbed elbows with artists like Hans Cürlis, Bertolt Brecht, and Berthold Bartosch. She made six short films during this period, with her husband producing and photographing and became the center of a group of brilliant German animators during the Weimar Republic (the group included Bartosch, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger).

Lotte Reiniger with fellow artist husband Carl Koch

In 1923, she was asked to make a full length animated feature for Lois Hagen. Full length animated features were unheard of at the time. Typically animated films were short (less than 10 minutes) and meant to make the audience laugh. Nevertheless, Reiniger animated The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926. While the film had a difficult time finding a distributor, it premiered in Paris (with the support of Jean Renoir) and became a success. It is not only the oldest full-length animated feature, but the first avant-garde full length film.

When the Weimar Republic fell to the Nazis, Reiniger and Koch, both anti-Nazi activists, tried to emigrate to other countries, but no other country would take them permanently. They spent from 1933-1944 moving from one country to another, staying as long as their visas would allow. They made 12 films during this period, finally settling in London in 1949.

In addition to developing pioneering film animation techniques, Lotte’s mark remains in world of film animation, particularly fairy tales. Her techniques influenced future stop-motion animation movements. Her distinct style was unique for the time period, relying on gestures instead of facial expressions to show emotions. Her work focuses on character’s transformations, showing a fluidity very much in the style of expressionism.

Her original materials are part of a permanent exhibition of her work “The World in Light and Shadow: Silhouette, shadow theatre, silhouette film” in Filmmuseum Düsseldorf in Tübingen.

Lotte Reiniger in London 1970

In 2010, her style of animation was used in Harry Potter The Deathly Hallows short animation film “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”

Lotte Reiniger obviously loved her craft in unique silhouette films became groundbreaking, Reiniger would look for a fairytale character that she loved and then she would settle in knowing that the work will take a long time of tedious and arduous work, as she has herself said the lead character must be made to fit into the story so various figures and sets are designed to create the storyboard, showing sequences that will be broken down into particular movements by the main figures, but the importance of the story must not be underestimated. She was fascinated by great fairytales and folktales, the magic and lyrical quality they possess. Lotte Reiniger brought to them her own unique interpretation and it shows as they all bear her unmistakable quality.

She was passionate about her characters bringing them to life. There is an intricate nature to her style of film making. Lotte worked with her husband Carl Koch who was a film maker in his own right having worked with Jean Renoir, he died in 1963. Both Lotte and Carl developed a silhouette technique that included color. This was used in the wonderful feature The Frog Prince.

She created the first full length animated film in the history of cinema. Though her technique uses simple variations on her basic technique, which is simple in form, Lotte Reiniger imbues her characters with a magical sense of being real, within all the subtleties, these figures come to life.

Reiniger cuts out intricate figures from black cardboard, then creates movable parts, that are hinged by wires and then weighted with flat pieces of lead. This keeps the figure from bending from the heat of the camera lights. Once the figure is placed on the animation table, with a light from underneath the panel, the figure is placed in the precise position as the camera takes ONE shot at a time. Stop motion animation. Lotte Reiniger lovingly showed concentration as the figure slowly moves one shot at a time. Their movements seem so life like and not robotic , that it is an extraordinary achievement of precision and patience to achieve this end result. To achieve close ups, it is then necessary to make a new figure, larger, so the expression of the figure can be altered up close.

When introducing new magical figures that seem to appear from nowhere, the main figure must be created in various different sizes, each one numbered. This effect is used to show all kinds of transformations and appearances on the scene. The action is composed so that the effects of distance and depth are avoided to maintain a purity of style.

THE RAKES PROGRESS

Hansel and Gretel

ALADDIN and his MAGIC LAMP from THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

The backgrounds themselves are beautifully intricate, different layers and thicknesses on transparent paper. To create the effect that the landscape is moving or panning, the set is moved along a ruler so that each movement of the set is co-ordinated with the figure. During the shooting each shot is numbered and recorded, so that the number of the shots line up with the music. This creates the beautiful harmony between the visuals and the musical score that work with the characters of Reiniger’s fantastic art form.

From Wikipedia —

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed) is a 1926 German animated fairytale film by Lotte Reiniger. It is the oldest surviving animated feature film;

The Adventures of Prince Achmed features a silhouette animation technique Reiniger had invented which involved manipulated cutouts made from cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera. The technique she used for the camera is similar to Wayang shadow puppets, though hers were animated frame by frame, not manipulated in live action. The original prints featured color tinting.

Several famous avant-garde animators worked on this film with Lotte Reiniger, among them Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch, and husband Carl Koch.

The story is based on elements taken from the One Thousand and One Nights, specifically “The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou” featured in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book.

The original score was composed by German composer Wolfgang Zeller in direct collaboration with the animation of the film. Reiniger created photograms for the orchestras, which were common in better theatres of the time, to follow along the action

The story of Achmed and Peri Banu is a most beautiful journey. The characters come to life with ease and Reiniger is like a magician that breathes life into simple images. Even the Fire Witch has a charismatic presence in the film as she stomps and conjures the elemental energies. It’s an engaging adventure with many interesting creatures and subtle plot lines that emerge. The film is an ethereal surreal and magical experience though it is an animated feature film, thanks to the loving genius of Lotte Reiniger magic touch.

The British Film Institute’s Philip Kemp, “to date she has no rivals, and for all practical purposes the history of silhouette animation begins and ends with Reiniger” — but the way she breathed life into her material lives on.”

From Open Culture —

At that time, The Adventures of Prince Achmed did not, of course, even faintly resemble any feature yet made. “No theatre dared show it,” Reiniger writes, “for ‘it was not done.’” And so they did it themselves, screening the film just outside Berlin, which led to a show in Paris, then one in Berlin proper, by which point Prince Achmed and his magic horse were well on their way to a place in the animation history books. They nearly lost that place due to the 1945 battle of Berlin, when the film’s negative was lost amid the destruction, but the British Film Institute had made a negative of their own for a London screening, which eventually became the material for a restoration and revival. “The revival was done by the son of the banker who sponsored the film in 1923,” notes Reiniger. “He had assisted in its creation as a small boy. So it was granted to old Prince Achmed to have a happy resurrection after almost half a century” — and he continues to win new fans today.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed was first shown on September 3, 1926 in Germany. Neither the original negative nor a compete copy of the German original has survived. The reconstruction here is based on a tinted nitrate copy with English inter titles from the BFI National Archive.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a visually stunning, ethereal adventure with quasi kaleidoscope landscapes, and Reiniger’s signature silhouettes that possess a transcendent Anima– each of the characters just come to life.

“Great was the power of the African Sorcerer”

The wicked Sorcerer (der afrikanische Zauberer) conjures a magic flying horse with which to impress The Caliph in order to take his beautiful daughter Dinardzade as his bride.

The Sorcerer whose long fingers look like boney twigs puts on a suit of clothes mounts his flying horse and takes to the sky. Meanwhile in the city of the Caliph, they are celebrating the ruler’s birthday.

The acrobats show off for the Caliph and his beautiful daughter Dinarzade as they are tossed bags of coins and fruit.

The menacing sorcerer brings the magic horse before the ruler telling him “A magic horse, my exulted Caliph it flies through the air” The Caliph throws bags of gold at the Sorcerer but he tells him that gold cannot buy his magic horse.

And though the ruler tells him that he may choose among his many treasures, what the Sorcerer most desires is his daughter Dinarzade!

The Caliph exclaims, “By the beard of the Prophet”

The Sorcerer schemes to abduct Dinardzade against her will, as Achmed steps in to defend his sister. The cunning conjurer entices Achmed by showing the Prince his magical flying horse, instructing him how to get the horse and ascend to the sky but leaving out, how to land the horse. Up and away Achmed climbs upward through the clouds as his father the Caliph and sister Dinarzade watch in horror.

Dinarzade is terrified, as her brother ascends ever higher with no knowledge of how to control the flying beast.

The Caliph orders his guards to surround and seize the sinister Sorcerer and imprison him, placing him in chains.

As Achmed ascends the sky amidst the clouds and birds, the Caliph interrogates the wicked Sorcerer surrounded by his sword carrying soldiers asking him how to bring the horse back to Earth.

The Sorcerer tells him, “The lever at the head drives it into the air… the lever at the tail brings it to Earth.”

When asked if the Prince is aware of this, the Sorcerer casually shrugs his shoulders, as Achmed continues to ascend through darkening clouds and lightning bolts and wind bursts. Prince Achmed reaches the stars, his study of the horse uncovers the lever that will return him to the Earth, while the sorcerer sits imprisoned with shackles.

Prince Achmed mounting the magic horse begins to ascend far beyond the clouds, developed by overlapping transparencies to create a vision of murky sky. Up among the stars Achmed finally figures out how to make the horse descend, by using the lever in the back end by the horses tail.

Far, far away from home, the courageous Prince lands on one of the magical island of Wak-Wak, inhabited by intoxicating love starved nymphs. He asks “Who are you maidens?” “We serve Peri Banu, ruler of the spirit world of Wak-Wak.”

In mythology Wak-Wak is , located as part of the Philippines once a Germanic settlement and Wak Wak in Mythology speaks of a vampiric bird like demon that drinks blood by night. Reiniger seemed fascinated blending many mythologies together in her interpretations of fables.

The maidens ask Prince Achmed to stay with them, as he shares libations with them, they appear very much like vampiric nymphs looking to feast on him literally wrestling over who will embrace him. As each one tries to steal kisses from the Prince, they pile up on each other while he escapes their clutches jumping onto the magical horse and taking flight.

On the neighboring Island, on a magic lake, the beautiful Peri Banu is bathing with her attendants.
Prince Achmed hides himself within the greenery. The attendants land wearing a bird like costume that allows them to fly. Soon after the beautiful Peri Banu with magnificent mane of hair lands by the lake.  Prince Achmed watches, struck immediately by the pangs of love for the mistress of the land of Wak-Wak from his greening cover the beautiful woman as she is guided by her attendants to bathe in the lake.

Achmed takes Peri Banu’s winged costume so she will be unable to take flight and waits, as she looks for her wings, Achmed jumps from his cover and startles her, while her two attendants fly away, Peri Banu is left with her suitor. She runs away, as he pursue her through the woods, she begs him, “Give me my cloak of feathers!” but he answers her pleas “Come with me to my beautiful homeland.” Prince Achmed grabs at her, trying to kiss her, he is wrought with desire. He places her on the magic horse and leaves the enchanted lake, with Peri Banu who is now unconscious.

Thus, Peri Banu is essentially taken by love struck force, from the land of the Demons.

The horse carries them to far away China.

As she awakens, Achmed holds Peri Banu closely intoxicated by his new love.

Reiniger manages to convey Peri Banu’s despair. Prince Achmed reaches out for her, “Don’t be afraid of me… I will be your servant until I die.”
She warns him, “You don’t know the demons of Wak-Wak!… they will kill you.”

Prince Achmed tells her that Allah’s mercy will protect them, if she becomes his wife.

In the meantime, the Sorcerer has been searching for his magic flying horse, while still  chained, he gestures with his boney hands he manifests the vision of the horse, Achmed and Peri Banu. Slipping out of his chains he escapes, by transforming himself into a giant bat.

Peri Banu is tormented by the fear of retaliation by the demons of Wak-Wak, Achmed hands her the magical cloak that allows her to fly, a gesture to show her that she is free. Well, only after he’s taken her unwillingly off with him on his flying horse.

As she sees Achmed now despairing Peri Banu tells him, “I’ll follow you” handing him back the cloak, and the two embrace.

The Sorcerer in the form of a bat now morphs into a kangaroo, finds them under the tree. He steals Peri Banu’s magic cloak as Achmed pursues him down a steep and rocky mountain, eventually falling into a ravine.

Changing back into his human form, the Sorcerer seeks out Peri Banu offering her a special garment telling her that the Prince has sent it to her, he tells her that he will lead her to Prince Achmed.

While Achmed is trying to climb out of the gorge, a giant snake appears and he begins to wrestle with the serpent, besting it, he manages to climb up the body and grab the Peri Banu’s flying cloak, the Sorcerer has left at the top of the cliff. He is too late, the evil Sorcerer has taken Peri Banu away.

The Sorcerer takes Peri Banu on the magic horse, bringing her to the Chinese Emperor he sells her into bondage to the leader who wants to make her his bride.

Now she is under the rule of this Emperor who starts making plans to make her his wife.

The Sorcerer pins Achmed under a large boulder. “Now my brave Prince I will return to your sister”

“IN THIS MOUNTAIN DWELLED THE SORCERER’S GREATEST ENEMY… THE FIRE MOUNTAIN WITCH”

… surrounded by her magical creatures… who bring Prince Achmed to her.

The Fire Witch  (die Hexe) asks Prince Achmed

“How dare you come to my magic mountain” He tells her, “The African Sorcerer brought me here” At first Achmed struggles to get away from the great Fire Witch, but she shouts “Stop! He is my greatest enemy!”

The two then form an alliance, he kisses her hand and begs her to help him find his love, Peri Banu. She exclaims “I fear no spirits!”

She tells Achmed that the Sorcerer is her enemy and so she decides to help Achmed rescue Pari Banu on her wedding day.

Peri Banu awaits her wedding day…

Summoning a powerful force of energy… that forms into flames, that forge a bow and arrow, sword, helmet and suit of armor.

“With these weapons you can conquer the spirits.”

Ahmed rescues his love on her dreaded wedding day, BUT the demons of Wak-Wak find her and take her back to their Island. Achmed with his enchanted sword captures one of the demons and forces the flying fiend to take him to Wak-Wak…

But the gates to the kingdom are locked.

This is where Achmed encounters Aladdin a poor tailor who is being attacked by a great beast that resembles a fanged tree elephant! Achmed slays the monster and saves young Aladdin

Once he saves the young Aladdin, he begins to relate the story of how the Sorcerer tricked him into going down a well into a dark cave to bring him back the Magic Lamp, promising him that he will wed the Caliph’s daughter Dinazarde.

 

But when he returned to the opening of the cave the sorcerer demands the lamp before he would let him out. Aladdin refused and so the Sorcerer pulls up the ladder and seals him up inside the cave. “So die! I have other ways to get the lamp.”

Alladin languished in the dark cave until he manages to light the lamp, and a benevolent genie appears “What is your command O Master?… I am your servant. I and all the spirits of the lamp.”

Aladdin asks him to take him home.

Aladdin continues to relate the story to Achmed. He could now win the Princess Dinarzade, who is of course Achmed’s sister. Aladdin tells Achmed “Now I knew I could win the Princess Dinarzade… Overnight, I built a splendid palace for her.”

And in the morning, the magnificent palace was visited upon by the Caliph who brought his precious daughter to see Aladdin, joining their hands, he gave his blessing on the union. And so they were wed. Achmed tells Aladdin that the Caliph is his father and Dinarzade his sister.

When Achmed asked what happened to them, Aladdin tells the Prince that one day the opulent palace and everything just vanished, with Dinarzade and the magic lamp.

The Caliph blamed Aladdin and he was to be executed for his crimes.

Aladdin pleaded with the Caliph not to put him to death, and just before he gets his head lopped off by a giant axe, he flees the wrath of the Caliph. He sets out to sea where there was a fierce storm. His boat broke up against the rocks,  he had been cast upon the island of Wak Wak. He came upon an odd sort of tree. He began to pick a piece of fragrant fruit when the leaves are shaken off and it shows itself to be a strange elephant type creature with claws.

And that is where Prince Achmed first meets up with Aladdin.

The Fire Mountain Witch appears telling Achmed to hurry and help Peri Banu flee. “The spirits want to kill her, because she followed you.”

The malevolent Sorcerer has stolen the Magic Lamp! and only the lamp can open the gates to Wak-Wak.

Aladdin tells her that if she vanquishes the evil Sorcerer the lamp will be hers. The Fire Witch says she will try to kill the Sorcerer. She begins to conjure the energy forces dancing and moving, generating an outer aura of power surrounding her. Shooting fire balls with a gesture of her hands. She becomes surrounded by large circles of light.

Suddenly the Sorcerer appears. And the two foes begin to fight. He changes himself into a lion. The Fire Witch changes herself into a serpent with a woman’s face. He becomes a scorpion and she transforms then once again now into a giant cockerel and he a vulture. Constantly shape shifting, the battle goes as Achmed and Aladdin watch. The Fire Witch and the Sorcerer throw fire balls at each other. The Fire Witch vanquishes the evil Sorcerer and gains back the Magic Lamp handing it over to Aladdin. “Your enemy is dead.”

Prince Achmed and Aladdin can now enter the gates of Wak Wak.

The Fire Witch is awarded the lamp.

The last part of the film is entitled… The Spirit Battle of Wak-Wak

THE SPIRITS ROSE UP AGAINST THEIR FAITHLESS MISTRESS

The demons of Wak-Wak surround Peri Banu

Prince Achmed stands before the gates of Wak-Wak

He demands “Bring out Peri Banu.”

A great demon picks up Peri Banu and is about to hurl her off a cliff when Achmed picks up his enchanted bow and arrow and kills the fearsome demon.

Aladdin summons the spirits of the Magic Lamp—but the spirits of darkness were one step ahead of him. One of them grabs the lamp away.

And out of the mountain spews forth a legion of demons… who manage to grab the lamp away from Aladdin. Ahmed raises his bow to free Aladdin from the grips of the perilous demons.

As more and more demons continue to spill out of the mountain, Aladdin and the brave Achmed throw large rocks to hold them off.

One of the demons a multi snake headed creature much like a mythical hydra takes Pari Banu captive. Prince Achmed tries to cut one of the heads, but then two more grow back, but Fire Witch steps in and helps to kill the hydra monster.

Then the Fire Witch intervenes! retrieving the lamp she calls forth the benevolent spirits.

Ethereal white entities descend upon the demons.

The flying palace lands on the ground, where Aladdin finds his beloved Dinarzade safe. She is also reunited with her brother Achmed. The two couples say their goodbyes to the Fire Witch and we imagine that they live out their days harmoniously.

THE END

“For centuries Prince Achmed on his magic horse had lived a comfortable life as a well-loved fairy tale figure of the Arabian nights and was well contented with that,” Reiniger writes in her introduction to the picture. “But one day he was thrown out of his peaceful existence by a film company which wanted to employ him and many other characters of the same stories for an animated film.” And so, in 1923, it fell to her and a select group of collaborators to make that film. They labored for the better part of three years, not just because of the requirements of shooting each and every frame by hand but because of the experimental nature of animation itself. “We had to experiment and try out all sorts of inventions to make the story come alive. The more the shooting of Prince Achmed advanced the more ambitious he became.” -Lotte Reiniger

15 thoughts on “The Art of Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

    1. Thanks so much Patricia! She does seem like a jolly sort, I love the images of her at work… her animation table and that joyous look on her wonderful face… She obviously loved her art!

      Like

  1. It’s astounding how much life Reiniger breathed into her characters and the fantasy world they inhabit! She is pure genius– And thank you so much for letting me celebrate the women who pioneered and prevailed with their unique visions! Cheers Joey

    Like

  2. Fascinating! I was not familiar with Lotte Reiniger but I’ll be checking out most of her short films this week after reading your post. Very entertaining! You can see where Jan Pienkowski obviously got his inspiration from. I love how happy Lotte looks in that first photo. I, too, wrote about a film dating from the Weimar Republic ( 1931’s Maedchen in Uniform ) so it’s nice to see another German director profiled.

    Like

  3. Constance how are ya!!! I wasn’t familiar with Lotte Reiniger until Fritzi announced the Blogathon-As I discovered Reiniger’s magical work, I was just blown away by it… That’s another reason why this Blogathon is so important as it brings these incredibly gifted women visionaries into the conversation and sheds light on their amazing body of work and their contribution to the art of filmmaking. I haven’t seen Maedchen in Uniform in years.. I’ll definitely check out your piece! Thanks for stopping by kiddoe… Cheers Joey

    Like

  4. Joey, this is a stunning overview of Lotte Reiniger and her art. I love all the images you posted, and you’ve got me jonesing to see more of her work. (I’ve only ever seen clips.)

    Thanks for sharing all your research and hard work with us. I love how you’ve done this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow!!!! I just discovered this awesome filmmaker and I can’t believe I never knew of her before! I’m gonna start searching for her work immediately. Do you know a site where I can watch her work? I’d appreciate it so much!

    Like

  6. I’m starting an animation project and this seems the right style I need for my story. If you do know a site where I can watch her work, I will be very grateful to you.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s