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)

Continue reading “The Art of Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)”