sun 29/03/2020

DVD: The Adventures of Prince Achmed | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

DVD: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Lotte Reiniger's silent 'Arabian Nights' classic perfected the art of silhouette animation

Bad timing: The sorcerer sheds his kangaroo skin as he interrupts Achmed and Peri Banu's idyll and steals her dressBFI

Cinema's unrivalled silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981) was influenced by Arthur Rackham's illustrations and by Chinese and Indonesian puppet theatre. Like her fellow German filmmaker Fritz Lang, she must have appreciated the intricacy and spite in Rackham's pictures. Those qualities abound in The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), the oldest surving animated feature and, at 65 minutes, the longest film Reininger made.

Cinema's unrivalled silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981) was influenced by Arthur Rackham's illustrations and by Chinese and Indonesian puppet theatre. Like her fellow German filmmaker Fritz Lang, she must have appreciated the intricacy and spite in Rackham's pictures. Those qualities abound in The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), the oldest surving animated feature and, at 65 minutes, the longest film Reininger made.

It's a near-avant garde pastiche of Arabian Nights stories, primarily The Ebony Horse and the 18th-century addition Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp. Handsome Achmed is horrified to learn that his sister, Dinarzade, is to be married by their father the Caliph of Bagdad to an ugly and malign African sorcerer in exchange for a flying mechanical horse. When Achmed mounts the horse, it carries him to a magic island. He escapes a harem, kidnaps the beautiful Peri Banu, falls in love with her in China, and loses her to the kangaroo-disguised sorcerer. A fire mountain witch and Aladdin (who loves Dinarzarde) come to Achmed's aid. As the perils increase, the witch overplays her deus ex machina card.

Young viewers should be transported anyway by the heroes' duels with snakes and monsters, the twinned romances, and the fiendishness of the sorcerer and a smirking Chinese emperor. (They may not notice that these potentates and the witch are racist stereotypes). There are numerous transformations, too – the essence of the animator's art. The film's universe is moral, but Reiniger mocks high-mindedness: until redeemed by love, Achmed is a ladykiller and peeping Tom.

The movie's enduring beauty resides in the exquisiteness of Reininger's elaborately curlicued and filigreed costumes, foliage, and plumage, all cut by her from black card with scissors (pictured right) and, on this print, displayed against tinted backgrounds. The use of different focal lengths, movement into distance, and the editing gave the film a depth and fluidity the static camera might otherwise have denied.

The disc includes five other Reiniger projects. "The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle" is a three-part serial (12/10/11 minutes) that she and her producer husband Carl Koch planned to enfold into a feature they abandoned; the animation is cruder than Prince Ahmed's but the story delightful. The Flying Coffer (1929; nine minutes) is a rueful Chinese love fable by way of Hans Christian Andersen; The Secret of the Marquise (1922; two minutes) is a white-on-black rococo Nivea ad from the same year as Reiniger's Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Less enchanting are two color biblical films: The Star of Bethlehem (1956, 18 minutes) and The Lost Son (1974, 14 minutes), a shadow-play version of the Prodigal Son parable.

Until redeemed by love, Achmed is a ladykiller and peeping Tom

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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