The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

(1926) dir. Lotte Reiniger
viewed: 07/13/08 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

My final film of the Silent Film Festival is the classic, brilliant, wonderful animated film by Lotte Reiniger, The Adventures of Prince Achmed.  It is truly an amazing film, something I doubt that most people have seen the likes of.

Reiniger used an unusual format for her animations.  She cut out cardboard figures of great detail, jointed them, and pixilated their movement by shooting the film frame by frame (the latter part is the definition of animation, frame by frame manipulation/image creation).  So, the film is a shadow puppet show, a visual form of storytelling steeped in history throughout many cultures, but not something many modern audiences would be familiar with, I would expect.  The animation is sublime, moving the figures and the narrative along in a strange ever-morphing pace, while the backgrounds, designed in color, contrast with the figures and landscape.  It’s indescribable.

Reiniger was friendly with other artists working in non-representational animation like Hans Richter and Oskar Fischinger, and her style and designs show this.  The film is far more close to their avant-garde works than it is to the films the Walt Disney would become famous for.

This film is the oldest known surviving feature-length animated film and it’s one of the most beautiful and amazing films that I have ever seen.  It was tremendous to see it on the big screen.  The kids, my son and his friend, Samantha, both enjoyed it, though Felix seemed to lag part of the way through.  This might have been due to his tiredness.  But since seeing it, they have both expressed having liked it very well.  It’s not an easy film for kids who are used to more traditional “cartoon” animation, but if they can, it is well worth their time.  It is well worth anyone’s time.  It’s totally amazing.


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