director Lotte Reiniger
The word “unique” is used probably too freely. By definition, uniqueness is not a quality that has degrees, but represents true singularity, and I’ve certainly heard more than one individual express frustration at the misusage of the word. For me, I actually think it’s not utterly inapt to consider the possibility of degrees of uniqueness and that this usage is actually expanding the term, perhaps in a natural way of language evolution. So, I’m not a stickler on that point, especially in a world where true uniqueness is increasingly hard to classify or clarify. Perhaps it is merely an aspect of our time in cultural evolution where eclecticism is natural, all knowledge, styles, ideas are readily available and as I’ve often noted, “Nothing ever goes away.”
I say all that because I would posit that Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed is truly unique, perhaps in the more traditional meaning of the word. That there is anything remotely like it, I doubt sincerely, unless one considers Reiniger’s other films, none of which wound up being feature-length.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the oldest surviving feature-length animated film. What are animated in the film is most unusual in itself, ornate shadow puppets, cut from cardboard and lead, moved frame-by-frame, appearing in beautifully lush silhouette. There is an elegance and grace to the figures, the movements, the detail, unlike anything else that I have seen, unique in its time (1926) as it is today. It is “animation”, most literally, but unlike anything most people would think of when hearing the word.
I had last watched the movie as part of the Silent Film Festival several years ago and I’ve been revisiting movies that I watched with the kids that long ago because I don’t know if they remember them or in Clara’s case, had even seen them. And I have to say that I think this is one of the greatest films ever made. It’s gorgeous, vivid, and magical. There is indeed nothing like it.