Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (5 Stars)

Made in 1926, this was the first animated film made in Europe, and the first ever full length animated feature film. Previously two animated short films had been made in Argentina. (At 65 minutes in length it wouldn't qualify as a full length feature today. In the early days of cinema 45 minutes was considered full length, but today the minimum length is 70 minutes). What makes the film all the more remarkable is that it was made by a woman, and she was in charge of a team of men. Compare this with the Walt Disney company, which made its first animated film in 1937, but didn't allow a woman to be a director until 2013.

Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin in 1899. As a child her father took her to theatre performances, and she developed a love for the works of William Shakespeare. When she was 15 she attended a lecture by Paul Wegener, who had just made the film "The Golem". This was a turning point in her life. She decided that she had to enter the film business. Her first step was to join an acting school in Berlin, against the wishes of her parents. She performed small roles in a few plays, but that wasn't where her talents lay. She became noticed when she made remarkably accurate silhouette cut-outs of her fellow actors. In 1918 her hero Paul Wegener asked her to design title cards for his film "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". Only a year later, in 1919, she made her first animated short film.

Her animation technique is based on cutting silhouettes out of black paper. The different parts of the body, the head, shoulders, legs, etc. are cut out separately, then connected by hinges. The figures are placed between two pieces of glass, and behind the glass is a painted background. This is photographed to create one frame. Then the silhouette is moved slightly and photographed for the next frame. Since a film needs 24 frames in each second, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" needed more than 90,000 frames. This is time-consuming work, so she needed three years to complete the film, from 1923 to 1926. The men in her team were responsible for the lighting and the photography, but she did all the animation herself.

This was her only full length film. Over the rest of her career she made short films, varying between 10 and 30 minutes in length. She was the leading animator in Germany until Hitler came into power in 1933. Since she had left wing opinions and feared reprisals she left Germany and became a British citizen. Even though she was now overshadowed by Walt Disney, she continued to make animated short films for the rest of her life. She finally returned to Germany in 1980 and died a year later.

Lotte Reiniger
2 June 1899 – 19 June 1981

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