Prince Achmed

The first full-lenght animation movie in the history of cinema

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a title that may not say much to most people. Some mightremember that Prince Achmed is one of the many characters that populate “The Arabian Nights”, but few know that he is featured in a film where he is not just a character among many but the protagonist: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed is not only the first animation movie but also and above all one of the most extraordinary examples of its genre; with its 300.000 frames it took more than three long years for this Lotte Reiniger’s creation to be assembled. 
In this work of art, music is an integral and consubstantial part, one of the most beautiful and truest examples of “silent movie sound track”. 
The result is a small theatre of paper marionettes, the complex movements and metamorphoses of which conjure up a symbolic and mysterious Orient. 
This film today has been recognized as a very important turning point in the history of cinema.

“Concerto for solo silhouette”

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In 1923 the German artist Lotte Reiniger (Berlin, 1899–1981) was granted consistent funds for the realization of a full-length silhouette movie. The backer of this venture was a young Berlin banker, Luis Hagen, who had seen and been impressed by her earlier works. When, in 1923, inflation struck the German mark, Hagen converted some of his money into film stocks, which he then offered to Reiniger for a feature film of her choice, organizing for her a studio on top of the garage of his Potsdam home.


Reiniger described the studio and the equipment the team used to make The Adventures of Prince Achmed:

“The studio was very low, being an attic under the roof, so the shooting field with its glass plate had to be very near the floor in order to get the camera up high enough in a suitable distance, with just enough space to place the lamps underneath. I had to kneel on the seat of an old dismantled motorcar to execute my manipulation. I liked this very much; it was a much more comfortable position for me than sitting on a swivel chair as I
had to do later on. The whole contraption looked like a four-poster bed, the camera being supported by sturdy wooden beams, on which we could fix and take off to our heart’s content every construction we might need for our special effects.”

The artists set up their studio in the garage attic overlooking a vegetable garden, a small space without enough room to stand up straight and work at the same time.

Their multi-plane animation table design revolutionized two-dimensional animation.

And so, between 1923 and 1926, with the help of her husband Carl Kock, of Walter Tuerck, Alexander Kardan and Walter Ruttmann (for the settings), Lotte Reiniger accomplished what is considered her masterpiece: The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a silent, black-and-white animation movie recreating the atmosphere of Arabian Nights. 

The film, which cost her authoress as many as three years of hard work, tells, in an altogether new way, the vicissitudes of the protagonist against witches and sorcerers, in the quest for his fair princess. 
This is a very unusual type of animation, compared to what we are used to, for it is not made of illustrated images seen in rapid succession but employs a particular technique invented by Lotte Reiniger who, inspired by shadow play, used card silhouettes, instead of drawings. 
The Japanese already had a history of using shadow play for entertainment in the form of shadow puppet theatres. With Reiniger’s films having traveled to Japan, it is hard to deny her influence on the Japanese silhouette animation films such as Toshio Suzuki’s Yonjunin no Tozoku (Forty Burglars, 1928).

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The story is based on the elements taken from the collection 1001 Arabian Nights, specifically The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou featured in Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book. The movie is divided into five acts, each with a title. There are three settings: the city of the Caliph, the magic islands of Waq Waq, and China. 

An African sorcerer conjures up a flying horse, which he shows to the Caliph. When the sorcerer refuses to sell it for any amount of gold, the Caliph offers any treasure he has. The sorcerer chooses Dinarsade, the Caliph's daughter, to her great distress. Prince Achmed, Dinarsade's brother, objects, but the sorcerer persuades him to try out the horse. It carries the prince away, higher and higher into the sky, as he does not know how to control it. The Caliph has the sorcerer imprisoned.

When Achmed discovers how to make the horse descend, he finds himself in a strange foreign land. He is greeted by a bevy of attractive maidens. When they begin fighting for his attention, he flies away to a lake. There, he watches as Pari Banu, the beautiful ruler of the land of Wak Wak, arrives with her attendants to bathe. When they spot him, they all fly away, except for Peri Banu, for Achmed has her magical flying feather costume. She flees on foot, but he captures her. He gains her trust when he returns her feathers. They fall in love. She warns him, however, that the demons of Wak Wak will try to kill him. 

The sorcerer frees himself from his chains. Transforming himself into a bat, he seeks out Achmed. The prince chases the sorcerer (back in human form) and falls into a pit. While Achmed fights a giant snake, the sorcerer takes Pari Banu to China and sells her to the Emperor. The sorcerer returns and pins Achmed under a boulder on top of a mountain. However, the Witch (die Hexe) of the Flaming Mountain notices him and rescues Achmed. The sorcerer is her archenemy, so she helps Achmed rescue Pari Banu from the Emperor. 
Then the demons of Wak Wak find the couple and, despite Achmed's fierce resistance, carry Pari Banu off. Achmed forces a captive demon to fly him to Wak Wak. However, the gates of Wak Wak are locked. He then slays a monster attacking Aladdin. 

Aladdin tells of how he, a poor tailor, was recruited by the sorcerer to retrieve a magic lamp from a cave. When Aladdin returned to the cave entrance, the sorcerer demanded the lamp before letting him out. Aladdin refused, so the sorcerer sealed him in. Aladdin accidentally released one of the genies of the lamp and ordered it to take him home. He then courted and married Dinarsade. One night, Dinarsade, Aladdin's  magnificent palace and the lamp disappeared. Blamed by the Caliph, Aladdin fled to avoid being executed. A storm at sea cast him ashore at Wak Wak. When he tried to pluck fruit from a "tree", it turned into a monster and grabbed him, but Achmed killed it. 

Then the witch arrives. Since only the lamp can open the gates, she agrees to attack the sorcerer to get it. They engage in a magical duel, each transforming into various creatures. After a while, they resume their human forms and fling fireballs at each other. Finally, the witch slays the sorcerer. With the lamp, they are able to enter Wak Wak, just in time to save Pari Banu from being thrown to her death. A fierce battle erupts. A demon steals the lamp, but the witch gets it back. She summons creatures from the lamp who defeat the demons. One hydra-like creature seizes Pari Banu. When Achmed cuts off one of its heads, two more grow back immediately, but the witch stops this regeneration, allowing Achmed to kill it. A flying palace then settles to the ground. Inside, Aladdin finds Dinarsade. The two couples bid goodbye to the witch and fly home in the palace.

Recap Info

Director: Lotte Reininger
Screenplay: Lotte Reininger (from “The Arabian Nights”)
Production: Comenius-Film GmbH
Music: Wolfgang Zeller
Country: Germany
Itertitles: German
Year: 1926
Orchestra: 25/38 players
Duration: 66’

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