Hail to the Prince, or, And Now for Something a Little Different for Our Viewing Pleasure

Traditional silhouette animation as invented by Reiniger is a subdivision of cutout animation (itself one of the many forms of stop motion).  It utilises figures cut out of paperboard, sometimes reinforced with thin metal sheets, and tied together at their joints with thread or wire (usually substituted by plastic or metal paper fasteners in contemporary productions) which are then moved frame-by-frame on an animation stand and filmed top-down with a rostrum camera – such techniques were used, albeit with stylistic changes, by such practitioners as Noburō Ōfuji in the 1940s and Bruno J. Böttge in the 1970s.  (Wikipedia, “Silhouette Animation”)

Say what?  The “Reiniger” is German director Lotte Reiniger, in whose entry Wikipedia also has to say:  In 1923, she was approached by Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period.  He asked her to do a feature-length animated film.  There was some difficulty that came with doing this, however.  Reiniger is quoted as saying “We had to think twice.  This was a never heard of thing.  Animated films were supposed to make people roar with laughter, and nobody had dared to entertain an audience with them for more than ten minutes.  Everybody to whom we talked in the industry about the proposition was horrified.”  The result was THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, completed in 1926, one of the first animated feature films, with a plot that is a pastiche of stories from ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS.  Although it failed to find a distributor for almost a year, once premiered in Paris (thanks to the support of Jean Renoir), it became a critical and popular success.  Because of this delay, however, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED’s expressionistic style did not quite fit with the realism that was becoming popular in cinema in 1926.  Reiniger uses lines that can almost be called “colorful” to represent the film’s exotic locations.  Today, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED is thought to be one of the oldest surviving feature-length animated films, if not the oldest.  It is also considered to be the first avant-garde full-length animated feature.

Or in other words Saturday afternoon’s Indiana University Cinema feature was not exactly your average, Disney-style kiddie cartoon.  It was okay for the kiddies though who, brought with their parents, could get in for free.  In silhouette the prince and his rescued-from-the-demon-isle girlfriend were likely just kissing, as were, later on, Aladdin and the prince’s sister.  Of the latter, in fact, with the father of the prospective bride looking on, it may not even have been quite that sultry — especially what with pop being the Caliph!

But then again maybe that was the point, with the limitations of the technique deliberately used with its also suggested exotic backgrounds to force one to exercise imagination. The two stills with this post perhaps will help give an idea. To give the IU Cinema program blurb the final word, I’ll only add that the latish afternoon presentation was different — and fun.

When THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED premiered in Germany on September 23, 1926, it was hailed as the first full-length animated film.  More than 75 years later, this enchanting film still stands as one of the great classics of animation.  Taken from THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, the film tells the story of a wicked sorcerer who tricks Prince Achmed into mounting a magical flying horse and sends the rider off on a flight to his death.  But the prince foils the magician’s plan and soars headlong into a series of wondrous adventures.  This cinematic treasure has been beautifully restored with its spectacular color tinting and with a new orchestral recording of the magnificent 1926 score by Wolfgang Zeller. 


  1. Marge Simon

    Interesting! I didn’t know –caught some of it on Utube –amazing how long it must have taken to create!




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