Thursday, March 21, 2013

Charlotte "Lotte" Reiniger


      Charlotte "Lotte" Reiniger (June 2, 1899 – June 19, 1981) was a German silhouette animator and film director. She was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg, German Empire, on June 2, 1899. As a child, she was fascinated with the Chinese art of silhouette puppetry, even building her own puppet theater so that she could put on shows for her family and friends.
      As a teenager, Reiniger fell in love with cinema, first with the films of Georges Méliès for their special effects, then the films of actor and director Paul Wegener, known today for The Golem (1920). In 1915, the young woman attended a lecture by Wegener that focused on the fantastic possibilities of animation.
      After a bit of persuasion, she convinced her parents to enroll her in the acting group Wegener belonged to, the Theater of Max Reinhardt. In an attempt to attract the attention of her distant and very-busy hero, she started making silhouette portraits of the various actors around her. This had its desired effect, and soon she was making elaborate title cards for Wegener's films, many of which featured silhouettes.

 
      In 1918, Reiniger animated wooden rats and created the animated intertitles for Wegener's Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin). The success of this work got her admitted into the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research), an experimental animation and shortfilm studio. It was here that she met her future creative partner and husband (from 1921), Carl Koch, as well as other avant-garde artists such as Hans Cürlis, Bertolt Brecht, Berthold Bartosch, and others.
      The first film Reiniger directed was Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, 1919), a short piece involving two lovers and an ornament that reflected their moods. The film was very well received. She made six short films during the following few years, all produced and photographed by her husband. These were interspersed with advertising films (the Julius Pinschewer advertising agency invented ad films and sponsored a large number of abstract animators during the Weimar period) and special effects for various feature films – most famously a silhouette falcon for a dream sequence in Part One of Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen). During this period she became the centre of a large group of ambitious German animators, such as Bartosch, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, and Oskar Fischinger.
      In 1923, a unique opportunity came her way. She was approaced by Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period, who asked her to do a feature length animated film. The result was The Adventures of Prince Achmed, completed in 1926, the first animated feature film, with a plot that is a pastiche of stories from One Thousand and One Nights. Although it failed to a find a distributor for almost a year, once premiered in Paris (thanks to the support of Jean Renoir), it then became a critical and popular success.
      Reiniger anticipated Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks by a decade by devising the first multi-plane camera for certain effects. In addition to Reiniger's silhouette actors, Prince Achmed boasted dream-like backgrounds by Walter Ruttmann (her partner in the Die Nibelungen sequence) and a symphonic score by Wolfgang Zeller. Additional effects were added by Carl Koch and Berthold Bartosch.
      The success of Prince Achmed meant that Lotte Reiniger would not need a stroke of luck to make a second feature. Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere (Doctor Dolittle and his Animals, 1928) was based on the first of the English children's books by Hugh Lofting. The score of this three-part film this time was composed by Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith and Paul Dessau.


      A year later, Reiniger co-directed her first live-action film with Rochus Gliese, Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Pursuit of Happiness, 1929), a tale about a shadow-puppet troupe. The film starred Jean Renoir and Bertold Bartosch and included a 20-minute silhouette performance by Reiniger.  Unfortunately, the film was completed just as sound came to Germany, and release of the film was delayed until 1930 to dub in voices by different actors – the result being so unsuccessful as to ruin any enjoyment of the film.
      Reiniger also attempted to make a third animated feature, based on Maurice Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Bewitched Things, 1925), but found herself unable to clear the rights for the music with an unexpected number of copyright holders. She worked with British poet, critic, and musician Eric Walter White on several films, and he wrote the early book-length essay on her work – Walking Shadows: An Essay on Lotte Reiniger's Silhouette Films, (London: Leonard and Virginia Woolf, 1931).
      With the rise of the Nazi Party, Reiniger and Koch decided to emigrate (both were involved in left-wing politics), but found that no other country would give them permanent visas. As a result, the couple spent the years 1933–1944 moving from country to country, staying as long as travel visas would allow. They cooperated with Jean Renoir in Paris and Luchino Visconti in Rome. Somehow, they still managed to make 12 films during this period, the best-known being Carmen (1933) and Papageno (1935), both based on popular operas (Bizet's Carmen and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte). When World War II commenced they stayed with Visconti in Rome until 1944, then moved back to Berlin.
       In 1949, Reiniger and Koch moved to London, where she made a few short advertising films for the Ground Film Unit and John Grierson's General Post Office Film Unit. While she was living in London in the early 1950s she became friends with "Freddie" Bloom, who was the first director of the National Deaf Children's Society, and asked her to design a logo for the new charity. Reiniger responded by cutting out 4 children running up a hill. Bloom was amazed at her skill with the scissors – in a few moments she created about four different silhouettes of the children from black paper. The logo was used until the 1990s, when a design company was invited to revamp the design. The result was a very minor modification but the new design was also dropped a few years later.
      With Louis Hagen Jr. (the son of Reiniger's financier of Prince Achmed in Potsdam) they founded Primrose Productions in 1953 and, over the next two years, produced more than a dozen short silhouette films based on Grimms' Fairy Tales for BBC and Telecasting America. Reiniger also provided illustrations for the 1953 book King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green.
      Reiniger was awarded the Filmband in Gold of the Deutscher Filmpreis in 1972; in 1979 she received the Great Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Reiniger died in Dettenhausen, Germany, on June 19, 1981, at the age of 82.

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