Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Title card from the 1926 animated film  
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
      The Adventures of Prince Achmed (German: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed) is a 1926 German animated fairytale film by Lotte Reiniger. It is the oldest surviving animated feature film; two earlier ones were made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani, but they are considered lost. The Adventures of Prince Achmed features a silhouette animation technique Reiniger had invented which involved manipulated cutouts made from cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera. The technique she used for the camera is similar to Wayang shadow puppets, though hers were animated frame by frame, not manipulated in live action. The original prints featured color tinting.
      Several famous avant-garde animators worked on this film with Lotte Reiniger. These included Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch, and Carl Koch.
      The story is based on 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. With the assistance of Aladdin, the Witch of the Fiery Mountain, and a magic horse, the title character reclaims the magic lamp and conquers the African sorcerer. The culminating scene in the film is the battle between "die Hexe" (the witch) and "der afrikanische Zauberer" (the African sorcerer), in which those characters undergo fabulous transformations. All is well in the end: Aladdin marries Dinarsade (Achmed's sister and daughter of the Caliph); Achmed marries Pari Banu; the African sorcerer is defeated; and the foursome return to the Caliph's kingdom.
       No original German nitrate prints of the film are known to still exist. While the original film featured color tinting, prints available just prior to the restoration had all been in black and white. Working from surviving nitrate prints, German and British archivists restored the film during 1998 and 1999 including reinstating the original tinted image by using the Desmet method.

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