Back in my review of Snow White I learned that it in fact wasn’t the first animated feature film. It was the first American animated feature film (I believe). I kept hearing about this thing called The Adventures of Prince Achmed and that not only was it the first animated film but I had to see it. Quickly I ordered it from Netflix and naturally the DVD has been sitting around since the beginning of May. I finally had a chance to watch it and I do see what all the talk was about. It’s a very unique movie!
Made by artist Lotte Reiniger, Achmed uses what’s called ‘silhouette animation’ which takes takes cardboard and lead cutouts under light and moves them kind of like a combination of shadow puppets and stop motion animation. What amazes me is how Reiniger was able to get small details like leaves and fingers with the paper. I would think that would be incredibly difficult to pull off.
Achmed was made in 1928 in Germany (2 earlier animated films were released in Argentina but they are considered lost according to wikipedia). Reiniger worked with 3 other avante-garde artists to make the film named Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch and Carl Koch. (On the DVD there is a featurette about these artists that is very interesting).
The film is a silent movie with no dialogue and only title cards to know what is going on. The score which is so key in a silent movie is excellent by Wolfgang Zeller under the heavy direction of Reiniger (this seems like a very neat lady. They should make a movie about all of this!).
The plot has multiple acts and it’s actually more complicated than you’d guess for a story made of silhouettes. It is reminiscent of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and starts out with a magician who creates a flying horse that he shows the Caliph, or ruler. The Caliph offers any treasure to buy the horse but instead the Magician chooses Dinarsade, the Caliph’s daughter.
Dinarsade’s brother, Prince Achmed objects and steals the horse and the Magician is imprisoned. Eventually Achmed controls the horse and lands in a mysterious land called Wak Wak with a beautiful maiden named Peri Banu.
The Magician ends up escaping and confronts Achmed. Then we get introduced to Aladdin who has his magic lamp which he has used to court and marry Dinarsade until it is lost and he is banished to Wak Wak. Here’s a scene where they meet Aladdin. This will hopefully give you a feel for the style of the film.
Finally a magic witch arrives who agrees to attack the Magician and they get the lamp back and after a little more adventure all is returned as it should be with couples in love and a the end of our story.
Aren’t you impressed with all of that for a 65 minute film all done by silhouettes? I was.
Here is a the first few minutes of the film to give you more of a feel of it.
Like I said it is only 65 minutes so why not spend a little of your time with something so unique and beautiful? Plus, you can tell people you’ve actually seen the first animated film. None of this Snow White stuff! 😉 . It is a silent film so it does require some focus and reading of the cards but again it’s only 65 minutes! So it’s not concentrating for that long.
I am shocked this is not Criterion release. It seems right up their ally. So far I believe the only animated film they have done is Watership Down (which I own). The restoration added back the original color tints which were missing for many years, but the DVD release feels very dated and Criterion could do amazing things with it.
It’s always hard to give grade when something is the first of its kind so I won’t. Just watch it and enjoy!
Do you watch any silent movies? In Salt Lake there is an old movie theater that has the largest theater organ in the world and you can see silent movies with the live organ accompaniment. It’s pretty amazing.