Adventures of Prince Achmed Review

achmedBack 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.

the_adventures_of_prince_achmed_by_snartha-d78dm9dAchmed 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).

achmed4
Reiniger and Carl Koch working on the silhouettes

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!).

achmed6The 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.

achmed2Dinarsade’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.

achmed3The 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.

Adventures_of_Prince_Achmed_4Aren’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.

Scrooge 11 and 12: Silent Movie Scrooge’s

wise men

When I started Scrooge Month I knew I would have to do the Alistair Sim, Muppets, Mickey’s and Scotts and I looked forward to them, but I also wanted to dig deeper and find more obscure versions of Christmas Carol.  Today’s entry probably takes the cake in that department. I was able to dig up 2 silent movie versions of Christmas Carol and they were both fascinating.  I make no claim to being a silent movie aficionado so I can’t really judge the movies for quality as I’ve seen probably 5 in my life.  If you live in Utah we do have an awesome movie-going experience in Salt Lake with an original Giant Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ at Edison Street Events.  I have been there twice, once to see The Kid, and then Phantom of the Opera and the silent movie with the organ the surrounds the entire room is amazing.  And it costs $6!

I wish sometime they would do these Christmas Carol versions there because the new recorded music on the DVD I had were weak at best.  In the second film I muted the sound and just watched (something that is a unique feature of silent movies I suppose!).

The first version is from 1923 and it is only 23 minutes long.  The quality is not great but I suppose it is all part of the charm. It only lists 4 people in the cast although more than that appear.

Scrooge is played by Russell Thorndike and Forbes Dawson plays Marley.

silent 1 scrooge

To show how mean Scrooge is they do something you’d never see in a million years in movies today (rightfully so) Scrooge wallops the kid singing Christmas carols outside his office with a heavy book.

silent 1 bookFred is the emphasis here and Cratchit is briefly seen.  We even get a random proposal to Mrs Fred’s Sister (that’s her name on the title cards)

silent 1 proposal silent 1 mrs fred

The Marley looks pretty good considering the quality of the rest of the movie.

silent 1 marley

silent 1 cards

Instead of taking Scrooge to see his past, present, future it is projected onto the wall (both films).

silent 1 past silent 1 expressions

We do not look in on Cratchit family but only briefly at Fred, Mrs Fred and Mrs Fred’s Sister.

What’s interesting is that Scrooge is already pleading with Present for redemption, just when Present announces he will visit Cratchit and Fred tomorrow.

silent 1 cards2

Evidently the thought of Present visiting is enough to scare Scrooge! We do get a brief visit from Future.

silent 1 future silent 1 changed

It’s just so different it’s hard to really judge it as bad or good, and I don’t know enough about silent films to judge it for its day.  It was fascinating to watch; however, and I enjoyed it. Hopefully you enjoyed getting a little taste of it.

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Silent Film #2

Old Scrooge 1913 (released in 1926 to US)

This version is a longer 46 minutes but it makes some choices that are so different from what we are used to in modern versions.

It stars Seymour Hicks who I will review again in the 1935 talkie version.  He is good but it is clear this era saw Scrooge as a Frankenstein character.  He is even called an ogre in the title cards.

silent 2 scrooge silent 2 scrooge2

silent 2 ogre

He dresses like a bum which I have never seen in a version.  It’s so strange because he’s still rich and a businessman but he dresses like a tramp?  Maybe some of you know more about this era and can elaborate as to why this might be? 1913 was well before a depression era America so that’s not it.

Scrooge also refuses an actual poor person and the benefactors which I have never seen before.

silent 2 woman

It is also the only version I have seen where the office and house are in the same room and where Jacob Marley plays the part of all 3 ghosts.

silent 2 marley silent 2 past

We get the projections on the wall like we did in the previous picture but this time we see a few more scenes (and no strange proposal).

He comes to a pretty speedy penitence in this one as well and then it is the strangest thing.  Instead of going to Cratchit’s or Fred’s he imagines it. It’s like he is still the monster and can’t really celebrate with the people.

silent 2 cardssilent 2 toast Isn’t that so odd?

And that’s the end of the movie with his imaginary feasting.

I would say these films are more of a fascination than anything else.  The choices  they make, the way films worked, the silent movie acting are all very interesting.

If you aren’t a film buff than probably not for you.  They aren’t like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin which will entertain in any era.  Definitely more challenging but I’m glad I saw them and if you can hunt them down give them a watch!