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The Adventures of Prince Achmed (DVD + Blu-ray)
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THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (DVD + Blu-ray)
A Film by Lotte Reiniger
Lotte Reiniger's beautiful silhouette animation brings to life magical tales from the Arabian Nights. Handsome young prince Achmed plunges into a series of exciting escapades that take him from Baghdad to China via the enchanted land of Wak-Wak. Demons, witches and princesses move through intricate and colourful worlds in this exquisite and influential film, which is presented here with a choice of soundtracks and a selection of rarely seen sort films.
- Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
- Original orchestral score by Wolfgang Zeller
- Newly recorded alternative narration based on Lotte Reiniger's own translation of her German text, spoken by actress Penelope McGhie
- The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle (Lotte Reiniger, 1928, 33 mins): a series of three short films based on the classic stories by Hugh Lofting
- The Flying Coffer (Lotter Reiniger, 1921, 9 mins): a poor young fisherman tries to rescue the Emperor of China's daughter
- The Secret of the Marquise (Lotte Reiniger, 1922, 2 mins): an early advert for Nivea skincare products
- The Star of Bethlehem (Vivian Milroy, 1956, 18 mins): the nativity story with music performed by the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
- The Lost Son (Lotte Reiniger, 1974, 14 mins): the New Testament parable animated in Lotte Reiniger's style
- Fully illustrated booklet with newly commissioned essays by Jez Stewart and Philip Kemp, and a contribution by Marina Warner
Germany | 1926 | tinted and toned | silent, German intertitles with English subtitles | 67 minutes | Original aspect ratio 1.33:1
Disc 1: BD50 | 1080p | 24fps | PCM mono 2.0 audio (48k/16-bit)
Disc 2: DVD9 | PAL | Dolby Digital mono 2.0 audio (320kbps)
Region B Blu-ray
Region 2 DVD
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What makes Achmed still unique 88 years later is animation entirely composed of cutout silhouettes. The result was one of the silent era’s most enchanting and captivating films. It is also a lucid reminder that the medium of film was at its most innovative in its infancy, before the rules were set and the mediums defined.
Reiniger lucked into a patron for her artistic efforts: Louis Hagen supplied her with enough film stock and financing to proceed with her project. Using scissors and black construction paper as her primary tools, Reiniger spent three years meticulously working in an attic on Achmed with a small crew that included her husband/cinematographer, Koch.
Influenced in part by Georges Méliès and Arabian Nights, Reiniger created a world of sensuous, exquisitely detailed beauty. The film has an almost surprisingly coherent and linear narrative, given that Reiniger was embraced by the European avant-garde. Unfortunately, the director had difficulty booking Achmed, and with the exception of Dr. Doolittle And His Animals (1928), the rest of her career was relegated to short films. There was work on a third feature, to be based on Maurice Ravel’s enchanting opera, “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges”; unfortunately, rights to the music could not be secured and the film was abandoned. The Adventures Of Prince Achmed is the only one of Reiniger’s films to date that has seen a home video release. Some of her shorts occasionally appear on television, but often in truncated versions. One such example is Doolittle, which has aired with added (and intrusive) voice over narration, coupled with woefully inadequate projection speeds. Fortunately, YouTube has been more respectful. The Star of Bethlehem (1921), Cinderella (1922), The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Papageno (from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”) (1935), The Magic Horse (1953), and Jack and The Beanstalk (1955) along with a short documentary of her work can all be found there. The documentary shows her storyboarding techniques and the almost rapid-fired speed at which she crafted her baroque figures.
There is a noticeable gap of activity in Reiniger’s filmography from 1938 to the early 1950s. With the rise of Fascism, Reiniger and Koch struggled to flee Germany. Although not Jewish, politically they leaned left, which marked them as subversives. Jean Renoir was among those who aided the couple, but they lived in abject poverty until finally being able to settle in England in 1949. Despite the initial financial failure of Achmed, Reiniger and Koch were respected in film circles and were able to be relatively prolific.
Achmed is of its time in its portrayal of the good guys as completely good, bad guys as completely bad, and the pretty girl as in need of saving (Reiniger’s later films frequently had biblical, Victorian, fairy tale, and operatic themes). Still, it’s put over so beautifully, even the most hardened cynics will hardly care. The color tinting renders the film a phantasmagoric smorgasbord of gemstones. Achmed is awash in emeralds, sapphires, rubies, garnets, aquamarines, amethyst, topaz, citrine, tanzanite, and fire opal.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed weaves interrelated narratives involving our protagonist, his princess sister, their Caliph father, an erotic heroine (who Achmed voyeuristically spies on while she is bathing), a flying horse, a malevolent shape shifting African magician, the Witch of the Fiery Mountain, dancing harlequins, sphinxes, terrifying demons, Aladdin, and the genie of the magic lamp. Locales include an exotic island, a majestic palace, Peru, and China.
Reiniger was master of her medium and an innovator. Every step through her unique world is an enchanting one.
* my review originally appeared at 366 weird movie
Sadly, much of Reiniger's unique work, including the original negative of this film, was destroyed in Berlin at the end of World War II. However, a nitrate positive had been preserved in the archives of the BFI (British Film Insitute) and, in 1999, 100 years after the birth of Reiniger, new prints were made from it and the original film restored. Fortunately too, Wolfgang Zeller's original music score had been preserved in the Library of Congress, Washington.
To this day it remains timeless, classic, sophisticated, poetic, delicate, magical... a defining example of the unique art of animation.
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A silent classic that still has the ability to impress.