The Adventures of Prince Achmed: the Revival of an Oeuvre

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

What has always fascinated me about cinema is its manner of transcending all boundaries imposed by time. As with all artistic expressions, the revival of an oeuvre reminds us how even the earliest of works still evoke emotions within us. Following its initial release in the spring of 1926, Berlin, the rebirth of Reiniger’s ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ is a perfect embodiment of this notion. As one of the earliest surviving animated features of all time, the film remains an indisputable display of unfading artistry.

Prince Achmed

Prince Achmed’ is a grand testament to the vision of pioneering silhouette animator, Lotte Reiniger.  Seduced by the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights, her film follows the voyage of a young prince who ventures through chaos to free his lover, Pari Banu, from evil. In working entirely with black silhouette figures and settings, the film offers a unique poetic lyricism, recalling how sophisticated animation may even arise in the simplest of forms.

The sequence that leaves me most in awe is, by far, our first encounter with Pari Banu. As we witness her fly, bathe and pose (with an allure entirely in keeping with what Achmed sees in her) we are called to admire how each human gesture is gracefully underplayed. Even in touching delicately their hands or lips, their subtle movements lend them such emotive qualities, thereby rendering the film an ethereal aura. As Reiniger herself expressed, “film is movement. It’s the combination of curves and diagonals that gives animation their sweet tenderness and striking directness.”

Such attention to detail is only further enhanced through the film’s use of music, which was exclusively composed by Wolfgang Zeller. The unity between his expressive rhythms with the film’s unique physicality is moving to experience -no less considering the film’s initial debut with live orchestra.

In recent years, many composers have even reinterpreted the classic by accompanying it with their own music, notably the likes of saxophonist Phillip Johnston, or even Jordanian band, The Khoury Project. For the latter, their appreciation of the oeuvre is further heightened through their connection with its thematic origins; as they explain, “the story of the film derives from the East, so we truly identify with it. It’s our culture.

Prince Achmed - Lotte Reiniger

Such reinterpretations particularly resonate with me, as they recall a sense of patent timelessness. Solely aroused by the most unique of oeuvres, they remind us how one’s personal expressions may even awaken the senses of another’s. For as with all great auteur’s, Reiniger’s role exceeds that of delivering a singular narrative, but rather to prompt or stir a feeling within her viewers –allowing us to experience our own personal perceptions.

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