Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Adventures Of Prince Achmed (1926) Film Review
It is only very rarely that you get the chance to review a genuine piece of film history, like this beguiling twist on The Arabian Nights.
The Adventures Of Prince Achmed follows the relatively simple tale of a prince who is tricked by a sorcerer to ride a flying horse to his death. Of course, he manages to save himself from his fate only to land on a magical island, where he encounters Princess Peri Banu, with whom he falls in love at first sight. Once she is persuaded by his charm they try to return to the prince's home, battling ogres, the evil sorcerer and all manner of magical challenges, helped only by a benevolent African magic man and Aladdin.
Okay, so this is strictly in the realm of those fairy stories and fantasy books you stopped reading when you were ten, but this is to miss the point of the film. What makes Prince Achmed so impressive is the way in which it was made, not to mention being an independent production and almost entirely the creative work of one woman - no mean feat in 1926. It was the first full-length animated film and, despite being 75 years old, the silhouette animation looks clean, fresh and technically adroit.
Lotte Reiniger brings a unique perspective to the look of traditional characters, as she uses intricate Eastern details to show off astoundingly delicate filigree cutting work and an amazing grasp of the way in which shapes work together and of optical illusions (many scenes are reminiscent of Escher). This plays brilliantly in the fantastical universe, as objects turn into demons and sorcerers shape shift in a way only possible in silhouette. Human gestures, in particular, are wonderfully underplayed, helping the film throughout, as well as rendering several scenes with an ethereal, erotic quality.
Although there are some subtitled dialogue cards between scenes, most of the 300,000 camera shots are accompanied only by a lavish re-recording of the specially written score. The music adds narrative to the piece, with each character having their own theme. The film itself, like the soundtrack, owes a lot to loving restoration. The print is taken from an old and somewhat damaged tinted print and is therefore not in the original state as intended by Reiniger, although many original backgrounds were constructed in colour and then filmed in black-and-white.
The final effect is an overwhelmingly beautiful movie in the tradition of "happy ever afters", with many frames so well-composed they stand alone as little works of art.Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2001