‘Among the great figures in animated film, Lotte Reiniger stands alone. No one else has taken a specific animation technique and made it so utterly her own. To date she has no rivals, and for all practical purposes the history of silhouette animation begins and ends with Reiniger. Taking the ancient art of shadow-plays, as perfected above all in China and Indonesia, she adapted it superbly for the cinema.
‘She was born in Berlin to cultured parents, and from an early age showed an exceptional and, it seems, self-taught ability to cut free-handed paper silhouettes, which she used in her own home-made shadow-theatre. Initially she planned to be an actress, studied with Max Reinhardt, and used her skill at silhouette portraiture to attract the attention of the film director Paul Wegener. He invited her to make silhouettes for the intertitles to his films Rübezahls Hochzeit (Germany, 1916) and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (Germany, 1918).
‘Wegener introduced Reiniger to a group of young men who were setting up an experimental animation studio, the Berliner Institut für Kulturforschung, headed by Hans Cürlis. One member of the group was the film historian Carl Koch. In 1919 she made her own first film for the institute, Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of a Loving Heart). In 1921 Reiniger married Koch, who designed her animation studio and became her producer and camera operator until his death in 1963.
‘From the first, Reiniger was attracted to timeless fairy-tale stories for her animations. Aschenputtel (Cinderella) and Dornröschen (The Sleeping Beauty) (both 1922) were among her earliest subjects. The avant-garde artist and filmmaker Hans Richter, a lifelong friend, wrote of her that “she belonged to the avant-garde as far as independent production and courage were concerned,” but that the spirit of her work harked back to an earlier, more innocent age. Jean Renoir, another close friend and passionate admirer of her work, described her films as a “visual expression of Mozart’s music”. Indeed Mozart, and other operatic themes, often provided her with subjects, as in such films as Carmen (Germany, 1933), Papageno (Germany, 1935), Helen La Belle (1957, drawing on Offenbach) and A Night in a Harem (1958, drawing on Mozart).
‘From 1923 to 1926, Reiniger worked with Carl Koch, Walther Ruttmann and Berthold Bartosch on her most famous work, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, often credited as the first full-length animated film. Financing for this project was provided by a young Berlin banker, Louis Hagen, who had seen and admired her previous work. When inflation attacked the Deutschmark in 1923, Hagen had converted some of his money into film stock which he then offered to Reiniger to make a feature-length film on any subject she chose. He also built a studio for her above the garage of his house in Potsdam.
‘After completing Prince Achmed while still in her twenties, Reiniger never again attempted a feature-length animated film; for the rest of her sixty-year career she concentrated on shorts, mostly of one or two reels in length, and on sequences to be inserted in other people’s films. (She also co-directed, with Rochus Gliese, a part-animation, part-live-action feature, Die Jagd nach dem Glück (Running After Luck) (Germany, 1929), but it was a commercial and critical failure.) When funding ran short she would resort to book illustrations or commercials. As early as 1922 she made Das Geheimnis der Marquise (The Marquise’s Secret) for Nivea skincare products.
‘Altogether Reiniger made nearly sixty films, of which some forty survive. Her technique, already amazingly accomplished in Prince Achmed, gained yet further in subtlety and balletic grace during the Thirties in such films as Harlekin (Harlequin, 1931) and Der kleine Schornsteinfeger (The Little Chimney Sweep, 1934). The delicacy and fantasy of fairy-tales suited her intricate, imaginative technique, and they make up the bulk of her output.
‘After the Nazis seized power Reiniger turned her back on Germany, “because I didn’t like this whole Hitler thing and because I had many Jewish friends whom I was no longer allowed to call friends”. In December 1935 she and Koch came to England where they made The King’s Breakfast (1936) for John Grierson and other films for the GPO Film Unit. She also contributed a shadow-play sequence to Renoir’s La Marseillaise (France, 1937).
‘At the outbreak of war Koch was in Rome working with Renoir. Reiniger joined him there and worked as his assistant on La Tosca (Italy, 1941, completed by Koch after Renoir quit Italy in haste) and Una signora dell’ovest (Italy, 1942). At Christmas 1943 they reluctantly returned to Berlin to care for Reiniger’s sick mother. Her only film during the war years was Die Goldene Ganz (The Golden Goose, 1944). Many of the original negatives stored in her Potsdam studio were destroyed by a hand-grenade blast. Luckily prints existed elsewhere and it was possible to reconstitute the majority of her films, including Prince Achmed.
‘After the war, the couple took British citizenship and settled in the Abbey Arts Centre, an artists’ estate in north London, where they set up Primrose Productions along with Louis Hagen Jr, son of the Berlin banker who had financed Prince Achmed. This was the most intensely productive period of Reiniger’s career: in two years she created a dozen films for American television, all adapted from classic fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Hauff, Hans Christian Andersen and from the One Thousand and One Nights. The Gallant Little Tailor (1954) was awarded a prize, the Silver Dolphin, at the Venice Festival.
‘After Carl Koch’s death in 1963 Reiniger made no films for ten years, becoming a near-recluse. But her films were enjoying a revival, and in 1969 she was invited to visit her native country for the first time since her emigration. This led to a rediscovery of her film works in West Germany and to late recognition: in 1972 the artist was awarded the Filmband in Gold and in 1979, on her 80th birthday, she received the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Order of Merit).
‘In the early 70s Reiniger was persuaded to embark on a lecture tour of North America, where she described herself as “a primitive caveman artist”. Inspired by the warmth and affection she encountered, she resumed work, and in her last years made two films for Canada, including the exquisite The Rose and the Ring (1979) from the story by Thackeray. This, her penultimate film, showed that her 80-year-old fingers had lost none of their magic. Reiniger’s final film was a very brief short, Die vier Jahreszeiten (The Four Seasons, 1980), made for the Filmmuseum Düsseldorf the year before she died.’ — Philip Kemp
Lotte Reiniger Website
Lotte Reiniger @ IMDb
Lotte Reiniger @ Animation World Network
‘The Groundbreaking Silhouette Animations of Lotte Reiniger’
‘TEN YEARS BEFORE DISNEY’
‘Animation: Reiniger’s Prince Achmed’
‘The Adventures of Lotte Reiniger – the early years of film animation in Germany’
‘Listen to Lotte Reiniger and Rebecca Sugar Discuss Animation’
Lotte Reiniger page @ Facebook
‘In the Shadows: Lotte Reiniger’
‘On the master animator Lotte Reiniger’
‘Figuras de cine: Lotte Reiniger’
‘How can we understand Lotte Reiniger’s fantasy fairy-tales in context?’
‘Forgotten but not gone’
The Art of Lotte Reiniger
advertisement for Nivea skin care by Lotte Reiniger, 1922
Priceless old footage of Lotte Reiniger speaking about her method
Lotte Reiniger im Stadtmuseum Tübingen
“I believe in the truth of fairy-tales more than I believe in the truth in the newspaper.”
“Film is movement. It’s the combination of curves and diagonals that gives ballet and animation their sweet tenderness and their striking directness. Even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders.”
“Hands are practically the only way to show a silhouette figure’s emotions. Without all five fingers, it’s not so good.”
“I do make a point to include animal silhouettes because in animation films, man and beast are on the same level, which would be impossible on a theatrical stage. In my research, I’ll spend hours at the zoo, then return to my studio. Sometimes I will get down on all fours to imagine what it would feel like to be a particular animal.”
“I love working for children, because they are a very critical and very thankful public.”
“Walt Disney’s animations obey the rules of perspective, fooling the eye to see three dimensions. I am skeptical of Disney and his factorystyle, over-technicized productions. Our films may be more modest, but they bear a more individual mark. I feel that the stark black figures in our films stimulate audience imagination more than lush colors.”
“Deutsche Filmzeitung [the Third Rech trade journal] disparaged my films as romantic and unrealistic. In a private conversation, I was told, ‘We need healthy produce for the German people. What you make is a caviar in which we have no interest.'”
15 of Lotte Reiniger’s 55 films
‘It all begins with a pair of scissors cutting out Cinderella from a piece of black card before placing her into the world of the story. In many shots, the action is vignetted by jagged edges, reminding us of the sharp edges that have crafted the materials of this tale. Animation is already well suited to fairy tales, which have provided story material for Reiniger, Jiří Trnka, Ladislas Starevich, Ray Harryhausen, Jan Švankmajer and that Disney bloke (Disney also released a cartoon of Cinderella in 1922, and a feature film of the same story in 1950, four years before Reiniger’s own remake). Animation allows the construction of a completely fabricated fantasy space that is bracketed off from the real world, evoking the enclosures of memory and imagination (though I might argue that Disney’s approach was less to do with evoking the imaginative and ephemeral experience of fairytales, and more about reshaping those tales in order to fit into the house style of his company). Animated figures provide archetypal rather than definitive renderings of fairytale characters, and particularly in Reiniger’s monochromatic stories, the images allow space for the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps.’ — Dr. North
the entire film
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
‘Paul Shallcross, who today played the lovely score he composed for the film, gave an excellent introduction as to why the film has historically been revered as a landmark: the youth of the director, the painstaking mode of animation involving cardboard silhouettes and thin sheets of lead which took three years to complete, how each frame was lit from below and photographed from above using layered backgrounds one painstaking frame after another, how famous avant-garde figures such as Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch and Carl Koch worked on the film etc. But personally, I always thought there was a reason why silhouette films never took off. It always felt too much like a successful attempt in gaining maximum expressivity from a limited vocabulary; and why bother? The images are delicate and pretty. The story, from the Arabian nights and featuring Aladdin, his lamp, witches, sorcerers, dragons, warriors and princesses — and a setting ranging from the Middle East to China — is exciting and involving. But why not tell the same story using a greater visual vocabulary that allowed more movement and a greater range of expression? Today I got my answer.’ — Notes on Film
the entire film
Der scheintote Chinese (1928)
‘A bit racist (a lot racist), but stunningly animated. The story is actually very strange (though more or less normal for a fairytale), and I could not parse any clear moral from it (though there’s nothing say it’s a fable). Perhaps I need to think on it more, or perhaps I missed something while drooling over the silhouettes.’ — letterboxd.com
the entire film
The Little Chimney Sweep (1935)
‘Despite her success (she was particularly popular in the avant-garde scene alongside artists like Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill), Reiniger’s career was sporadic. As known leftists during the rise of the Third Reich, she left the country with her husband and collaborator Carl Koch. Unable to get permanent Visas, the couple hopped around Europe for over ten years and still managed to create twelve films. During her earlier, more prolific period in the 1930s, she made u to seven films a year, one small and peculiarly beautiful highlight being 1935’s The Little Chimney Sweep.’ — Dangerous Minds
the entire film
Kalif Storch (1935)
‘A handsome prince rides a flying horse to far-away lands and embarks on magical adventures, which include befriending a witch, meeting Aladdin, battling demons and falling in love with a princess.’ — IMDb
the entire film
Puss in Boots (1936)
‘I was perhaps too hasty in bemoaning the stiffness of Reinige’s animation. It’s been a long time since I watched Prince Achmed, but I bet it’s much the same, a part of the silhouette style she uses. When I first watched Prince Achmed, everything about the style infused me with awe. As I watched this, the continuing of that stiffness prompted vague memories of the same, so I think I just needed to reacquaint myself. The combination of shadowplay and beautifully sketched backgrounds remains delightful. My other thought is how much I like trickster characters. Puss in Boots is a beautiful example of a trixter whose cunning is used in defense of the meek, or the working man, or the maltreated. It’s not a perfect fairytale telling–there’s no effort given to making anything more if than its bare bones, so the princess is just a reward, for instance–but the crux of it is a poor young man being aided in gaining power and resource. It’s couched in medieval trappings, but there’s a socialistic idea that can be scratched out if you try.’ — letterboxd.com
the entire film
Mary’s Birthday (1951)
‘It’s no accident that the villains in this 1951 English children’s animated short about proper hygeine swarm suspiciously like the Luftwaffe during the London Blitz that happened a decade earlier: the film was made by Lotte Reiniger, the German-born filmmaker who fled from the Nazis (not Jewish, she understood the implications for artists) in 1933 and eventually settled permanently in England. The specter of war is still very much present in this otherwise idyllic-looking little film. There’s also something vaguely forward-looking and existentialist in the grooming habits and postures of Bertram, who is literally lord of the flies in this plotline. Some have interpreted the working-class accents of the flies & germs with Labour or with the union-organizing movement. There is a distinct association of caste and accent with heroism in this. Really interesting little trove of memes here.’ — Thimble Wicket
the entire film
The Magic Horse (1953)
‘An untrustworthy old man – a magician – presents a ruler with a magical mechanical horse that can fly through the air. And the Caliph’s son wants to take a ride. The innovative German animator Lotte Reiniger created this evocative 10-minute film in 1953, using silhouette paper cutouts and stop-motion animation.’ — Deceptology
the entire film
The Gallant Little Tailor (1953)
‘The 1950s were a busy, productive decade for Lotte Reiniger, that unequaled creator of silhouette movies. Her elaborately edged and articulated figures, pure black against a gouache of grey, gave an air of eavesdropping on something private. Also, the scores provided, as here, by Freddie Phillips, offer an eminently suitable accompaniment to the humorous story of how a clever tailor outwits a kingdom and two giants. Although this is a shorter version of the Gallant Little Tailor than offered by the Brothers Grimm, it fills up its ten minutes highly amusingly. As with almost all her work, all I can do is tell you this is up to her impeccable standards.’ — IMDb
the entire film
The Three Wishes (1954)
‘Die märchenhafte Wunschgeschichte basiert auf Märchenmotiven der Kinder- und Hausmärchen, die von den hessischen Brüdern Grimm gesammelt, aufgeschrieben und veröffentlicht wurden. Lotte Reiniger deutete und gestaltete die Grimmschen Vorlagen am Tricktisch auf ihre eigene, augenzwinkernde Weise.’ — Lotte Reiniger Site
the entire film
The Grasshopper and the Ant (1954)
‘Reiniger’s films often synchronize animated motion and music. The Tale of the Grasshopper and the Ant (1954) uses this synchrony (and Mozart) for dramatic emphasis. The opening sequence features all of the forest animals dancing to the grasshopper’s melodies, recalling dance numbers from slightly earlier American animations and musicals, such as Disney’s Fantasia (1940). Reiniger uses music specifically and sparingly, using only a few instruments to describe the mood of overall movement and for individual characters. Musical scores are very important to the dynamic force of cartoons, and The Grasshopper and the Ant self-reflexively plays with that importance, begging a comparison between the necessity of storing food as winter approaches winter to the need for music and dance as supporting life at a feeling level. Compare this to Disney’s The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934), both for form and for message.’ — Critical Commons
the entire film
The Frog Prince (1954)
‘The Frog Prince was one of several adaptations of Brothers Grimm fairytales that Lotte Reiniger made in London between 1953 and 1955: others include The Gallant Little Tailor, Hänsel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Rose Red and The Three Wishes. Here, the frog’s regal status is clearly indicated by his tiny crown, though in all other respects he’s presented in well-observed and convincingly amphibian form, leaping optimistically after the princess in the belief that she intends to honour her part of the bargain that they struck when her beloved golden ball fell down the well. The more complex narrative elements are generally downplayed (the prince casually explains that he’d been changed into a frog, without saying who was responsible, or what he’d done to deserve it) in favour of a series of highly visual set-pieces, including the ball’s slow descent into the well (the background becoming a watery shimmer) and the frog’s dance on the dining-table.’ — Michael Brooke
the entire film
Aladdin and his Magic Lamp (1954)
‘One of the first films that Lotte Reiniger made for Louis Hagen’s London-based company Primrose Productions, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp was made with US television screenings in mind – hence the narrator’s American accent. Like its companion-piece, The Magic Horse (1954), it develops themes (and recycles some footage) from her groundbreaking feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer von Prinz Achmed, Germany, 1923-6), where the Aladdin story formed a minor subplot. Reiniger’s silhouette technique is particularly well suited to this Arabian Nights atmosphere, the harsh brightness of the desert settings and the Middle Eastern architecture naturally offsetting the foreground characters. The depth of the cave into which Aladdin descends to find the lamp is effectively conveyed via a blend of stalagmites, stalactites and seemingly endless creepers, and the fact that the lamp, when lit, can’t quite illuminate every corner. Later, when Aladdin is trapped on the storm-tossed sea, Reiniger layers the waves so that their translucency relates to the threat that they pose: they become increasingly dark as the storm gathers pace.’ — Michael Brooke
the entire film
Hänsel and Gretel (1955)
‘Reiniger’s Hansel and Gretel varies slightly from the Brothers Grimm original, particularly at the end. She herself would probably have loved to adhere to the original and would have had the witch burn in the oven, but the producers, having emigrated from Germany, regarded this as a taboo so shortly after the Holocaust, even for a silhouette film. Symbolised by the witch’s cane, evil is destroyed, which can be regarded as an unambiguous symbol – by no means an accident on the part of Lotte Reiniger.’ — The BFI
the entire film
Aucassin and Nicolette (1975)
‘This is one of Lotte Reiniger’s very last animated silhouette films, and is certain to charm. It has a different flavor from her main body of work, which was of course in black and white; this is in bright 70’s color, with plenty of ‘sunshine’ hues, for a sparkling fairytale effect, though this is a romance and not a fairy tale. The young lovers in this medieval tale are exquisitely rendered, and the colors mostly derive from layered tissue paper; the effect is quite delicate. As a Canadian production, it was issued in both French and English versions, though I’ve found the French elusive.’ — IMDb
the entire film
p.s. Hey. As a little Xmas present to myself, I’m spending all day tomorrow at Disneyland Paris, which requires an early departure, which means I won’t be able to do the p.s. tomorrow, but I will be back to catch up with all of the accumulated comments on Thursday. ** Chaim Hender, Hi. Thanks. Yes, I guess feeling ready to hit an amusement park tomorrow means I must be either back to relative normal or in a delusional state, ha ha. Yeah, it still weirds me out a bit that his voice is overdubbed by a fake at the end of ‘Giant’, but that also makes it powerful, eerie too. Cool re: your liking the cutaways. Cypress Gardens is a legend. I somehow didn’t know about that Lego makeover. How odd. I’m curious to have a look via that video, thank you. I’m one of those very lucky people who is just inherently very productive when it comes to art making, but I’m also a procrastinator from hell when it comes to doing anything else I know I should, mainly because I hate tearing myself away from the art making. I tend to just procrastinate until the last minute then barely do whatever else in time. So I’m always looking for tips on how to be more efficient as a human too if you figure out any good methods. ** Marilyn Roxie, Hey, Marilyn! Ooh, thank you for the links! Everyone, Venture further afield on the cutaways front courtesy of Marilyn. Marilyn: ‘My favorite cutaway illustration is Saul Steinberg’s ‘The Art of Living’ and even more so Georges Perec spinning wildly off of its contents in Life: a User’s Manual. And, of course, the sometimes-cutaway-view isometric perspective in video games and pixel art: here. ** David Ehrenstein, Oh, I see, ha ha. Hm, I’ll read that essay. Hm. Thank you. Yes, indeed, on your cutaway referents. And of course Tati! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thanks a bunch for your list. A lot of rock and rap on there. Yes, interesting. Everyone, Here is Steve Erickson’s complete 2017 faves list including video illustrations of his picks. Fun galore! ** Count Reeshard, Hello, Count Reeshard! Very nice to meet you, and thank you very much for entering. Oh, that J.L. Hudson cutaway drives me mad. It makes MC Escher’s stuff look like half-assed doodles on a post-it. Finding it is what made me go on to search out enough to fill a post. So it really was that huge and intricate? Crazy. I so envy your proximity to it and experiences therein. Its destruction seems up there with the old Penn Station’s in idiocy. I’ll go watch that video the very second I launch this. Thank you so much! And for the kind blog words. Obviously, please do come back and say stuff here whenever the mood strikes you. Enjoy Tuesday! ** James Nulick, Hi, James. Thanks for your thanks. No, I don’t think I know David Macaulay’s books, at least not by name. Perhaps I’ve seen his stuff unidentified. I’ll find out. No idea about the word count of ‘God Jr’. The mss. is on a hard drive in Los Angeles, and, yeah, I have no idea. I’ve never paid attention to word count in my stuff except with articles that have length requirements. Why do you ask? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Tick, tick, tick … ! The Xmas fairs are coming to an end before Xmas? Or, oh, wait, it’s almost Xmas, isn’t it? I keep forgetting. I’m not 100% well, but I’m well enough to risk tromping around in the cold and riding rides all day tomorrow, so hopefully I’m close enough. It looks like it’ll be two Buches this year. One which Zac and I will share with Gisele this weekend, and one of ‘my own’. I think the decision on the former will happen today. News when it’s news. Yesterday … well, I hate all this mysteriousness I’ve been forced to wrap my things in occasionally of late, but yesterday we got very good news about ‘Permanent Green Light’ that I am forbidden to make public until January 17th. But suffice to say that was very happy making indeed. I worked on the new film script a little and the other mysterious project’s script a little. My visiting friends Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy did another reading last night near the Bastille, and I went to that. I think that was that. Was your today another crazy and exhausting one? I’m so happy to know that you’ll be free again so soon. Oh, and, sure, of course, naturally, about SCAB on my list. Easily one of this year’s major highlights! ** Shane Christmass, Hi, Shane! It’s really nice to see you. Oh, I don’t know … the cutaways call up some kind of little kid fascination, I guess. And I’m always super interested in graphs and maps and things, nerdily, I assume. I’m not sure I know why exactly. Thank you a lot for the Snake Miller album full length. Loud it will definitely be! Thanks a lot! Have a swell day! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B, how’re the holidays going? Thanks for the Best link. I don’t know enough about football to get it, but you know I like things that confuse me, yes! ** Misanthrope, I get the feeling that cutaway illustrations are one of rare things that everybody is drawn to. Maybe they, unlike the arrival of evil, conquering outer space aliens as promised in the movies, will be the thing that ultimately unites our very fractured human race. I haven’t yet seen that Matt Lambert film, no. I’m curious, naturally. It must be out there and viewable. Mental note to jet over to its location. Thank you, bud. ** Nik, Hi. Ha ha, funny, yes, about your mom. I should watch ‘MS’ again too. But with whom, I wonder. Hm. You lived in Egypt? Whoa, that’s cool. Never been there. I wanted to be an archeologist when I was in grade school, and I was completely obsessed with there. I hope family time is a good thing. Your sentence’s vibe made me think it is. What is ‘full-length’ ideally for the script? Um, on the new film script, well, we’re still early on and trying things out. PGL was very strictly mapped out like a tunnel. It’s a matter of making this one’s trajectory inherent and propulsive but very swerve-y with lots of changes in energy level and movement/static-ness. Hard to explain at this point because we’re really still just testing the wildest possibilities, which we will cull once we have an ending, which we don’t have quite sorted out yet. Thank you for asking. This week: Work, a reading event tonight. Disneyland tomorrow. Finishing a draft of a piece of the mysterious project script Zac and I are writing to give to Gisele so we can meet and discuss whether we’re on course or not. Meeting with our PGL producer to discuss some great, necessarily mysterious news we just got about the film. Setting up a screening of PGL in Paris for the cast, crew, etc. for early January. Going to the Xmas themed makeover of the Paris haunted house attraction Le Manor de Paris on Friday. Other stuff. Your week? ** H, Hi, h. Busy busy, me too, whoa. I’m mostly okay, health-wise. Ordering one Buche today. And a second one probably tomorrow or Thursday. Fine day to you! ** Okay. I’m devoting a day to the great animator Lotte Reiniger today just because and also because the post seems kind off nice for the Xmas season too maybe. I don’t know. The blog will see you tomorrow, and I will see you in p.s. form on Thursday.