A long lost cinematic masterpiece uncovered!Popular film history rewritten!Axel is smitten once more… There is a widely held and highly publicized belief that Walt Disney broke historical ground in 1937, with the release of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which has long been hyped as “the first feature-length animated film”. It is not true. It is not necessarily Disney Studios fault. I don’t believe that they have ever come right out and pronounced SNOW WHITE as such. They have called it “Walt Disney’s First Full Length Feature Production”, “The One That Started It All” and “The Best Loved Musical Of All Time”. Somehow this has been misinterpreted in the popular opinion, and many a “Film Buff” has pronounced it to be the “be all, end all” of pre-WWII animation. In actuality, a 23 year-old German teacher named Lotte Reiniger created the first “Feature-length” animated film in 1926. THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED is a rare thing of beauty. During a period of social, political and moral upheaval in Europe – a time when the prevailing attitude in the art world was one of cynicism, and overbearing socialism – Reiniger created a mesmerizing fairytale, out of paper, scissors and a few simple camera tricks.Reiniger was enchanted by the Theatre at a young age, and developed a gift for making silhouettes while fashioning her own cut-out puppet theatres as a child. By the time she was in her late teens, she had befriended such Film and Theatre luminaries as Paul Wegener and was studying acting under the tutelage of the great Max Reinhardt. Studying Stage Acting gave Reiniger the idea of using her silhouettes as actors, creating new ways to improve their movement and fine tuning her shadow play technique. Soon she found herself in demand with Film directors like Wegener, who used her silhouettes to enhance his title cards in his films.It was while working on Wegener’s THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN in 1918, that Reiniger had the idea of animating her silhouettes on Film. Wegener used a rudimentary stop-motion animation technique to bring wooden mice to life on screen for the film, and Lotte Reiniger had her epiphany. Why not animate silhouettes? Wegener introduced Reiniger to the Institut Fur Kulturforschung in Berlin, where she began to hone her skills by producing animated shorts using her silhouette techniques. Lotte Reiniger soon became involved with, and married to, Art Historian Carl Koch, who would become her partner throughout her career, and her husband for life. The pair took jobs as private tutors to a wealthy banker’s children, and continued their work in shorts on the side. It was this banker, Louis Hagen, who suggested the possibility of a feature-length animated film.With Hagen’s financial backing, Reiniger and Koch created a small studio in the banker’s garage and compiled a small team of animators. Borrowing characters, plot and thematic elements from the 1001 Arabian Nights stories, Reiniger concocted a fairy-tale world of witches, sorcerers and Arabian royalty that added up to a magical story of romance, friendship and good vs. evil that is as fresh and lively today as it was 75 years ago. Many critics and self-professed experts have made light of Lotte Reiniger’s achievements. Many of them have created flimsy arguments to back claims of racism and Nazi sympathy hidden in the film. None of these claims have any basis, and Reiniger was staunchly anti-socialist, fleeing to England during the Nazi years. The fact that the African and Arabic characters are rendered in black silhouettes is definitely not a sign of racism, most silhouette art is rendered in black figures on white backgrounds! The fact that Reiniger’s art has weathered these unfounded accusations, and the oppression of a male-dominated and generally misogynistic time period speaks volumes.Milestone Film and Video, one of the premiere distributors of rare “art-house” film and silent classics have recently released this film on DVD. You can check out my review here – THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, or check out your local video store, rental outlet or order online, to see this marvel for yourself. Instead of picking up that latest Disney straight-to-video sequel, do yourself a favor and grab this incredible film.A kaleidoscopic wonder of imagination and visual artistry, these silhouettes move with a fluidity and grace that most live dancers would have trouble imitating. This is a hypnotic and masterful piece of storytelling, and a beautiful and heartfelt message to the children in us all. This is like watching FANTASIA for the first time, like getting lost in the details of a magnificent Monet painting, or wondering at the graceful winding of a leaf dancing on a warm summer breeze. It is a magical experience and a true work of art. Kudos to Milestone for bringing this “lost” classic back to life, and for giving a magical tale one more chance to shine.To order Milestone Films product call 1-800-603-1104And for more information on Milestone Films and their products, visit them on the web at WWW.MILESTONEFILMS.COMAxel Howerton

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