Sunday, March 11, 2012

Indispensable Shadow Life

The main reason I think traditional forms of animation will always be superior to computer animation is the sense of unique life that appears in a work of traditional animation that cannot be replicated. The oldest surviving feature length animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, was made in 1926, a silhouette puppet animation, it gives you the feeling of its Arabian myth inspired story taking life and colonising the shadows. The painstakingly stop motion animated puppets are beautiful and so effective, and the techniques of their animation yet so clearly perceptible, it seems almost like inanimate objects coming to life because they're so strongly compelled to tell this story. In this way, also, a feminist argument seems to manifest in the film because it couldn't be repressed.

The story mainly follows the son of the Caliph, Prince Achmed, who is tricked by an African magician into riding an out of control flying horse, which carries him to distant lands. The movie follows his adventures and his further run ins with the magician.

The movie isn't only black cut outs, there are also what appear to be gobs of hair that shrink and expand, oozing liquid of some sort which is used when the magician creates the flying horse, as it begins looking like a melted gummy bear that slowly hardens into the silhouette puppet horse. There's a genie that looks like animated condensation.

My favourite piece of animation was when Achmed comes across the demon Peri Banu bathing with her servants and their reflections in the water appear to be shreds of paper that not only move with the figures but ripple for the water.

And the great thing about it, as with all the animation in the movie, is that it doesn't look realistic, it looks like an impression of reality brought to life, someone's idea of how water moves who doesn't even realise how much of his perception is on display rather than moving water.

Prince Achmed and, later, Aladdin, seem as though they're meant to be the main characters, but a witch who lives in a volcano is introduced and she pretty much takes over the show. She's the African magician's arch enemy--she fights the climactic battle with the magician while Achmed and Aladdin just watch, helpless. She also tells Achmed how to rescue Peri Banu and gives him the magic weapons and armour with which to do so. When Aladdin is too slow to use his lamp at the end of the movie, it falls to the witch to pick up the item, which seems to be more powerful in her hands, and save the day.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed was directed by Lotte Reiniger, one of the few female directors in the world in her day and it seemed to me the witch character was an expression of her perspective on women in society--the hairy little witch isn't beautiful, and it goes without saying she can't live with the princes and princesses in the palace, yet, like Reiniger, it is the witch who wields the magic that shapes the world.

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