Adventures of Prince Achmed
The whole of the film is performed by shadow puppets moved by means of stop motion animation and is tinted a number of different colors so that, at one point or another, it glows with a blue, green, orange, or gold brilliance. The effect the director achieves with such devices is consistently mesmerizing and transports the moviegoer to a breathtaking liminal realm in which he is able to immerse himself so completely that he is left utterly intoxicated by the spectacle with which he is being presented.
The various puppets used by Reiniger throughout her film are especially bewitching. All are wonderfully intricate and absolutely beautiful to look at. Achmed, being at once elegant and dashing, always has an air of cultivated chivalry. His sister, Dinarsade, is so sweet and lovely that the viewer quickly senses her innocent alluringness, and the fairy queen of Wak-Wak, Pari Banu, is ethereally graceful, deliciously sensuous, and utterly enticing. Even the movie's loathsome characters are engaging. The bulging, stunted witch, though wild, brutish, and strange, is vilely captivating, as are both the twisted, cruel magician and the weirdly terrific monstrosities these two sorcerers conjure up.
Happily, the sets, which have also been produced by means of shadows, are every bit as splendid and beautiful as these puppets are. There is not one that is not simultaneously evocative and unique. I cannot begin to express how well realized the movie's fictional universe is. It is, in fact, so lovely and so otherworldly that the viewer, throughout the film's duration, is carried away from his own ordinary life and taken thence to some magical, dreamlike realm.
Having crafted such a diversity of fascinating and affecting details, the director has been able to bring to life a variety of truly astonishing sequences. At different times, Reiniger thus reveals to the viewer visions of Achmed dancing with the graceful attendants inhabiting the fairy queen's seraglio, of that queen herself bathing in a pool ringed by palms while a fawn drinks from its waters, of acrobats performing before the Caliph, of the hero and Pari Banu pledging their love before a range of misty mountains, of a hellish volcano inhabited by weird monstrosities, and of countless other images besides these.
Such fantastic elements are made even more amazing by the numerous magical details with which Reiniger has filled her movie. All of these greatly contribute to the legendary feel she often elicits. The director thus presents the moviegoer with a charmed horse that can fly when its rider lifts an ornament set upon its head, the metamorphosis of the magician into a fanged flying monster, an enormous and deadly serpent, the descent from the sky of Pari Banu and two of her attendants, who have all assumed the forms of birds, and the hairy, writhing fiends serving the witch. When he sees such marvels, the viewer is sure to be both thrilled and awed.
What is more, the numerous adventures of the film's characters in this incredible mythic land are themselves able to arouse in the moviegoer a number of different emotions. Achmed's battles with repugnant, deadly demons are thus filled with excitement. His sojourn in Pari Banu's palace is suffused with a potent salacity and a delectable elegance. The magician's attempts to trick the hero elicit an indignant anger directed towards the villain as well as sympathy for his victim, and the witch's shape-shifting duel with the magician stirs up feelings of wonder and exhilaration. There is, in fact, not a moment of The Adventures of Prince Achmed that will not draw the viewer into its world and thereby allow him to experience each event depicted so immediately that he feels the emotions these events provoke with an overwhelming poignancy.
Reiniger has created in The Adventures of Prince Achmed one of the true classics of cinema. It is a great shame that very few directors have followed after her and made use of shadow puppets as she has. While, because of our failing to realize that this technique is one of the most potentially interesting methods by which a film can be made, no one has substantially built upon her efforts and thereby enriched our world, our consequent poverty makes her achievements all the more impressive.
Review by Keith Allen
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