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LOTTE REINIGERíS SILHOUETTES

Abhijit Ghosh Dasitidar

 

Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981), who was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg, made about forty silhouette films, distinct from animated cartoons. Silhouettes of persons, viewed in direct profile, intermingle with short and long shadows, depending on the light. Dating back to China of 11th Century AD, shadow plays, assisted by moving figures operated on small rods, have been an ancient art form. Invention of animated films, avoided recourse to controlling rods.

 

Using tracing paper and cardboard, Reiniger used scissors to cut her figures, and breathe life into inanimate paper.The cutting strokes provided the figures with characters. As the gaunt sorcerer, the plump good natured witch, and the obese, power conscious emperor are caught in motion, against a background of light and shadow, assigned roles lucidity emerge.

 

The flexible figures are placed on a glass plate, which is illuminated from below. Mounted above a glass plate, the camera traverses the small images, and records each picture. Beauty and charm engulf the twenty four individual frames per second.The figures are filmed with an animation stand apparatus.The profile figures are reinforced in Reiniger's silhouettes. Clear ideas guide the planned action introduced in profiles. The stroryboard conveys the requirement of figures and sceneries. The action in the scenes and the accompanying sound effects are related by the written manuscript scenario. The scenery gives support to the story. Tracking shots encompass the entire action which takes place in profile and a large field of panoramic view. The camera being in a fixed position, the entire scenery is moved past the camera. The natural movement of the figures is harmonized by the background music and rhythm. Sound film helped Reiniger analyse the music of Mozart and Bizet.

Built on the Arabian tales of the ''The thousand and one Nights'' Reiniger's ''The Adventures of Prince Achmad'' (Germany, 1923-26, 65 mins), is possibly the earliest full-length feature animated film in cinema history. The Caliph is endeared to the magical flying horse of a powerful sorcerer. But the ugly sorcerer would like to marry Dinarsade, the beautiful daughter of the Caliph. Achmad, Dinar sade's brother drives out the Sorcerer and rides the horse through the star filled sky. Prince Achmad descends onan island Wak Wak, and has a romantic encounter with Pari Banu, the beautiful ruler of Wak Wak. They ride the magical horse through far away countries. The revengeful sorcerer offers Pari Banu to the Emperor of China. When she declines, she is offered to the emperor's hunchback servant. A good hearted witch frees chained Prince Achmad, in a desolate volcanic area. Together they save Pari Banu from the court of the Chinese emperor. With Aladin's magic lamp they defeat an octopus and the sorcerer. In the Silhouette film the characters are invented, drawn, cut out, given flexibility and mobility, illuminted, moved and filmed. Assisted by Carl Koch, Watther Ruttman, Bertold Bartosch, Alexander Kardan and Watter Turck, Reiniger brings alive the fairy tales in the silhouette cinema images of oriental fantasiesand miracles.

''Dr Dolittle and his animals'' (Germany, 1928) consists of stories by Hugh Lofting. ''Part I: A trip to Africa" (9 mins) portrays Dr Dolittle living with animals on a coast. A swallow informs him of a serious disease amongst apes in Africa. Voyage to Africa is stormy and the doctor's ship is smashed on rocky archipelago. Dr Dolittle and his animals are captured by natives in ''Part 2: In Cannibal Land'' (8 mins). A parrot escapes, and the doctor and his animals are saved from a gorge, by the apes who form a suspension bridge. In ''Part 3 : In the Lion's Den'' (8 mins), the doctor treats gorillas and monkeys. The lion king is calmed, when the doctor removes a thorn from the paw of a baby lion. The sceneries are placed in the same foreground as doctor and the animal figures, who keep moving on the same sequences.

''Papageno'' (Germany, 1935, 11 mins) is from Mozart's ĎMagic Flute', where Papageno is the happy bird catcher, who dreams of beautiful women. His dream girl, Papagena runs away from a snake, and he is again sad. Parrots rescue Papageno, as birds lay large eggs, from which hatch Papagenos and Papagenas, to the strains of Mozart's music.

Motifs from Bizet's opera form the script of ''Carmen'' (Germany, 1933, 9 mins). Beguiled Don Jos loses his clothes to Carmen in a shady camp, which Carmen trades for a lace gown. Don Jos finds Carmen in a bull fight ring. The bull ignores the toreros, and performs acrobatics before Carmen. In the parody opera, the figures and their movements harmonize with the music.

''The Grasshopper and the Ant'' (Britain, 1954, 10 mins) shows a grasshopper fidding a violin and dancing, amid a summer field of flowers, while a busy ant makes provisions for winter. Soon winter arrives, and the ant sits in a warm and cosy room, while the grasshopper is faced with cold and hunger. A mouse searching for firewood, discovers the ailing grasshopper, and providesshelter. The grasshopper plays his fiddle and the ant looks for company. The insects and animals express themselves through variations of the profile.

An Arabian fairy tale background re-emerges in ''Caliph Stork''(Britain, 1954, 10mins). Sorecerer Kashnur transforms the Caliph of Baghdad into a stork, with magic powder and mysterious words. The Caliph and his grand vizier laugh while witnessing a stork ballet, and forget the magic words. A princess transformed to an owl, learns the magic word from a gathering of sorcerers. The good storks and the owl return as human being, and lock up the metamorphosed Kashnur stork, into a cage. The fairy tale motifs govern the figures of the humans and the animals, and also their movements.

''The Sleeping Beauty'' (Britain, 1954, 10 mins) portrays the king's daughter under spells and prophesies. The princess is pricked by the spindle of a spinning wheel of an old woman in a tower. The princess falls asleep, and thick hedges grow around the castle. After a hundred years the princess is brought to life by a kiss from a young prince. As the court awakens and the thorns wither, there is a grand wedding. The film ends with cheerfulness without sentimentality.

''The Art of Lotte Reiniger'' (UK, 1953/1971, 16 mins) is an essay film, where Reiniger speaks to the camera and explains the subtle production methods and steps of a silhouette film, in black and white, or colour. The package of expressive films by Lotte Reiniger were recently screened in the Goethe-Institute Max Mueller Bhavan circuit.

 

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