Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Lotte to Talk About

Snaps of our tv during the documentary on Lotte's life and career on left, on right her divine hands at work she loved.

There's already been a lotte written about early animation pioneer, Lotte Reininger. I had heard about her a few years ago online, put her feature length milestone film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, in our Netflix queue in a low priority. It arrived when I wasn't paying attention and I'm so happy it did.

I finally saw it, fell in love with it and the story of Lotte's career described in the fascinating documentary included on the disk A bargain when I think that the original 1925 nitrate film no longer exists except for what has been salvaged to dvd.

I found the film inspiring in many ways for the Halfland project. Lotte's technique is artistically integrated, the paper puppets with their wire hinges, are themselves works of art. She was pure in her art. She did what was natural for her and as such, invented a new art form and/or advanced the craft hugely in a time of difficulty and restriction, regardless of gender or other imposed limitations. Her life was spent this way, making the art she loved most. That creative joy comes through each of Lotte's projects I've seen, making them timelessly beguiling.

Insight into Lotte's animation techniques.

It seems to me that Lotte was able to extract the essence of her puppet characters from only very barest of their representation. She seems to have been able to enact the truth of life in her art. And she knew what she was doing all along...

"What can be less of a person's image than his silhouette.
And how much can this express. Less gold, but the purest."

--Lotte Reininger


  1. Very interesting. I am not familiar with her or her work but pioneers of any new medium are always intersting and a bit amazing that they had a vision and developed a means of bringing it to fruition.


  2. Shel,

    I sometimes think we have a lot in common. I admire Lotte Reiniger for her work. On one of her other DVD is a great documentation of her work which she shows herself, "The art of Lotte Reiniger". You'll find the first part on youtube.

  3. Hi Jody, I couldn't agree with you more. Innovators are the most interesting aren't they!? I'm going to go check out your mini site!

    Jessica! WE DO have a lotte in common! Hee. Thanks for the tip on the Tube clip. I would love to see her film Grasshopper and Ant. It looked so poetic in the documentary.

    Hey--how were you able to put a link in comments?! I must have this power!

  4. Wow I've been missing out on some great stuff here! I'm going to queue that up on netflix too :)

    The bird in hat looks fantastic, not a surprise of course. I wasn't aware of the whole background behind HalfLand and hearing things like "the Black Mermaid", "Tarn the Crow woman", and "the Time Frog" sound so cool hah!

    Also glad to hear that Shuper Shelley managed to make light of a potentially disastrous situation. Always making progress. Keep on keepin' on!

  5. Oh, My GOD< Jessica!! That clip you posted above is a treasure! It shows Lotte actually cutting, piecing and animating! I'm hyperventilating. The results she gets with such apparent ease is mind-boggling!

    Hi Tony!! Thanks so much!!! YEAH! Safety FIRST FIRST FIRST! I'm going to make sure the lights I buy to light the set will be as cool running as possible for sure!

  6. My mysterious power tool is called "html".
    Insert a linking tag and your web address and it will show up like my link above. The problem is, I can't insert the code example here because your browser would interpret as a link. If you're interested further have a look at htmlhelp.com, I prefer using selfhtml.org, but it's German and French only.

    And yes, it's stunning seeing her working... I love how she moved the puppets... It appears to be simple but she "just" had tons of experience. – But don't forget breathing slowly... ;)

  7. Oh, I thought there might be a new super tricky way. Still, thanks, because I didn't realize comments would take html.

    YES! Breathing slowly is the trick in life, isn't it?!

  8. Here is the link code:


    Now, just replace the square brackets "[ ]" with the triangular brackets found next to the M on your keyboard, and you're in business!

  9. Thanks, Mike, yeah, I definitely knew that html, just thought they might have buttonized it when I wasn't looking.

    I'm much more interested in your thoughts on Lotte if you have any?

  10. Prince Achmed came on TCM one night and I saw the beginning of it, but honestly, it's just not the kind of thing I'm into. Sorry, I know how much you like it, and I can definitely see the intricacy and artistry of it, but it just doesn't ring my bell.

  11. I totes understand, Mike! I would have been BORED to tears by it _IF_ I hadn't seen the documentary first! It gave me context for her work's creation and a visual on her technique, without onion-skinning, or digital compositing of any kind, no nothing! Just black paper.

    There are transitions she gets, when characters turn into other things that are so magical it shames anything done today, bar none. Her animation--HER ah hum--PANTOMIME!!!!! was supremely masterful. She was a huge aficionado of Comedia del arte!!!! IT SHOWS!!! And she was inventing the whole flipping genre of animation for sweet sake. It's so damn impressive, it's insane.

    I know you super well, I *think* I know what skills you respond to. If you haven't clicked on the link above that Jessica shared (2nd from top), thinking you didn't dig Lotte's stuff a lotta, I hope you peek at it at and say you dug it more or nope, not your bag no how.

  12. Ok, I'll give it a looksee...

  13. I see what you mean.... I think I like the behind the scenes more than the actual film itself! It's amazing watching her cut out that head so deftly.... geeze, I'd take ten times as long and it would look like crap!! And she only made like 3 chalk marks of the paper first!! Insane!!

    And I love watching her move the puppets on the light table... it['s cool the way resistance against the glass almost automatically provides smooth flow to the movement.... when she moves a limb the hand follows along in a graceful arc without her even having to touch it! I'm jealous!! Too bad air isn't thick enough to provide that kind of resistance against a 3 dimensional puppet!!!

    As for the film (I watched the beginning just now on YouTube)... mmmm.... I don't quite know how to put it.... I LOVE the pupets, and the way they move... it has this quick, vivacious, almost manic energy like so much of the early animation did, like Starevitch and Betty Boop etc... and I love some of the stuff going on around the puppets... in fact I"m really blown away by that... but somehow it all fails to capture my interest for more than a few seconds. I think it's because, as beautiful as it all looks, nothing is happening, you know? There's no sense of individual character or of drama... more like generic (but intricate and beautiful) figures moving around for no reason. I get a sense of them sort of leaping and waving their arms, but I don't know why, or understand what's happening. Things appear and disappear, which is actually kind of cool, but I'm left wondering what's going on. And that's frustrating, ya know? I think if it was more clear what's happening I'd really love it as much as you do, but it doesn't let me in.

  14. Perfect! Thank you for watching it, Mike. Really. And I completely agree with you and feel exactly the same! It's all about her artistry and her bold innovation that captures me not the--how to say--emergent? There's got to be a better English word for this, not the art entirely, although I will say that there were several moments of clips shown in the dvd linked in the post that were indeed eye-brow raisers.

    The weighted paper puppets and the deftness with which she performed through them is what I most responded to.

    I think she got far better as she went along her 80 films, obviously one would. And Achmed being her first, as impressive an achievement as that was, does have the engaging character quaity she WAS ABLE to get to later on based on what I saw in the doc.

    That's why I wanted to see Grasshopper and Ant which looked the most magical of all.

    Mike, there was a clip in the doc where she animates two puppets where the performances are as real as if they were really real people, no joke. The body-english on them, as they scuffled and argued in mime, was as great as it gets.

    I'll look for a link and/or send you my freshly-Amazoned copy!

  15. BING-O!
    Found the exact clip I saw...

    2 minute to about 3:50 (watching more is hard because of the change in pacing tastes. Things were so much more languid when film was new, eh?)


    Please take notice of the guy's emotional pain, the bold attitude of the woman, the weight of objects she picks up, etc.

  16. After seeing that clip I'm even more torn about her work than before. Yes, the pantomime is good, if a bit melodramatic, though I guess that's how movies were in those days. The animation itself is pretty shaky. I suppose that's where either traditional cel animation or stopmo (with framegrabber or surface guages) has an instant advantage over the cutout approach.... it's easy to see the next frame vs the last one, to eliminate that shakiness. But there's something that bothers me more....

    At least in Achmed everything is done in a shadow puppet style... here the puppets are black silouhettes (SP!!) in front of more fully-rendered, 3 dimensional-looking backgrounds, which accentuates their flatness and lack of character. This is really pointed up when the statue turns from an actual drawing with features and thus personality to a flat black cutout. It seems to become less real. Very jarring to me.

    Sorry, I'm just pretty conflicted about this Reineger stuff, and the more I see the more conflicted I seem to get about it.

  17. No, no, your critique is astute and correct in many ways! The shake, the broad acting/movement, the background/setting not being pleasingly integrated. I agree with each point.

    Here's my thing on it, before she made these animations, there weren't any. Not really, not to this extent, not with this relative genuine artistry. I have a real soft spot for true innovators.

    And, I feel the most important point about Lotte's works are that she and her fans felt that her storytelling was transmitted via her silhouette's sensitive performances, albeit with the equipment of her day.

    I suspect she felt that everything important to what she was saying happened in the cut paper shapes. Less so in how they moved. And further less so as to their settings.

    It may not be attractive to your eye and mind, but I really appreciate what she did and you for discussing it.

  18. I completely lost my mind when I saw Prince Achmed. It is one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time. What more can I say.

    So glad you liked it!


  19. Hi Karima! The first few moments dropped my jaw as well. I think it was the intricacy of the puppet detail and how they seemed magically alive. Husband Paul thought it the most beautiful art he's seen.

  20. My husband is a big fan of Prince Achmed and Lotte Reininger too. Heavens if we all got together!

    With my best,

  21. How do you and your husband feel about paper crafts, pop-up, automata, wabi sabi, organic food, Fred Astaire, frozen yogurt, Thai Chi, and ballet? If you answer positively to at least any three of the above we MUST get together!

  22. Paper crafts: !!!

    Pop-up automata: Fantastic. Small collection. Larger collection of friends with big collections.

    Wabi-sabi: Pretty comfortable with impermanence but I like to call it ephemera and make art with it...right.

    Organic: Yes and local and I like to know the first name of the farmer who grew it. This IS Berkeley!

    Fred Astaire: Seen them all at least 4 times. My first crush.

    Frozen Yogurt: Yes especially tart. Have survived periods of eating it at least as often as one meal per day.

    Ah, now you've got me....

    Thai Chi: The will is strong but not strong enough to go! Obviously I could benefit from the strengthening effects. I practice wishful thinking.

    Ballet: I like the music?! I always cry at Swan Lake. I danced Flamenco for 14 years - it's a little more my style.

    Do we pass?

    With all my best,

  23. Almost! One last test from husband Paul:

    Do you know the game of Go?

    (If the answer is yes, are there affordable dwellings on your block!)

  24. I grew up with a beautiful Go table that was carved by my dad. On hot days I used to love sticking my hands in the bowls to feel the coolness of the stones. At some point my dad lent the stones to a friend and I never properly learned to play.

    Truth is I am a sore loser so I'm not much fun to play games with.

    Duncan on the other hand is a sporting man. Chess, fencing, ice hockey, protein analysis, Dungeons & Dragons (provided there's whiskey)... you name it and he is game.

    There is a house for sale across the street but I doubt there is room in it for all the great blue sky or even a smallish tree house. You have a rare thing going - that is for certain!

    A visit is most decidedly in order!

    With my very best,

  25. Wha?! What are the chances of you having even heard of something so obscure!?

    WILD, Karima!

    Ok, DEAL! Whichever couple comes first to the other couple's hometown get's treated to a great meal and a fro yo topper!

    It's on--with sooo much in common, should be great fun.

    (In truth, Paul and are saving up for a small bit of land to have someday and the dwelling will have to be within our means, which will most likely be a yurt! Or maybe Rana's cottage.)

  26. DEAL!

    Yes we have dreams of a yurt too.

    With all my best - sister!



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