Tag Archives: silent film

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (1926)

A while ago, I had the opportunity to watch The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the very first animated feature film (or at least the first one surviving to this day). It’s not what we now call “traditionally-animated”, i.e., drawing characters on cels and photographing them in front of backgrounds, but it does follow a tradition, an even older one: that of shadow plays. The director and principal artist, German Lotte Reiniger, used models intricately cut out from cardboard and other materials, sometimes using joints to give them limited articulation akin to modern stop-motion films. They are lit from below, the only colour coming from the tinted backgrounds.

Considering the highly labour-intensive technique and its inherent limitations, the animation is astonishingly fluid and masterful and the characters are stunningly expressive. There’s never really any doubt about what happens or how the protagonists feel about it despite there being no spoken dialogue (it’s a silent film) and relatively minimal intertitles. That’s no mean feat for a film that has several antagonists and plot threads intermingling and features some plot twists.
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Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1922)

Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (Doctor Mabuse the Gambler) is one of the oldest films I have seen, due to some unfortunate gaps in my education. I’m not completely unfamiliar with dramatic silent films, but I know fewer of them than someone who proclaims to love movies should. So I approached this film with a little trepidation, not knowing quite what I should expect and whether I would like it.

As if to silence timid doubters like myself, the movie starts off with a rapidly-paced heist scene that turns out to be an elaborate bit of stock market manipulation on the part of the villain (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). The sequence is tremendously exciting and doesn’t feel old-fashioned at all, lack of spoken dialogue notwithstanding. If anything, editing and special effects, limited though they are, impress as thoroughly modern and sophisticated.

The film can’t quite sustain that pace, but it doesn’t need to; the viewer gets hooked with the intro and is then along for the ride, which is doled out in discrete, 20 to 30 minute segments.
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