Reiniger, Lotte

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Animator. Nationality: British. Born: Berlin, 2 June 1899; became citizen of Great Britain. Education: 1916–17—attended Max Reinhardt theater school, Berlin. Family: Married Carl Koch, 1921 (died 1963).Career: 1916—created silhouettes for intertitles of Paul Wegener's Rübezahls Hochzeit; 1918—introduced by Wegener to film group associated with Dr. Hans Cürlis; 1919—Cürlis's newly founded Institut für Kulturforschung, Berlin, sponsored Reiniger's first film; mid-1930s—with Koch moved to Britain, worked with G.P.O. Film Unit with Len Lye and Norman McLaren; 1936—made The King's Breakfast, first film in England; 1946—worked with Märchentheater of city of Berlin at Theater am Schiffbauerdamm; beginning 1950—lived and worked mainly for TV, in England; 1950s and 1960s—created sets and figures for English puppet and shadow theater Hoghart's Puppets; 1953—Primrose Productions set up, sponsored productions for American TV; 1975—began collaboration with National Film Board of Canada; 1979—The Rose and the Ring premiered at American Film Festival. Awards: Silver Dolphin, Venice Biennale, for Gallant Little Tailor, 1955; Filmband in Gold, West Germany, for service to German cinema, 1972; Verdienst Kreuz, West Germany, 1978. Died: 19 June 1981.

Films as Animator:


Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Loving Heart)


Amor und das standhafte Liebespaar


Der fliegende Koffer; Der Stern von Bethlehem


Aschenputtel; Dornröschen


Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed; Wak-Wak, ein Märchenzauber; The Adventures of Prince Achmed)


Der scheintote Chinese (originally part of Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed); Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere (The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle) (in 3 parts: Abenteuer: Die Reise nach Afrika; Abenteuer: Die Affenbrücke; Abenteuer: Die Affenkrankheit)


Zehn Minuten Mozart




Sissi (intended as interlude for premiere of operetta Sissi by Fritz Kreisler, Vienna 1932)




Das rollende Rad; Der Graf von Carabas; Das gestohlene Herz (The Stolen Heart)


Der kleine Schornsteinfeger (The Little Chimney Sweep); Galathea; Papageno


The King's Breakfast




Dream Circus (not completed); L'elisir d'amore (not released)


Die goldene Gans (not completed)


Mary's Birthday


Aladdin (for U.S. TV); The Magic Horse (for U.S. TV); Snow White and Rose Red (for U.S. TV)


The Three Wishes (for U.S. TV); The Grasshopper and the Ant (for U.S. TV); The Frog Prince (for U.S. TV); The Gallant Little Tailor (for U.S. TV); The Sleeping Beauty (for U.S. TV); Caliph Storch (for U.S. TV)


Hansel and Gretel (for U.S. TV); Thumbelina (for U.S. TV); Jack and the Beanstalk (for U.S. TV)


The Star of Bethlehem (theatrical film)


Helen la Belle (theatrical film)


The Seraglio (theatrical film)


The Pied Piper of Hamelin (interlude for theatrical performance)


The Frog Prince (interlude for theatrical performance)


Wee Sandy (interlude for theatrical performance)


Cinderella (interlude for theatrical performance)


The Lost Son (interlude for theatrical performance)


Aucassin et Nicolette (interlude for theatrical performance)


The Rose and the Ring (interlude for theatrical performance)

Other Films:


Rübezahls Hochzeit (Wegener) (silhouettes for intertitles); Die Schöne Prinzessin von China (Gliese) (set decoration, props, and costumes)


Apokalypse (Gliese) (silhouettes for intertitles); Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin) (Wegener) (silhouettes for intertitles)


Der verlorene Schatten (Gliese) (silhouette sequence)


Die Nibelungen (Lang) (silhouette sequence, not used)


Die Jagd nach dem Glück (Running after Luck) (Gliese) (co-story + co-sc + co-sound)


Don Quichotte (Pabst) (opening silhouette sequence)


La Marseillaise (Renoir) (created shadow theater seen in film)


By REINIGER: books—

(Illustrator) Das Loch im Vorhang, Berlin, 1919.

Venus in Seide, Berlin, 1919.

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, 32 pictures from film, with narration, Tubingen, 1926 (reprinted 1972; text translated into English by Carman Educational Associates, Pine Grove, Ontario, 1975).

Der böse Gutsherr und die guten Tiere, Berlin, 1930.

Wander Birds, Bristol, 1934.

Der ewige Esel, Zurich/Fribourg, 1949.

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, London, 1952.

Mondscheingarten—Gedichte, Gütersloch, 1968.

Shadow Theatres and Shadow Films, London and New York, 1970.

Das gestohlene Herz, Tübingen, 1972.

By REINIGER: articles—

"Scissors Make Films," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1936.

"The Adventures of Prince Achmed," in Silent Picture (London), Autumn 1970.

"Lotte Reiniger et les ombres chinoises," interview with L. Bonneville, in Séquences (Montreal), July 1975.

On REINIGER: books—

White, Eric, Walking Shadows, London, 1931.

Russett, Robert, and Cecile Starr, Experimental Animation, New York, 1976.

Rondolino, Gianni, Lotte Reiniger, Torino, 1982 + filmo.

On REINIGER: articles—

Weaver, Randolph, "Prince Achmed and Other Animated Silhouettes," in Theatre Arts (New York), June 1931.

Coté, Guy, "Flatland Fairy Tales," in Film (London), October 1954.

"She Made First Cartoon Feature," in Films and Filming (London), December 1955.

"The Films of Lotte Reiniger," in Film Culture (New York), no. 9, 1956.

Beckerman, H., "Animated Women," in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), Summer 1974.

Gelder, P., "Lotte Reiniger at Eighty," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 3, 1979.

Starr, Cecile, "Lotte Reiniger's Fabulous Film Career," in Sightlines (New York), Summer 1980.

Hurst, H., "Zum Tode Lotte Reiniger," in Frauen und Film (Berlin), September 1981.

"Lotte Reiniger au pays des ombres," in Image et Son (Paris), December 1981.

Film a Doba (Prague), vol. 36, no. 1, January 1990.

Filmihullu, no. 5, 1990.

EPD Film (Frankfurt), October 1994.

Film-Dienst (Cologne), 13 September 1994.

Moritz, William, "Some Critical Perspective on Lotte Reiniger," in Animation Journal (Orange), Fall 1996.

Elsaesser, Thomas, "Hollywood Berlin," in Sight and Sound (London), November 1997.

* * *

Lotte Reiniger's career as an independent filmmaker is among the longest and most singular in film history, spanning some 60 years (1919–79) of actively creating silhouette animation films. Her The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the world's first feature-length animation film, made when she was in her mid-twenties and winning considerable acclaim.

Silhouette animation existed before 1919, but Reiniger was its preeminent practitioner, transforming a technically and esthetically bland genre to a recognized art form. Since childhood she had excelled at freehand cut-outs and shadow theaters. As a teenager at Max Reinhardt's acting studio, she was invited by actor-director Paul Wegener to make silhouette decorations for the credits and intertitles of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1918); she also helped animate the film's wooden rats, when live guinea pigs proved unmanageable. The rest of Reiniger's professional life was wholeheartedly devoted to silhouette animation, with an occasional retreat to shadow plays or book illustrations when money was not available for films.

Prominent among Reiniger's talents was her transcendence of the inherent flatness and awkwardness of silhouette animation through her dramatic mise en scène and her balletic movements. Her female characters are especially lively and original, displaying wit, sensuousness, and self-awareness rarely found in animated cartoons (from whose creative ranks women animators were virtually excluded until the 1970s). Few real-life actresses could match the expressiveness with which Reiniger inspirited the gestures of her lead-jointed figures as she moved and filmed them fraction by fraction, frame by frame.

For over four decades, Reiniger shared her professional life with her husband, Carl Koch, who designed her animation studio and, until his death in 1963, served as her producer and camera operator. "There was nothing about what is called film-technique that he did not know," Jean Renoir wrote in his autobiography. (In the late 1930s, Koch collaborated on the scripts and production of Renoir's celebrated Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game, and on La Marseillaise for which Reiniger created a shadow-play sequence.)

Aside from The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Reiniger ventured into feature filmmaking only once, in Running after Luck, the story of a wandering showman, part animation and part live-action, which she codirected with Rochus Gliese. It was a critical and financial failure, perhaps because of its imperfect sound system. The rest of her films were shorts, mainly one or two reels in length.

Reiniger worked outside commercial channels, with minimal support. She said she never felt discrimination because she was a woman, but she did admit resenting that great sums were spent on films of little or no imagination while so little was available for the films she wanted to make. In the 1970s she was coaxed from her retirement to make two films in Canada; she also toured much of Europe, Canada, and the United States under the auspices of the Goethe House cultural centers of the West German government, showing her films and demonstrating her cut-out animation technique.

Hans Richter, who knew Reiniger in the early Berlin years, later wrote that she "belonged to the avant-garde as far as independent production and courage were concerned," but that the spirit of her work seemed Victorian. Renoir placed her even further back in time, as "a visual expression of Mozart's music." It is more likely that, like the fables and myths and fairy tales on which many of her films are based, her work transcends time and fashion.

—Cecile Starr