Review: Cardiff Animation Nights – Lotte Reiniger Special @ Chapter

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Cardiff Animation Nights – Lotte Reiniger Special
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Saturday 24th June 2017

Shadow puppetry is an art form that’s golden era is many moons past. Yet some artists of today have rekindled the love of the art form for a whole new generation.

Cardiff Animation Nights have put on a wonderful day for all ages, framing the work of artist Lotte Reiniger.

First Screening: Fairytale Short Films

In the the first screening her fairytale shorts were on the agenda. This is standard fare of the likes of The Frog Prince, Thumbelina and Jack and The Beanstalk. Whilst the puppet work has a likeable awkwardness to them, it never yields in its eloquence. Some of the voice acting and music left myself and a friend in hysterics, such was the ham and unexpected funk. Though you wonder if children today could remain attentive during these antiquated shorts…

Interlude: Shadow Puppet Workshop

Following on from this was the Shadow Puppet workshop. Having been fully booked, it was mostly frequented by parents and excited kiddies. This didn’t phase me and a friend who gave it a ruddy good go. Even the making of a simple puppet that has the function to moves its arms and legs is highly complicated, as each joint may requires string, blue tac, a stick and some sort of pin. Whilst a friend created rather frustratingly a chicken, I opted for a surreal male figure, in the vein of the exquisite Javanese puppets on display. I named him Lynch, Baby.

The team on hand were very helpful and were kept busy by eager children wide eyed in their creations. A screen, lighted by a projector, helped us bring our creations to life. Even a little bit of red foil helped bring out the colour of my figure’s eye, as he jerked along with one knee violently in the air. The whole event was a delight and had I not needed food, I would have stayed to do a bit of improv with our puppets. It was good to see other adults join in after us!

Second Screening: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

After food and a much needed coffee, it was time for the main event. The Adventures of Prince Achmed is remarkably the oldest surviving animated feature, made all the way back in 1926. Cobbled together through various reels from different time periods, this is an outstanding feat of creativity and expression. The story, heralds from the Arabian Nights as a journey to Africa, Asia and the Middle East is on the cards, in an quest of love, magic and honour. Even Aladdin makes an appearance in a  supporting role. Yes, there is a Genie but here is more Moses than Robin Williams.

At times the tableau are surprisingly trippy and in others moving and welcomely witty. Anyone keen to see the history of animation should consider watching this. Who knew some cardboard and thins sheets of lead could be just so wonderful?

“Anyone keen to see the history of animation should consider watching this.”

The additional live score by Chris Davies complimented the experience like a good wine to a tasty meal. Surrounded by Moroccan lamps and with instruments from around the world (including tuned gongs, Tibetan blows, bells, a thumb piano and other marvels) Davies conjures up the glorious mood of the animation, with evocative and sensual colours.

Davies’ live scatting was also a highlight; as Achmed is surrounded by concubines who each tussle to get to him, he declares “Let’s have some fun tonight!” Some sequencing and computer effect may have featured, yet it was the live assortment of percussion that was the real deal.

Events like this make the thrill of live music making for old films completely worth the while of all involved.

Splendid day!


Animated Fairytale Short Films: 3 stars
Shadow Puppet Workshop: 4 stars
The Adventures of Prince Achmed + Live Score: 5 stars

The Cardiff Animation Festival shall commence in April 2018.

Watch Weeping Tudor Productions take on Erik Satie’s uspud, a reimagining of the original shadow puppet show.

Related articles and info:

The Archive: Body Diversity In Cartoons

Cardiff Animation Festival To Launch In 2018

Film Review: Ethel and Ernest @ Chapter

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Cover image: Screenshot from The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger (1926), which can be viewed at Open Culture.

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