The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Leith Theatre

Miranda Heggie

four stars

PRESENTING a screening with live soundtrack of the world’s oldest surviving animated feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Sunday afternoon’s cinema feature at the Hidden Door festival saw the main auditorium set up as a casual, laid back space, with cabaret style tables scattered throughout the downstairs area. The film, is based on tales from One Thousand and One Nights, and multi-instrumental acoustic trio Sink incorporate Middle-Eastern influences into their mesmerising score, and with the stars projected onto the walls, it was easy to feel transported to an ancient Silk Road caravanserai.

Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film features her own technique of silhouette animation, involving hugely intricate cardboard cut-outs and using a remarkable 24 frames per second. Some scenes are exquisitely beautiful, such as when Pari-Bani, ruler of the mythical land of Wak-Wak and her attendants fly down to the lake and cast off their feathers to bathe. A fight scene between the evil sorcerer and the witch sees the two characters transform into shape-shifting animals is pretty scary, and enhanced by live sound effects, with snarling and barking coming from the band.

Sink’s composition is as clever as their artistry is brilliant. The characters’ movements are quite rigid (they are made from cardboard after all, so suppleness doesn’t come naturally) and this is echoed with passages of jagged rhythms and pizzicato violin in the music. A thunderstorm scene is accompanied by tumultuous and foreboding music, while in a more comedic moment a figure of a bat on screen is made to look as though he is dancing to drum and bass. Swirling virtuosic soprano sax playing fused with poignant violin and rich accordion gave the film a compelling narrative, breathing new life into Reiniger’s stunning artistry.