Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

 Svend Brown is a Vile Arts' favourite. Not only does he programme contemporary classical music that demonstrates a
sensitivity both to its populist potential and intellectual intensity, he engages with the idea of the concert as a performance. His comment on The Adventures of Prince Achmed not only correctly assesses the success of Renaud Garcia-Fons' live soundtrack to this early animation, it reveals his underlying aesthetic, which challenges simplistic ideas about what consist of 'performance'.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the oldest surviving animated feature film (it is just over an hour) and is a 1926 retelling of a tale from the Arabian Nights - with the story of Aladdin thrown in for good measure. While some of the representations of oriental people could be criticised for racism, the animation style, based on shadow puppetry, holds up against contemporary techniques. The story relies on the panels to explore character rather than explanatory text - except in one sequence when director Lotte Reiniger reveals a sophisticated understanding of controlling dramatic tension - and is charming and melodramatic in equal measure.

Achmed's use of the frame will be revisited in this blog - the way that it adapts shadow puppetry and self-consciously shifts perspectives throughout is fascinating and surprisingly advanced for a 1920s' production - but Garcia Fons deserves kudos for his score. 

Most musical adaptations of silent cinema are either perfunctory (Glass' effort for Dracula is a lazy disappointment) or founded in the egotism of the musicians (55Daysof Static ruined Silent Running by bursting out into expansive post-rock every time the camera observed outer-space). Garcia Fons' ensemble, with a mixture of western and eastern instrumentation (the tabla rocked the show),
was delicate and subtle, never merely illustrating the scenes but, equally, refusing to overshadow the animation. A fluid, measure composition, it added romance and humour to a film already full of beauty and inspired images.

The 'liveness' of film is a tough idea, but Brown is saying something about the film as a performance - the way that it brings together an audience, making a community. The live music adds to the theatricality, and the sense of event... and the music itself is deepened by the visuals (a trick used effectively by Godspeed You Black Emperor). Cheers, Sven. 

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