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Revisiting: lotte reiniger's 'Aschenputtel'

by Tasha Nuthall


Lotte Reiniger, 'Aschenputtel' (1922)

‘Cinderella’: a tale of morality, injustice, and the importance of sartorial acceptance. While the story has since been immortalised as a technicolour parade abundant with singing mice and fairy dust, Lotte Reiniger’s 1922 stop-motion animated short film ‘Aschenputtel’ transformed the fairy tale into a darker fantasy, as well as pioneering the art of animation through her innovative puppetry techniques. 


Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin, and fell in love with paper cutting, a form of Chinese folk art. Whilst at theatre school, Reiniger took up silhouette puppetry, using just a pair of scissors and a roll of black paper to create intricate designs. When legendary film director Paul Wegener saw the funny little puppets Reiniger had made for her friends, he employed Reiniger to create title cards for his films. Reiniger quickly became enamoured with filmmaking, eventually producing over fifty films during her lifetime, including ‘Aschenputtel’. 


Introduced as ‘a fairy film in shadow show’, this thirteen-minute film is a masterpiece.


Lotte Reiniger, 'Aschenputtel' (1922)

Reiniger evokes an intimacy through the delicacy of her vignettes: we are told that Aschenputtel has fallen in love with the prince when a single heart appears on the screen, and blooms into an array of flowers. Her torment when not spurred by her stepsisters mimics the emotional scenes of anguish displayed in Shakespearean tragedies. I think there’s a poignancy within the simplicity of the film; the absence of sound allows you to focus solely on the storyline, which becomes so much more emotionally engaging. 


‘Aschenputtel’ is also so daring. Due to her conjunct of both film and art, Reiniger’s work was considered to be avant-garde, pushing the boundaries of the newly-founded animated art form. My favourite part is when she animates herself into the film, as a pair of fidgeting hands hurrying to cut out a paper doll. She blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, inviting the viewer into the realms of the strange little shadow world that she’s created. 


When rewatching ‘Aschenputtel’, it’s hard to believe that this film was made nearly a hundred years ago. Reiniger’s artistic vision is so far removed from the more traditional creations of Walt Disney and other well known animators that it’s perhaps understandable why we know less of her work. Yet I don’t think we can fully appreciate animation unless we acknowledge Reiniger. 

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