Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs has often been hailed as the first full-length animated feature, but Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures Of Prince Achmed beat the Disney film to the screen by more than a decade. Reiniger's "animation" style, an innovative silhouette technique that placed elaborate jointed paper puppets against colored backgrounds, then manipulated them in stop-motion, makes for jerky movement, but the tableaux Reiniger created were phenomenally detailed and beautifully realized. Like most of Reiniger's films, Prince Achmed draws on classic fairy tales; the silent film follows an Arabian prince who faces an evil sorcerer, accidentally travels to the land of the spirits and claims a wife (after observing her bathing in a lake and stealing her magic cloak of feathers from the shore), then claims Aladdin's lamp to save her after the spirits retrieve her. Restoring this long-lost classic presented some difficulties, and the final result is flickery and uneven, which raises the question of what the 1926 film looked like in its full glory. Still, just bringing Reiniger's work back to light after so many decades is laudable. Modern-day animator John Canemaker followed Reiniger by more than half a century, but his works are nearly as difficult to find.
Released simultaneously with Achmed, John Canemaker: Marching To A Different Toon collects the fragmentary work of the New York School Of The Arts professor into an hour-long show-reel that runs the gamut from short films to fragmentary ads and PSAs. Canemaker's animation is gloriously fluid and wholly unpredictable. In "Confessions Of A Stardreamer" and "Confessions Of A Standup," he illustrates interview fragments, making metaphors into literal images and sliding with hypnotic speed from one artistic style and animation method to another every few seconds. A similar endless-evolution method works particularly well on 1984's touching Shakespearean story "Bottom's Dream," which gracefully captures the abstract horror of a nightmare. Canemaker's animation is fairly low-tech and generally looks hand-rendered. His films all resemble experimental student projects, remarkable only in their unpredictability and inventiveness, but those elements make his work endlessly captivating. There isn't nearly enough here: An inordinate amount of the material consists of intros and snippets from shows like 3-2-1 Contact and (in a deeply creepy sequence) Break The Silence: Kids Against Child Abuse. Still, what Canemaker has managed to produce on his own, much like what's been salvaged of Reiniger's work, is well deserving of a larger audience.