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All contents are Copyright © Stephen Foster or are part of The John M Blundall Collection, unless stated otherwise.

 

Lotte Reiniger

Lotte was like a homely great aunt who conjured up a web of silent but magical animated images with a tiny pair of scissors. Her consummate skill in manipulating delicate figures cut from black paper, cereal packets, and pieces of thin lead, in frames containing complex choreographic movements, was due to her extraordinary sense of musicality, and her unique knowledge of the theatrical movement of everything that walked, crawled, flew swam and grew.

Lotte adored actors and dancers, particularly dancers with whom she spent many hours watching them in their performances; she even had access to the private box of Colonel De Basils for the performances of his Ballet Russe De Monte Carlo. At a young age she entered the Theatre School of Max Reinhardt, but only wanted to join the classes for the boys, because they did gymnastics. It was in Reinhardt’s school that she developed her paper cutting skills, producing tiny portrait figures with great accuracy.

Her unique skills attracted many artists, actors, dancers and film-makers including Gordon Craig, Charles Chaplin, Robert Helpman, and many other leading dancers and actors. I frequently went to visit Lotte in her flat with a lounge, a small kitchen area, and a room that contained her multi-plane trick table, on which most of her films were made. She loved good wine and cheese, and on my visits to see her I collected these delights for her. She would prepare a light lunch whilst I was invited to browse the piles of books that stood about the lounge. Many of these books were given to her, and inscribed by many of the legendary personalities that clearly adored her and her work.

Lotte was a gold mine of fascinating anecdotes related to her endless exploits, many of them re-told with a touch of her wicked sense of humour. She was once invited to meet Gordon Craig at a venue outside Paris. He arrived wearing his large brimmed hat, and carrying a large book about Isadora Duncan, and in between each page of the book Craig had inserted many sheets of paper covered with his notes, and said to Lotte, ‘this is the book as written, the inserted pages are what ‘really’ happened’. Lotte met with Craig on a number of occasions and described him as a ‘very nice man.’

Lotte also related a story of her early work in film where the film maker Paul Wegener had extreme difficulties making The Pied Piper of Hameln’, mainly due to the fact that the live rats wouldn’t behave as live actors would be expected to. Lotte offered to undertake an alternative solution. I heard three alternatives, one using silhouettes, the other using guinea pigs with added tails, finally wooden rats.

I have in my collection many letters written by Lotte from the 1920s onwards to Constance, and Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, an antiquarian book and print seller who dealt with many actors, dancers and designers. The letters are often sad descriptions of hers and Carl Koch’s struggle to survive ill health, frequently with very little money, sometimes borrowing money from the Fletcher’s, and the sale of her work.

Quite late on in her life I talked to her on the patio of Jan and Ann Hogarth’s house in Egham. I asked her what she was ‘up to’, her reply ‘nothing, I am a lazy cow now.’ After some pressure she told me that she had just re-coloured her classic film ‘Prince Achmed’! I then asked her if there was anything she would like to do, her reply, ‘my dream is to illustrate the opera’s of Mozart’, this she finally did, and the result a wonderful large size book of great beauty, and full of her exquisite silhouettes, full of energy and character

I first met Lotte in Munich in the courtyard of the Kunstler Haus. She was sitting talking with Lenora Gustavna Shpet, the dramaturg in the Moscow State Puppet Theatre of Sergei Obraztsov; she also had links with Meyerhold and Mayakovsky. Lenora called me over, sat me between them, introduced me to Lotte, and both of them plied me with gems of wisdom related to the various disciplines of the creative artist, how I valued these. This event took place on several other occasions until we left Munich. Shpet’s niece was the great Bolshoi ballet star, Nikitina Maximova trained by the legendary Ulanova.

Over the years Lotte frequently used her live theatrical skills. In pantomimes at The Coventry Theatre, Coventry, where she collaborated with Pauline Grant the dancer, choreographer, and producer in her famous pantomimes at The Coventry Theatre. One magical effect was her creation of the journey of the frog down the well in ‘The Frog Prince’. She created a wonderful animated film sequence that was projected on a vast screen during the performance.

Later in her life she was re-discovered and on a number of occasions she made journey to Canada and The Canadian Film Foundation, there she undertook master classes and film projects, One of them ‘Aucassan and Nicolette’ one of her favourite stories. She became very frail and found it difficult to walk at times. Sitting with her in her flat, her efforts to rise from her favourite armchair were frequently accompanied by the sound of her slapping her thighs and shouting, ‘work, work, work legs’.

On a number of occasions Lotte came to Birmingham to give talks and demonstrations, and show her favourite films in my theatre. She loved this annual event. She adored children, and they in their turn loved her kind, gentle and somewhat eccentric personality. Between each film she would answer questions and ask the children what their favourite animals were, immediately she would take a piece of black paper, and with her magic scissors, she would deftly snip them out, handing them over with great love and thanks for giving her so many joyous experiences just being with them.

John Blundall

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Lotte Reiniger  Videos on YouTube

Hansel and Gretel

The Little Chimney Sweep

Jack and the Beanstalk

Cinderella