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  • Writer's picture Gary Bills


The Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a performer in an opera, but Reiniger’s Papageno is essentially a dancer. His is slim and youthful like a dancer and his naked legs allows for a clear representation of the graceful steps his makes.

Reiniger’s art, in Papageno, is more of figurative than an abstract art, in that her carefully drawn lines aim for a largely naturalistic representation, suggestive of what the actual might be: how the actual might appear, should an audience be witnessing silhouettes of living figures, instead of cunningly-moved cut-outs from black card: where each movement, in fact, on a back-lit, illuminated screen, had to be carefully marked beforehand, with the use of a sketched picture book. It was then photographed for the stop-motion process.

Her figures, including the graceful Papageno, were jointed, by means of small but strong wire hinges at the desired points. Strategically-placed flat strips of lead were used to keep the figures flat, and a roller was also used on the figures to ensure flatness, beneath back-lit, transparent paper. Reiniger further controlled the flatness of her silhouettes by using a table with a glass pane as her screen, when shooting her stop motion sequences. Thus, she was shooting the imagery from above and as figures moved across her screen horizontally, not vertically: thereby dispensing with need to used rods or supports for her puppets, and thereby moving beyond the restrictions of traditional shadow puppetry, where rods, lines and supports are employed as a necessity.

The most abstract aspect of Reiniger’s art are the backgrounds, which in Papageno are misty grey landscapes, suggestive of steamy tropical forests. This effect was achieved by the doubling up of the glass panes. Thus, in the opening frames, for instance, Papageno is shot under back-lit transparent paper, but there are two panes of glass beneath him. The second pane is the glass top of the table, but on top of this is the imagery of the forest background, and the second pane is in place on top of this. Because Papageno figure, his nets and the exotic foreground plants are dark and sharply delineated in the foreground, and the jungle background is a vision of ghostly greys and off-whites, Reiniger succeeds on creating an impression of 3D, depth and mystery. Mention must also be made of Papageno’s nets and cages, which are often drawn obliquely to suggest three dimensions: bringing in the strong illusion of depth: especially, and perhaps most remarkably, when Papageno uses a net to trap a bird.

Cont - p4.

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