On this day:
455 – Sack of Rome: Vandals enter Rome, and plunder the city for two weeks
The sack of 455 was the second of three sacks of Rome; it was conducted by the Vandals, who were then at war with the usurping Western Roman Emperor Petronius Maximus.
In the 440s, the Vandal king Genseric and the Roman Emperor Valentinian III, had betrothed their children, Huneric and Eudocia, to strengthen their alliance, reached in 442 with a peace treaty (the marriage was delayed as Eudocia was too young). In 455 Valentinian was killed, and Petronius Maximus rose to the throne. Petronius married Valentinian’s widow, Licinia Eudoxia, and had his son Palladius marry Eudocia; in this way Petronius was to strengthen his bond with the Theodosian dynasty. This move, however, damaged Genseric’s ambitions. The king of the Vandals claimed that the broken betrothal between Huneric and Eudocia was an invalidation of his peace treaty with Valentinian, and set sail to attack Rome.
Before approaching the city, the Vandals knocked down all of the city’s aqueducts. At the sight of the approaching Vandals, Maximus and his soldiers tried to flee the city but he was spotted and killed by a Roman mob outside the city, possibly together with his son Palladius. Upon the Vandal arrival, according to the chronicler Prosper of Aquitaine, Pope Leo I requested that Genseric not destroy the ancient city nor murder its inhabitants. Genseric agreed and the gates of Rome were thrown open to him and his men.
While Geiseric kept his promise not to burn the city and slaughter its inhabitants, he did put to death a number of Roman citizens, carried some to be slaves, and during that time Geiseric manage to capture Empress Licinia Eudoxia, Valentinian’s widow, and her daughters, Eudocia and Placidia as they tried to escape. Eudoxia and her children were the last of Rome’s imperial family.
It is accepted that Genseric looted great amounts of treasure from the city, damaging objects of cultural significance such as the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus by stripping away the gilt bronze roof tiles (hence the modern term vandalism.) Eudocia later married Huneric. There is, however, some debate over the severity of the Vandal sack. The sack of 455 is generally seen as being more thorough than the Visigothic sack of 410, because the Vandals plundered Rome for fourteen days whereas the Visigoths spent only three days in the city.
The cause of most controversy, however, is the claim that the sack was relatively “clean”, in that there was little murder and violence, and the Vandals did not burn the buildings of the city. This interpretation seems to stem from Prosper’s claim that Leo managed to persuade Genseric to refrain from violence. However, Victor of Vita records how many shiploads of captives arrived in Africa from Rome, with the purpose of being sold into slavery. Similarly, the Byzantine historian Procopius reports that at least one church was burnt down.
Born on this day:
1899 – Lotte Reiniger, German animator and director (d. 1981)
Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger (2 June 1899 – 19 June 1981) was a German film director and the foremost pioneer of silhouette animation. Reiniger made more than 40 films over her career, all using her invention. Her best known films are The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) – the oldest surviving feature-length animated film, preceding Walt Disney’s feature-length Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) by over ten years – and Papageno (1935), featuring music by Mozart. Reiniger is also noted for devising a predecessor to the first multiplane camera.
Lotte Reiniger was born in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin on 2 June 1899. Her parents were Carl Reiniger and Eleonore Lina Wilhelmine Rakette.
As a child, she was fascinated with the Chinese art of silhouette puppetry, even building her own puppet theatre, so that she could put on shows for her family and friends.
As a teenager, Reiniger fell in love with cinema, first with the films of Georges Méliès for their special effects, then the films of the actor and director Paul Wegener, known today for The Golem (1920). In 1915, she attended a lecture by Wegener that focused on the fantastic possibilities of animation.
Reiniger eventually convinced her parents to allow her to enroll in the acting group to which Wegener belonged, the Theatre of Max Reinhardt. She began by making costumes and props and working backstage. She started making silhouette portraits of the various actors around her, and soon she was making elaborate title cards for Wegener’s films, many of which featured her silhouettes.
Adulthood and success
In 1918, Reiniger animated wooden rats and created the animated intertitles for Wegener’s Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin). The success of this work got her admitted into the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research), an experimental animation and shortfilm studio. It was here that she met her future creative partner and husband (from 1921), Carl Koch, as well as other avant-garde artists including Hans Cürlis, Bertolt Brecht, and Berthold Bartosch.
The first film Reiniger directed was Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, 1919), a short piece involving two lovers and an ornament that reflects their moods. The film was very well received. It sold out in the United States, which was quite impressive for being only five minutes long. This film’s success opened up many new connections for Reiniger in the animation industry.
She made six short films during the following few years, all produced and photographed by her husband. These were interspersed with advertising films (the Julius Pinschewer advertising agency innovated ad films and sponsored a large number of abstract animators during the Weimar period) and special effects for various feature films – most famously a silhouette falcon for a dream sequence in Part One of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (The Nibelungs). During this period she became the centre of a large group of ambitious German animators, including Bartosch, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger.
In 1923, she was approached by Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period, who asked her to do a feature-length animated film.There was some difficulty that came with doing this, however. Reiniger is quoted as saying “We had to think twice. This was a never heard of thing. Animated films were supposed to make people roar with laughter, and nobody had dared to entertain an audience with them for more than ten minutes. Everybody to whom we talked in the industry about the proposition was horrified.” The result was The Adventures of Prince Achmed, completed in 1926, one of the first animated feature films, with a plot that is a pastiche of stories from One Thousand and One Nights. Although it failed to find a distributor for almost a year, once premiered in Paris (thanks to the support of Jean Renoir), it became a critical and popular success. Though because of this delay, The Adventures of Prince Achmed’s expressionistic style did not quite fit with the realistic style of film that was becoming popular in 1926. Reiniger uses lines that can almost be called “colorful” to represent the exotic location that the film takes place in. Today, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is thought to be one of the oldest surviving feature-length animated films, if not the oldest. It is also considered to be the first avant-garde full-length animated feature.
Reiniger, in devising the predecessor to the first multiplane camera for certain effects, preceded Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks by a decade. Above her animation table, a camera with a manual shutter was placed in order to achieve this. She placed planes of glass to achieve a layered effect. The setup was then backlit. This camera setup was later popular in cel animation. In addition to Reiniger’s silhouette actors, Prince Achmed boasted dream-like backgrounds by Walter Ruttmann (her partner in the Die Nibelungen sequence) and a symphonic score by Wolfgang Zeller. Additional effects were added by Carl Koch and Berthold Bartosch.
Following the success of Prince Achmed, Reiniger was able to make a second feature. Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere (Doctor Dolittle and his Animals, 1928) was based on the first of the English children’s books by Hugh Lofting. The film tells of the good Doctor’s voyage to Africa to help heal sick animals. It is currently available only in a television version with new music, voice-over narration and the images playing at too many frames per second. The score of this three-part film was composed by Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith and Paul Dessau.
A year later, Reiniger co-directed her first live-action film with Rochus Gliese, Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Pursuit of Happiness, 1929), a tale about a shadow-puppet troupe. The film starred Jean Renoir and Berthold Bartosch and included a 20-minute silhouette performance by Reiniger. Unfortunately, the film was completed just as sound came to Germany and release of the film was delayed until 1930 to dub in voices by different actors – the result being disappointing.
Reiniger attempted to make a third animated feature, inspired by Maurice Ravel’s opera L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Bewitched Things, 1925), but was unable to clear all of the individual rights to Ravel’s music, the libretto (by the novelist Colette), and an unexpected number of copyright holders. When Ravel died in 1937 the clearance became even more complex and Lotte finally abandoned the project, although she had designed sequences and animated some scenes to convince potential backers and the rights-holders.
Reiniger worked on several films with British poet, critic, and musician Eric Walter White, who wrote an early book-length essay on her work.
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