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Hans Fischerkoesen

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You know that great feeling you get when you first discover a new artist, writer, composer or musician who "gets" to your "sense of life" in the most wonderful sort of way? That is what I happily experienced this evening when someone on another forum linked to some film clips on YouTube by the German animator Hans Fischerkoesen. For me, watching some of his cartoons is like watching the sort of very benevolent illustrations that one found in turn of the last century storybooks and on old sheet music covers from that era suddenly come to life.

Unlike his American contemporaries Walt Disney and Walter Lantz who made films and short features for movie studios, Hans Fischerkoesen primarily focused on making commercial product advertisements which were played in 1930s German movie theatres. Until this evening, I was not even aware that such commercials existed - I am certainly not aware of any American equivalents to them from that era. When American entered World War II, German movie theatres suddenly found themselves cut off from their supply of American cartoons. As a result, Fischerkoesen was "drafted" by the Nazis, whom he disliked, into helping fill that void. In some of his wartime features, he managed sneak past the censors very subtle swipes and digs at the Nazi regime. He was arrested by the invading Russians near the end of the war and spent three years in a Russian controlled concentration camp and afterwards was not allowed to work because of his anti-communist views. Happily, he managed to escape East Germany to the west in 1948. He died in 1973.

Of the cartoons by him that I found on YouTube this evening, here are my three favorite:

This cartoon shows what happened one morning when the Sun overslept and missed sunrise. Keeping in mind that this is a light bulb commercial the ending is brilliant - and hilarious. It also provides a great example of his animation style - which I think very beautiful and delightfully benevolent.

This is one of his wartime cartoons - and the animation on this is stunning. Like the light bulb commercial, there is such an overall benevolent quality about it that I think is wonderful. The cartoon tells the story of a resourceful bee who discovers laying in an overgrown field a decaying gramophone left over from a pre-war picnic (and a nearby woman's belt clasp suggests that it was more than just a picnic). The music on this one is very entertaining as well.

This one is in black and white and is a "ballet" of cigarette smoke rings. This is like watching a work of art - yet it is a mass market commercial.

Here are the other Fischerkoesen cartoons I found on YouTube. The animation is not as lush on these as the ones I linked to above - but they are definitely worth checking out.

This one is very clever and quite funny. The soundtrack is a tango, a genre of music that was very popular in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

Somehow I don't think having a fly inspect meat quality is such a brilliant idea - but maybe my aversion to it is just an American thing.

This one is very strange and surreal - it is like watching a condensation of a series of horror films. But it is VERY well done and certainly gets one's attention. I'll bet it sold lots of bottles of medicine.

Those are all I could find on YouTube - but I am going to keep my eyes out for additional works by him. I read on the web that he made over 1,000 commercials but, sadly, most of them are lost.

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For me, watching some of his cartoons is like watching the sort of very benevolent illustrations that one found in turn of the last century storybooks and on old sheet music covers from that era suddenly come to life.

I read this sentence, and immediately scrolled down and clicked on the link. What a great description-- I agree! Not only that, but the animation is really advanced and 3-d looking.

In some of his wartime features, he managed sneak past the censors very subtle swipes and digs at the Nazi regime.

Did you (or anyone) notice any digs in the cartoons you linked to? I thought maybe the diversity of the bugs playing the record was one? Also in that one, maybe the scenario of nature discovering civilization was a subtle jab at or at least inversion of the Nazi ideal of civilization "returning" to Nature?

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I read this sentence, and immediately scrolled down and clicked on the link. What a great description-- I agree! Not only that, but the animation is really advanced and 3-d looking.

Did you (or anyone) notice any digs in the cartoons you linked to? I thought maybe the diversity of the bugs playing the record was one? Also in that one, maybe the scenario of nature discovering civilization was a subtle jab at or at least inversion of the Nazi ideal of civilization "returning" to Nature?

From what I have been able to read, his anti-Nazi digs were more pronounced in his later wartime cartoons. "Weather Beaten Melody" which I linked to was the first of the ones he was forced to make under the Nazis.

I think the way the different species of bugs interact with one another is definitely a discrete jab at Nazi racism.

I saw a few mentions online about the fact that the record that is still on the gramophone plays swing music - which, of course, the Nazis were against - is a jab at the Nazis. Perhaps that may have been somewhat the intent - but the music featured in the cartoon would not have been especially eye-opening even during the war years. It is true that the Nazis technically outlawed swing music in the late 1930s as being racially impure. But the population loved it and had plenty of access to it from broadcasts from England and the rest of Europe. Basically, Goebbels tolerated it even in mainstream films so long as it did not get too explicitly "hot" simply because to do otherwise would have been bad for morale. I have recordings from the soundtracks of old wartime UFA musicals which are FAR more "hot" than anything you hear in that cartoon.

There is an article about Fischerkoesen at http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.7/articles/moritz1.7.html which contains a lot of interesting information. It offers speculation as to the anti-Nazi jabs in the cartoon - but most of what it suggests in that regard I think is kind of odd. I think it probably has a point about Nazi attitudes about sex - and the ladies' garter belt near the gramophone is rather suggestive. But what it says about the hedgehog makes no sense to me. The article also approvingly describes the animals as "altruistic," apparently because they are benevolent towards each other and cooperate towards a shared value. And the bit about the same-sex couple - that's just bizarre. That would have been radical anywhere in the world at that time - not just in Nazi Germany. And, of course, there is this little treasure: "Especially compared to the American cartoons of this same period (profligate with gratuitous violence and racist/sexist stereotype victims), the entire community of animals depicted in Weather-beaten Melody is peaceful, friendly, fun-loving, imaginative and altruistic--quite the opposite of the Nazi requirements for a dedicated Aryan citizen." Note the subtle equation of American public taste with Nazi ideals.

Whatever the digs in that particular cartoon may have been, they were subtle. Look at it his way: replace the music that the bee plays on the record with a pop song from Britain or America an nobody would even be thinking about the Nazis.

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And, of course, there is this little treasure: "Especially compared to the American cartoons of this same period (profligate with gratuitous violence and racist/sexist stereotype victims), the entire community of animals depicted in Weather-beaten Melody is peaceful, friendly, fun-loving, imaginative and altruistic--quite the opposite of the Nazi requirements for a dedicated Aryan citizen." Note the subtle equation of American public taste with Nazi ideals.

Wow.. I wonder how even a severely confused person could arrive at the conclusion that altruism is "quite the opposite of the Nazi requirements for a dedicated Aryan citizen"!

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This one is very strange and surreal - it is like watching a condensation of a series of horror films. But it is VERY well done and certainly gets one's attention. I'll bet it sold lots of bottles of medicine.

Have you come across anyplace that might indicate what year this one was from?

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Did you (or anyone) notice any digs in the cartoons you linked to?

OH, there is one I that struck me that I forgot to mention! In the Phillips Light Bulb commercial-- the scientist who notices that the sun is not normal, and promptly rushes to his observatory to check his books and look through his telescope, and sees that it is not, in fact, the sun, but a Phillips bulb.. before he notices the sky at first.. is whistling "Yankee Doodle Dandy"!! How could that have possibly gotten past the censors??

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Have you come across anyplace that might indicate what year this one was from?

Unfortunately, I have not.

My general hunch is that it has a certain 1950s feel to it - and my hunches on such things are usually fairly accurate. The supermarket commercial has a very definite post war feel to it - and you can also tell it by the cartoon image at the end of the post war German pfennig coin. The ladies stockings commercial I also suspect now is post war. The soundtrack threw me initially because of the popularity of tango music in Germany before the war and the the last scene with the logo and the picture of the factory looks very pre-war. But, the rest of the film has a certain post war minimalism to it - and some of the drawings of people look similar to those I have seen in other 1950s era advertisements. If you notice, the opening credits on all three say: "Ein Fischerkoesen Film." The opening credits on the 1933 cigarette commercial instead show an affiliation between Fischerkoesen and the German film giant UFA. The credits on the 1937 Phillips light bulb commercial list "Fischerkoesen-Studio." On this basis, my guess is the films which begin with "Ein Fischerkoesn Film" are all post war - which would make the medicine commercial post-war. According to that article about him, he continued to make commercials until 1969.

OH, there is one I that struck me that I forgot to mention! In the Phillips Light Bulb commercial-- the scientist who notices that the sun is not normal, and promptly rushes to his observatory to check his books and look through his telescope, and sees that it is not, in fact, the sun, but a Phillips bulb.. before he notices the sky at first.. is whistling "Yankee Doodle Dandy"!! How could that have possibly gotten past the censors??

I also noticed the Yankee Doodle reference. But I am not sure that it means anything potentially subversive. First, Germany was not at war with the USA in 1937 and would have had no reason to censor a mere reference to the United States out. My understanding is that, before the war, towards its general public, the Nazi regime always tried to maintain the trappings and image of Germany as a civilized, Western and free country. The German population, despite the many flaws in its culture at the time, was sophisticated enough that it is not likely they would have supported the sort of all-pervasive, explicit, in-your-face totalitarianism that existed at the time in the Soviet Union, for instance. It was necessary for the Nazis to go through the propagandistic motions which enabled the public to evade and rationalize away the fact that they were living under a dictatorship Germans were allowed to travel to foreign countries and a great many of the larger German companies had very close relationships with American companies right up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. And 1937 was the year that UFA came out with the extremely successful film Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war. How can you get more British than Sherlock Holmes? My guess is that the purpose of "Yankee Doodle" was to covey the notion that the light bulb in the sky was strong enough that it illuminated the whole world - even across the ocean in America.

BTW - awhile back, a listener to my online station was kind enough to send me some video tapes of 1930s era German movie musicals which are very hard to obtain. I believe that one of the videos was obtained for him by a friend who recorded it from an East German televison broadcast of the films back in the 1980s. Anyhow, there are no subtitles or anything - though it is pretty amazing just how much one is more or less able to follow along despite not understanding the language. Of course, what is of primary interest to me in such films are the song and dance numbers - some of which are very good. Right now, I have no way of digitalizing VHS recordings - but as soon as I am able to do so, I will post clips of the very best musical scenes from the films on YouTube. They are something that I suspect very few people outside and probably even within Germany, for that matter, have had an opportunity to watch and they are extremely enjoyable.

Despite all of the horrors happening in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, in the aesthetic realm, a great many wonderful things were going on. A lot of artists, of course, had to flee once the Nazis came to power - but even after that, there was still a tremendous amount of talent. Indeed, one of Ayn Rand' favorite "tiddlywink" recordings "Will O The Wisp" ("Irrlicht" is its original German title) which you can listen to during the last part of the closing credits in the film Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life was recorded in Berlin in late 1935 by Otto Dobrindt's Klavier-Symphoniker. Next time you watch the film, sit though the credits because the recording is wonderful and full of life - and yet that is the sort of music that was listened to by the everyday man on the street in, of all places, a hell hole such as Nazi Germany.

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Next time you watch the film, sit though the credits because the recording is wonderful and full of life - and yet that is the sort of music that was listened to by the everyday man on the street in, of all places, a hell hole such as Nazi Germany.

Yes, I always sit through the credits so I can hear the song! :)

In The Ominous Parallels, Dr. Peikoff says that they used to have a string quartet play selections from The Merry Widow, as they marched people off to be executed in the concentration camps. That is a hundred times more disturbing for me, because of the gruesome juxtaposition.

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In The Ominous Parallels, Dr. Peikoff says that they used to have a string quartet play selections from The Merry Widow, as they marched people off to be executed in the concentration camps. That is a hundred times more disturbing for me, because of the gruesome juxtaposition.

Speaking of operetta music on a much more positive note.......I recently learned about an Internet radio station out of the Netherlands which is devoted exclusively to operetta music - LOTS of Lehar and Kalman I have noticed. You will need a broadband connection as the stream is 128 kpbs. Kind of a bummer for those on dial-up - but for those with broadband, it is CD quality and sounds GREAT.

To access the station, go to: http://klassiek.avro.nl/index.asp?ID=0 Click on the "Webradio" square on the left side of the screen. Then scroll down to the link for: "Webradio Operette" Once you click on the link you have the choice of listening to an mp3 stream or a Windows Media stream. The difference may be in my players or perhaps my imagination but the mp3 stream sounds better to me.

Sadly, operetta music is a very much neglected genre even among classical music fans. Prior to World War II, operettas by Kalman, Lehar and the like were considered popular entertainment not just in Austria and Germany but in Britain as well as the USA where many of them were performed on Broadway and even made into popular movies. It is just another example of the many wonderful things of great beauty that disappeared from our popular culture in the post World War II decades that deserves to be rediscovered and reclaimed by future generations. Thanks to the Internet, there is a fighting chance that such might indeed happen.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Here is a YouTube clip I just learned about by a different 1930s German animator, Oskar Fischinger. It is called Komposition In Blau and is rather odd, to say the least.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZIgLL4_n1c

It is basically like watching an abstract painting of blobs of colors and geometric patters come to life dancing around with the music. I enjoyed watching it - but when I asked myself why, the main reason was because I think the musical composition is very nice (and those who watched Fischerkosen's Phillips light bulb commercial will recognize passages of it from that). Had I not enjoyed the particular musical selection being played I probably would not have enjoyed seeing blobs of color dancing around to it. A google search, by the way, indicates that the music is from the 1849 Otto Nicolai opera Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor - a copy of which I am definitely going to be on the lookout for.

I am not sure what other sorts of things that Osckar Fischinger did - I will have to look that up when I get a chance. Certainly, I think Hans Fischerkoesen's mass market commercials have far more artistic merit than Fischinger's alleged example of high "art."

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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 month later...

Another Fischerkoesen cartoon has been posted. This one is a cigarette commercial from 1935.

There is one scene in it where the main character - an animated cigarette - confronts three dancing pieces of paper, the third of which shows what looks to me like a Nazi eagle. The first paper translates to "great changes." The second paper translates to "payment instructions." The on the road pointing to them translates, as best I can figure out, to "streak of bad luck." So my guess is the dancing papers are supposed to represent tax collectors. I would be curious if anyone else might know for sure otherwise.

The animatiion on this is not quite as lush as some of the other Fischerkiesen but the overall cartoon is still very charming.

I sure wish someone would publish or post all of his works.

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