Gunnar Str investigates the history behind pre-WWII Norwegian animated cigarette commercials.
Norway is a small country, with only four million inhabitants. It is more famous for its cold climate and beautiful, mountainous fjords scenery than for its film industry. If you are lucky, an animation fan abroad may have heard about Ivo Caprino and seen a couple of Norwegian shorts at international animation festivals, but that's it. Very few, even in Norway, know that this little country has a long animation film history going back to the early 1900s. As is the case today, when it came to animation, Norwegian cinema screens were dominated by American animation before WWII. The first animation stars in Norway were in the Colonel Heeza Liar (Norwegian name Mentulant), and Kapten Grogg series, made by the Swedish pioneer, Viktor Bergdahl. In the 20s, Felix the Cat was the leading star, and from the late 20s up until today, Mickey Mouse and the other Disney stars have ruled the ground. Eventually, the American cartoons influenced Norwegian artists to make animated films themselves. As far as we know, the first animations made in Norway were done by Sverre Halvorsen in 1913, in Kristiania (Oslo), using a chalk on a blackboard technique. As with his fellow animation pioneers, Ola Cornelius and Thoralf Klouman, he was a cartoonist in the press, and his films such as Roald Amundsen on the South Pole were based on the same subjects, and characterized in the same way as his newspaper drawings. These artists did also drawings for postcards and advertisements in the press, and most gave up animation because funding was difficult to find at the time. A New Venue: Cinema Commercials From the middle of the 1920s to the late 30s, more than 100 animated cinema commercials were made for Norwegian companies. One-third of them were made for the Norwegian tobacco company, Tiedemann. Among the directors that made them are leading international names as Viktor Bergdahl, Hans Fischerkoesen and Oskar Fischinger. The start of animated commercials for the cinema goes back to Germany and Julius Pinschewer in 1912. In Norway, advertising films appeared in the cinemas at least from the early 1920s, and there was a boom in this format in the latter half of the decade. The 1920s were a golden time for the advertising industry in Norway. From soap to cigarettes, customers were attracted to products with animated commercials. Static advertising slides had been screened in the cinemas for years, but in 1922, the leading cinema advertising agency, Sverdrup Dahl, organized screenings of advertising films. Now suddenly there was money for production of animated films in Norway, but those first animated commercials were still made abroad. The Danish cartoonist and animation pioneer Storm P. made a few margarine commercials in the early 20s. The domestic boom didn't happen until 1927, when nearly 100 different cinema commercials were screened in Norwegian cinemas, at least 13 of which were animated. This high production volume continued into 1928 and into 1929. Most of the early Norwegian animated commercial films were made with a combination cut-out and drawing technique, similar to the style of 1920s advertising films by Danish animators Viktor Bergdahl and Storm P. These two pioneers were likely the inspiration for many Norwegian animators from the late 1920s. The use of cels was still very limited at the time, but sometimes the animation was more advanced, with animation drawn directly on multiple printed cards with static backgrounds, a technique Bergdahl used in his Kapten Grogg films. Some films were done as object animation in combination with live action, by artists such as the Méliès-inspired filmmaker Ottar Gladtvet, but most of his films were animated cartoons with extensive use of additional cut-out technique. The quality of the early Norwegian animation varied quite a lot. Some of the films are surprisingly good, like the 1927 Fiinbeck er rømt produced by Gladtvet. But most of the films suffered from being made in small studios, on simple equipment, and by animators who were still in the beginning of their learning processes. These films did impress the Norwegian cinema audience in 1927, but after Mickey Mouse entered the Norwegian screens at the end of the 1920s, Norwegian advertisers preferred live-action commercials over the "second-class," Norwegian produced animation. This is probably the main reason why the boom in Norwegian animation suddenly came to an end in 1929.
In the mid 1930s, however, animated cinema had a resurgence in commercials. The films were extremely professionally made, but most were made outside of Norway, mainly in Germany and in Czechoslovakia. But these were at least films made for Norwegian goods and companies. Some of the films were just dubbed Norwegian versions of foreign films, but most of them included longer segments specially made for the Norwegian version, and some of the films were directly made for the Norwegian market. These films differed in techniques and style. The animated cartoon still dominated, but the standard has made the transition from paper to cels. Many of the films were made with puppets and other objects. Twenty of them were made in color, and at least three were abstract films in the style of Oskar Fischinger. The Norwegian advertising industry was professionalized in the 1930's. At the Stockholm exhibition in 1930, the Scandinavian advertisers were introduced to the German Bauhaus movement, and this influenced the industry in Norway both to professionalism and a new visual and artistic approach. This can be seen in many of the animated cinema commercials made in the late 30s. Competition Breeds Inventiveness J.L.Tiedemanns Tobaksfabrik is still the leading company in the Norwegian tobacco industry, as it was in the early 1920s. But its position were seriously threatened by American and British companies who, through the tobacco trust, BATCO Ltd., tried to conquer the Norwegian market. BATCO filled Norwegian newspapers and magazines with advertisements for their products. With Tiedemann in the lead, the Norwegian tobacco producers had to answer. While the competition in the press was tough, it seems that Tiedemann & Co ruled the ground quite alone in the cinemas.
Heading the advertising department at Tiedemann was Halvor Andresen. Back from marketing studies in the U.S., he introduced modern marketing to Tiedemann. With Andresen at the helm, the advertising costs at Tiedemann increased every year through the 1920s. In 1930, the BATCO war ended with the founding of a new company with both Tiedemann and BATCO as owners. This is another reason for the lack of animated Tiedemann commercials in the early 1930s, but it doesn't explain the total stop in the making of animated cinema commercials in 1930. The Medina Campaign In the late 1930s, Tiedemanns advertising costs reached a new peak, and so they became more inventive in their advertising approach than ever. The introduction of a new cigarette brand (named Medina) made them try new ways of marketing. In the radio you could hear Medina classical concerts, and in the cigarette packets you would find collecting cards with haute couture from Paris. Tiedemann even invested in an autogirocopter, a plane that was used only to promote the Medina cigarettes. Meanwhile, in the cinemas, they used animation to sell the Medina brand. The Medina films are quite different from the tobacco commercials of the 20s, both in style and content. While the Teddy films from the late 20s were humorous and quite rough in their approach, the Medina films are delicate, elegant and even abstract. As a parallel to the American Lucky Strike campaign, Medina was Tiedemanns attempt to make women become smokers in the name of sophistication, elegance and equality. It worked. It is strange today, when people don't even smoke on television any more, and when all advertising for tobacco and alcohol are strictly banned in Norway, to see how these films tried to convince the audience of the advantages of cigarette smoking. The inventiveness, quality and variation in animated audiovisuals of these spots are quite impressive, and the commercials are among the best advertising films ever shown in Norway. Maybe it is because a product like tobacco, which is difficult to sell with plain objective arguments, ultimately stimulates the advertisers to use their fantasy and imagination. A teddy bear and the mascot of the cigarette brand, named Teddy, was a character in several animated commercials for Tiedemann. A typical Teddy film is the 1927 Teddy's biltur (Teddy's Car Ride ) animated by Niels Sinding-Hansen for Walter Fyrst, one of the leading filmmakers in Norway before WWII. In this spot, Teddy is out driving, and he gets hungry, so he stops at a restaurant. While he's inside eating, a man flattens all four tires on Teddy's car. Out from the restaurant, Teddy discovers what has happened, stops to think, and lights a cigarette. Inventively, he blows four smoke rings that fit nicely around the flat wheels of his car. He smiles and drives happily away on his wheels of smoke. Sinding-Hansen made at least five more films for Tiedemann in this style in 1927-28.
The leading advertising filmmaker in Norway before WWII was Ottar Gladtvet. He made mostly live action films, but as an experimental cameraman, he used clever object animation and different stop-motion effects in many of his films. He also produced animated cartoons and cut-outs, but I'm quite sure he didn't make the drawings himself. Some of the Gladtvet films are perhaps animated by the pioneer Sverre Halvorsen, with whom Gladtvet collaborated on some animated shorts in the early 1920s. Some of the other films were made in collaboration with Ths.W.Schwartz, a filmmaker influenced by Viktor Bergdahl. Gladtvet also collaborated with major animators outside of Norway. He made three films for Persil washing powder, in collaboration with Julius Pinschewer, and in 1927 he produced Fiinbeck har rømt (Jiggs Has Escaped.) The film, based on the characters from George McManus' comic strip Bringing up Father shows how the character's wife manages to bring Jiggs back home and keep him indoors by offering him the finest Tiedemann tobacco for his pipe. This film is very professionally done, and I'm quite sure that Viktor Bergdahl, who made advertising films in Stockholm at this time, is the animator behind it. I also believe that this film influenced other Norwegian animators in their work, since many of the following films were made in the same technique, but less professionally. It is possible that a Norwegian animator, like perhaps Schwartz, worked in Stockholm as an assistant to Bergdahl and brought this knowledge to Norway afterwards. Kalifens hemmelighet (The Kalif's Secret ) was made in 1936 by Desider Gross in Prague, according to the censorship cards. It's a two and a half minute, classic black and white cartoon with excellent animation. Like The Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia, it is based on Goethe's ballad "Der Zauberlehrling." Kalifens hemmelighet is a beautiful example of music and animation fulfilling each other. In the spot, the kalif is controlling the movements of cigarettes by playing his flute. After dancing for him, the cigarettes offer themselves to the kalif, who lights them and enjoys his smoke. The kalif's apprentice tries the flute while the kalif is away, and he looses control over the cigarettes. When the kalif gets his flute back and retains control, he realizes that he shouldn't keep the cigarettes just selfishly for himself, but share the joy with others. Gasparcolor The theme in the 1938 puppet film Et orientalsk kunststykke (An Oriental Piece of Art ) made by Gasparcolor in Berlin, has several similarities with Kalifens hemmelighet. The way the Medina cigarettes are presented in the end of the two films, looks similar. Uniquely, Et orientalsk is a well-made puppet film where an oriental sorcerer is about to entertain a sultan. After several failures, he finally succeeds when he magically offers the sultan a Medina cigarette. En sigarett - en Drøm (A Cigarette - A Dream, ) produced in 1938, is also produced by Gasparcolor, but in black and white. Itis a very elegant film with long, smooth camera movements over gracious ballet dancers in an oriental castle. Harp and piano are providing the music and the whole scene is wrapped in elegant live action cigarette smoke! The moral in the end of the spot says that if you smoke Medina cigarettes, you will have wonderful dreams, as shown in the film. To me, at least parts of this film look like they were made on a pinscreen, but the film is not registered as an Alexeieff commercial. En sigarett - en Dream also has close similarities to a 1933 German cigarette commercial called Schall und Rauch, which is credited to Hans Fischerkoesen. En sigarett - en Drøm is probably made by Fischerkoesen. Could then, Alexeieff have been involved? The Fischerkoesen studio probably also made the 1938 commercial film, Sjakk Matt (Chess Mate, ) a fourth film credited to Gasparcolor. This is a funny cartoon in which the white players have lost a game of chess to the red, but the white king obtains new powers when he gets a taste of a Sorte Mand Cigar. Accompanied by a jolly song in Norwegian and helped by seducing cigar smoke, the white players take their sweet revenge. Not credited to Gasparcolor but definitely made with the Gasparcolor process is the abstract 1936 film, En fargesymfoni i blätt (Color Symphony in Blue ). This is really a shortened version of Oskar Fischinger's Komposition in Blau from 1935. Some scenes from the original are missing, and the end has been re-done using the logo of the Medina cigarette in the animation. According to an article in a Norwegian trade journal, such abstract color commercials were quite common in Norwegian cinemas, but in 1938, such color experiments were "replaced by more easily understandable visuals with proper content."
Who Made These Films? A lot of questions around the production history of these commercial films still have to be answered. According to the Norwegian censorship cards, Desider Gross and Gasparcolor were the two main producers of animated commercials for Norwegian companies in the late 1930s. I know of 18 films credited to Desider Gross, and 11 that are produced by Gasparcolor. But in Prague, they don't know of this Desider Gross company. And Gasparcolor was a color film patent, not a production company. Why, then, are these films credited as being produced by Gross and Gasparcolor? Fischinger made Komposition in Blau in 1935, and after he left Germany, it was made into commercials for at least 17 different cigarette brands all over Europe by Tolirag, Fischinger's collaborators. Several of the films credited to Gasparcolor are definitely made by Fischerkoesen, while others like the 1938 Radiorør-revolusjonen were made for Phillips by George Pal in the Netherlands. Why then, this mis-crediting? In Czechoslovakia, several of the pioneers of Czech animation like Karel and Irena Dodal, George Pal and Hermina Tyrlova made excellent commercials in the 30s for the production company Propaga-Film. BATA, the leading Czech shoe producer and industry giant, made its own film company to produce commercials, and Czech avant-garde filmmakers worked for them. Several of the Desider Gross films I have registered are for shoes. Are these films originally made by BATA? Maybe Desider Gross and Gasparcolor served as agents for advertising films aimed for the Scandinavian market. A lot of research is still to be done in this area. In any case, these films represent a most interesting collaboration between filmmakers and advertisers in different European countries. Several of the leading animators before the war were involved in the production of the films, and different versions of the same films have been made for the different countries. The films themselves are wonderful examples of high quality art which still make an impression among advertising films today.
With the beginning of World War II, both shortage of goods and the new political situation made an effective stop in the production of these advertising films. After the war, it was impossible to re-establish this fruitful collaboration between Norwegian companies and animated filmmakers in Germany and Czechoslovakia. What was probably the most fascinating period in the history of Norwegian animation was over. References Agde, Günter. Witz und Werbung: Der Trickfilmpionier Hans Fischerkoesen. Paper presented at the 38th Internationale Kurzfilmtage. Oberhausen, 1992. Goergen, Jeanpaul: Julius Pinschewer, Künstler und kaufmann, Pionier des Werbefilms. Article in epd Film 3/92, Berlin 1992. Jungstedt, Torsten. Kapten Grogg och hans vanner. Sveriges Radios Forlag/SFI Stockholm. Mastrasova, Vera. Tchechischer Werbefilm (1928-1937). Article in festival program for 38th Internationale Kurzfilmtage. Oberhausen, 1992. Loiperdinger, Martin & Harald Pulch: Geschichte des Werbefilms in Deutchland. Article in festival program for 38th Internationale Kurzfilmtage. Oberhausen, 1992. Moritz, William: Resistance and Subversion in Animated Films of the Nazi Era: The Case of Hans Fischerkoesen. Animation Journal 1.1, 1992. Sejersted, Francis & Arnljot Strømme Svendsen (ed). Blader av tobakkens historie. J.L.Tiedemanns tobaksfabrik 1778-1978. Oslo, 1978. Skretting, Kathrine. Reklamefilmens kommunikasjon: Norske reklamefilmer
1922 - 1988. University of Trondheim, 1988.
Strøm, Gunnar. "Fanden i nøtten" til " Fargesymfoni i blättAnimasjonsfilm i Norge, 1913 - 1939. Volda College, 1993. Westbrock, Ingrid. Der Werbefilms. Hildesheim, Zürich , New York. 1983. Gunnar Strøm (Gunnar.Strom@hivolda.no) is Associate Professor at Volda College in Norway, where he is head of the animation department. He has published a number of books on animation and music videos. He is president of ASIFA Norway, and a board member and former secretary general of ASIFA International.