The Case of Hans Fischerkoesen
The opening sequence of Weather-beaten Melody (1942), his first film made under the government edict, demonstrates a bravura mastery of both the multiplane and stereo-optical processes--and a meaningful use of depth, following the flight of a bee down from the sky, through 12 layers of grass and flowers in a meadow, and circling around an abandoned phonograph which lies, puzzlingly for the bee, in the middle of the meadow. Behind this long point of view sequence is the assumption that the bee is a personage worthy of following, and in fact she turns out to be adventurous, resourceful, perceptive, talented, witty, and friendly, among other admirable, even noble "human" characteristics. Fischerkoesen demonstrates these traits in little episodes characteristic of his style: she uses dandelion seeds as parachutes for a joyous free ride; her game of tossing a blueberry ends in disaster (the overripe fruit bursts over her head), but she meticulously wipes herself clean on a daisy petal. He also delineates her personality with unexpected complexities. For example, is she jealous of the hedgehog who takes over her place as "phonograph needle" when she is away sharpening her stinger--or is she merely exasperated at the confusing quality of his multi-needle pickup? The very idea of ambiguity was anathema to the Nazis, who could only hope to maintain their fascist program by enforcing strict, unbending codes of behavior, and absolute, inviolable "ideals and truths." Precisely because of its technical brilliance, Weather-beaten Melody could get away with quite a bit of forbidden information.
Ironically, inherent in the "stereo" animation techniques, as Fischerkoesen uses them, lies the most subversive metaphor: a sense of freedom of movement, an affirmation of the multi-layered nature of reality--of ambiguity and change--which demands (even subconsciously) that the viewer think for herself and consider other things as valid as the subjective self--something truly forbidden by Nazi doctrine as the most dangerous action of all.
To fully appreciate Fischerkoesen's daring, one must remember that the Nazis had forbidden jazz and swing as an Afro-Judaic plot to undermine traditional German culture. The catalogue of the 1937 "Degenerate Film" exhibition contained an anti-jazz spread entitled "Africa Speaks...?," which stigmatized "Al Jolson-Rosenblatt" among other black and black-face jazz musicians, and the 1938 "Degenerate Music" catalogue featured the image of a black saxophone player wearing a Star of David. Detlev Peukert chronicles how the "swing movement" became a key symbolic rebellion, while the British film Swing Under the Swastika documents the sad and ironic fates of jazz musicians during this period.
In this context, the discovery of an abandoned phonograph takes on new meaning, especially when the record on the turntable is a swing number with lyrics that say, "The week wouldn't be worthwhile without a weekend when we can get away to enjoy nature." Near the phonograph lies an "abandoned" clasp from a woman's garter belt (with a lucky four-leafed clover growing out of it!), which suggests that the interrupted picnic that left behind the musical instrument had also involved erotic play--something also strictly forbidden by the puritanical Nazi codes. So from beneath the charming surface of this cartoon emerges a subversive message: women, far from the unnatural Nazi-designated stereotype of "children, church and kitchen," can escape into Nature to be self-reliant and adventurous, erotic and free--they can rediscover or revitalize a suppressed world of forbidden joy in music and friendship between diverse creatures who may be brown or white, frog or caterpillar--or even a pair of ladybug beetles who may be a same-sex couple. 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.