Sunday, October 07, 2012

Annette Groschke: German Animation, 1910-1930 (Pordenone introduction, 2012)

Cinema d’animazione tedesco / German Animation, 1910-1930

"The use of animation in German films got a boost with the propaganda films made to support the war effort in World War I. The post-war period saw a proliferation of animation artists, and in the 1920s the variety of animation techniques employed was in full bloom: hand-drawn, stop-motion, silhouettes, experiments with molten wax… Avant-garde artists like Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter, and Walter Ruttmann used animation techniques for ground-breaking abstract films. Most animation films, however, were made for a rather base reason: to sell things, and for the artists to make a living. Yet the illustrators involved in making short animated commercials (Werbefilme) often succeeded in creating humorous, elegant small masterpieces which transcend their original purpose. These two programmes do not allow a representative overview of silent German animation films, but they do include a wide selection of animation and colouring techniques. We are showing works by popular animation artists like Hans Fischerkoesen and Lotte Reiniger, and also introducing lesser-known animators."

"The most important figure in Germany’s advertising landscape of the 1910s and 20s was the producer Julius Pinschewer (1883-1961), to whom the Giornate has already paid tribute several times in the past. In 1910 Pinschewer’s patent for animated advertisements was published, and in January 1911 he presented advertising films that he had financed himself to a group of manufacturers of brand-name products. A year later Pinschewer founded his first studio and had concluded contracts with about 500 movie theatres in Germany and Switzerland which screened his commercials."

"Some of the earliest animated Pinschewer productions from 1912 used the stop-motion technique. Guido Seeber, who had applied this technique in his film Die geheimnisvolle Streichholzdose (The Mysterious Matchbox, 1910), helped to make the Pinschewer film Der Nähkasten (The Sewing Box, 1912), in which buttons on a shirt are magically replaced by Prym snap-fasteners, and he might also have been involved in the Pinschewer commercial Die Flasche (The Bottle, 1912; sometimes referred to as Tanz der Flaschen/Dance of the Bottles), which features a ballet of Maggi seasoning bottles."

"After the outbreak of World War I German newsreels showed satirical cartoons which promoted the war effort and ridiculed Germany’s enemies. Starting in 1917 the Reichsbank commissioned several advertising films for war bonds. Most of these were produced by Julius Pinschewer, and are either completely animated or contain (stop-motion) animated sequences. A popular figure in German propaganda was John Bull, who appears in Das Säugetier (The Mammal, 1917) and two war bond films, John Bull (1917) and Ein Boxkampf mit John Bull (A Boxing Match with John Bull, 1918)."

"Universum-Film AG (Ufa), founded in December 1917 in Berlin, had an animation department which made animated sequences for fiction films and documentaries. John Heartfield worked for Ufa from 1918 until 1919 and seems to have been responsible for the development of the animation department. He was fired when he told workers to go on strike to protest the assassination of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, and was replaced by Svend Noldan. Harry Jaeger also worked for Ufa, and was joined in the late 1920s by Wolfgang Kaskeline, Paul N. Peroff, and Hans Fischerkoesen."

"In the summer of 1919 the Austrian Erwin Hanslik and Czech artist Berthold Bartosch instigated the founding of a German version of their Viennese Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for the Study of Culture), which had been started in 1915 with the aim of international understanding and reconciliation. The German version of the Institut, founded in July 1919 with the same goals, set out to spread political ideas and cultural messages using various means, including animated films. Led by art historian Hans Cürlis, its charter members were the silhouette artists Richard Felgenauer, Toni Raboldt, and Lotte Reiniger, and the art historian (and Lotte Reiniger’s husband-to-be) Carl Koch, as well as Berthold Bartosch. The first films of Raboldt and Reiniger, which premiered in December 1920 in Berlin, were produced by the Institut für Kulturforschung. The Institut also made animation films and animated sequences on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which dealt with the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and exuded a nationalistic bias."

"In 1924 Das Kulturfilmbuch, edited by Edgar Beyfuß and Alexander Kossowsky, was published. The first fundamental work dealing with the German Kulturfilm (documentaries, educational, and instructional films), this book contained chapters on animation films by Lotte Reiniger, Hans Ewald Sr., Hanns Walter Kornblum, Hans Cürlis, Julius Pinschewer, and Harry Jaeger. Jaeger wrote about the factory style of animation fi lmmaking in Germany at the time: “We have no venue of instruction at which we may acquaint and familiarize young draughtsmen with the essence of the animated film. Were such trained hands available, then the artist would only have to deliver the main drawings and the draughtsmen could reproduce and photograph the intermediate motion drawings true to the original.” (Harry Jaeger, “Zeichenfilme” [“Animated Films”; literally, “drawn films”], in Das Kulturfilmbuch, Berlin, 1924, note, p. 202)"

"In 1926 the company Werbekunst Epoche Reklame GmbH (founded in 1896) became Pinschewer’s biggest rival. During World War I Pinschewer had expanded his commercial network, which eventually grew to include around 1,000 cinemas in the late 1920s. Werbekunst obtained the monopoly on booking advertising films at Ufa’s theatres (in a trade magazine ad Werbekunst claimed that their monopoly comprised 1,600 theatres) and was allowed to use the technical departments of Ufa. Hans Fischerkoesen moved from Pinschewer to Werbekunst, which also employed Wolfgang Kaskeline, Curt Schumann, and Werner Kruse."

"Pinschewer was personally involved in the making of each animated advertising film that left his studios. He not only acquired customers but also participated in the creative process of creating the commercials, developing ideas and scripts together with the animation artists. Werbekunst championed short commercials constructed in such a way that it was possible to exchange the title or end cards with another company’s name, a much more economical production method. By the end of the 1920s Pinschewer had lost his supremacy over the German advertising film market, but in 1929 he had a coup, producing Germany’s first animated sound film, Die chinesische Nachtigall (The Chinese Nightingale), directed by Rudi Klemm. Shown in Berlin in March 1929, it was commissioned by the company Tonbild-Syndikat AG, and is a commercial for Tri-Ergon records as well as the Tri-Ergon film sound system."

"All the films mentioned in this text and the programme notes are – unless otherwise indicated – preserved at the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv and are available for loan. I used several information sources, but I would especially like to acknowledge my debt to the research of the historian Jeanpaul Goergen, available online at the website of the Deutsches Institut für Animationsfilm (DIAF),, and the contributions of my colleague Doris Hackbarth." – ANNETTE GROSCHKE

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