Thursday, May 9, 2013

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Durch Nacht zum Licht: 1955 Animated Underberg Bitters Ad

Hans Fischerkoesen's animated advertisement for Underberg bitters is a nightmarish glimpse at one woman's troubled mind. The 1955 ad, Durch Nacht zum Licht (Through Night to Light), shows an unnamed woman sweating and tossing in troubled sleep. She is threatened by skeletons, rats, demonic red hands, explosions, ghosts, and a floating gun. At one point, she tumbles in free fall past tall buildings, part precursor to Mad Men's opening montage, part Camille Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre. The sleep of mid-century German women seems a dark place indeed. In the end, her night terrors are banished by a small bottle of Underberg bitters, famous even today as a stomachic for soothing heartburn or simple overeating.

Let me play you a lullaby.
After seeing such a disturbing vision of sleep, I need a shot of Underberg as well. Well done, Herr Fischerkoesen.

Sometimes known as Germany's answer to Walt Disney, Fischerkoesen (1896-1973) had been a sickly child and, with his sister Leni, put on puppet shows and other entertainments for their family in Bad Koesen. During World War I, he worked in army hospitals near the front and, during slack stretches, he drew. When the war was over, he cobbled together money to make an animated film, Das Loch im Westen (The Hole in the West). No copies seem to survive, but William Moritz writes in The Case of Hans Fischerkoesen that the animated film was an indictment against war profiteers as the true cause of war.

By the Second World War, he had become a well-known animator. Though he was no Nazi, he was forced to comply with edicts from Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, to compete against American animation technology. Moritz makes the case that, while rising to Goebbel's challenge, three of Fischerkoesen's animated wartime shorts were, in fact, subversive and slyly repudiated Nazi rule. After the war, he returned to a successful animation career, turning out many advertising shorts that won awards in Rome, Cannes, Milan, Monte Carlo, and Venice.


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