Early Animated Adverts programme at the NFT

There was an air of incompleteness when the lights came up at the conclusion of the National Film Theatre’s programme of Animated Adverts on 8th July 1985 write Jane Henry and Charles Garvie.

Although the event admitted to being only early animated commercials we were still left feeling cheated, as if we had only been told half the story, and, of course, we had been. The blurb did tell us, between misprints, that early European Avant Garde animators turned to commercial sponsors to further their work as only they could, or would, provide the necessary financial support. But why then miss the golden opportunity to make the observation that animation has come full circle and once again modern innovation relies on commercial sponsorship. After all, it takes little aesthetic observation to judge between the Seven-Up and Kia-Ora ads and any current Hanna Barbera TV Product.

It was the lack of commercials in the modern sense of the word which caused our feeling of discontent with the programme. Although we were treated to a few token French ones at the end of the show, and although these dated as late as 1961, there were no bridging films shown to give us an insight into the evolution of the present day 90 second standard. It seems very dubious that the newer adverts on the programme were French, why no representation of, for example, Richard William’s work? There seemed to be a tinge of the ideology that art must be foreign or vintage. How can anyone purport that common culture is not art in a programme of advertisements?

However, there were plenty of single reel sponsored films and soft-sells which seem incredibly long by our standards, causing the modern audience to laugh at the punch-lines simply because they were such-along-time-a-coming. Once again though, why show two George Pal Puppetoons for Horlicks (excellent as they were!), and no less than three Anson Dyer Bush Radio soft-sells? And why, oh why, the dreadful monastic sterilisation of presentation that film theatres insist on, i.e. pregnant pauses between films with nothing but the whirs and clicks of the screen masking for entertainment, or the unforgivable showing of The Boy Who Wanted to Make Pictures, (a 1929 H.M. Bateman film for Kodak) in the deadliest of silences?

Having had our moan, we admit to thoroughly enjoying the evening and everything we saw, (except perhaps Len Lye’s Colour Box (GPO), a non-camera film which gave us sore eyes), we just wanted to know how the story ended! Films like Circles (Fischinger) or South Sea Sweethearts (Pal) were a Technicolor delight with great repeatability and surreal fantasies like Lye’s Birth of a Robot (Shell), Alexeieffs La Seve De La Terre (Esso), and the delicately conceived Heavenly Post Office (GPO) left little room for criticism. Out of the whole programme (with age taken into account) the only bad film was Halas & Batchelor’s Train Trouble (Kellogs Cornflakes) a mediocre cartoon pulled-out to a seemingly endless seven minutes. On this occasion a little capitalist thrift pruning it down to 90 seconds would have been an act of creative charity.

Printed in Animator Issue 14 (Winter 1985)