Film and Advertising
In Europe, the history of animated advertising films began in the 1910s. One of the pioneers was Alexandre Alexeïeff, a master of invention, who made numerous commercials in the 1930s for companies such as Biscuits Brun, Monsavon, Esso and Renault. In Canada, the film industry was still embryonic. In 1918, the federal government created the Motion Picture Bureau to produce films designed to encourage immigration, foreign investment and tourism. There were also private-sector companies like Associated Screen News, which made sponsored films. At the time, film was the means best psychologically suited to delivering promotional, if not propaganda, messages. Movie theatre audiences tended to relax in their seats, all eyes focused on the screen.
To promote the company, National Breweries invested in the new medium and commissioned films. In 1935, it produced two black-and-white films: a 45-minute drama in English and French versions called Ale and Artie/Bière et Beau-père, and a 20-minute silent film called Here’s How. A few years later, the company announced in its in-house magazine that a 20-minute colour film was in production and included photos of the shoot. The next year, it announced the beginning of screenings of Bonne Compagnie (Good company) for employees.
Ale and Artie
The film Ale and Artie was made by Gordon Sparling, a talented professional who often treated ordinary subjects in inventive ways. Ale and Artie is a sponsored film with a fairly linear storyline: a young man asks his future father-in-law for his daughter’s hand and starts a conversation that quickly turns to beer. The suitor describes modern beer-making methods to the conservative-minded father-in-law and goes on about what makes beer a fine beverage. The story is obviously a pretext for promoting National Breweries, its products, its modern facilities and, of courses, the Black Horse Percherons.
Despite the film’s undeniable visual appeal and considerable documentary interest, the largely descriptive dialogue and lacklustre performances would fail to captivate today’s audiences accustomed to more dynamic promotional messaging.
This silent film presents part of the footage seen in Ale and Artie, which was shot the same year. But it uses only the portions showing the brewery’s facilities and beer-making methods. Title cards intercut with the scenes succinctly explain the different steps of the production process.
film_bonne_compagnie.pdf: The Review. Published in the interests of the employees, vol. 12, no. 2, February 1949, The National Breweries Limited, Montréal, Qué., pp. 4 and 8; The Review, Christmas 1947, The National Breweries Limited, Montreal, Que., p. 3.