More glorious than their master's voice

PETER YORK ON ADS: No 143: WINALOT;
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The Independent Culture
There are some Englishmen who will say, in their cups or not, that the old Winalot commercial is the most beautiful film ever made.

First shown in 1987, this dog drama echoes every pre-war boys' book with animal heroes. It resonates with the Twilight Barking and other doggy communal themes and it looks like every kind of English painting from spare 18th-century hunting scenes to sentimental Victorian sticky oils of pooches and on to Edwardian illustration. It can reduce grown men to tears.

Like favourite romances, Winalot gives its dog stars a higher collective purpose. Two dogs are waiting, ears cocked for the signal. When it comes, dogs of all breeds and sizes race out, across what looks like the Lake District - no people or houses visible - up hills in silhouette, then brilliantly lit against lowering grey clouds, then sun-dappled through bushes. A small dog manages an effortless-looking jump over a gate; noble black dogs lead the pilgrimage into a lake.

It's positively Arthurian, the camerawork is wonderful and the dawn chorus with its introductory pipes and patriotic swell hits the mark exactly; we know they're doing it to save England even if the staggeringly banal voice-over implies they're after dog food, "a range that's nutritionally balanced and totally delicious, no wonder dogs will run all day for it", and - a real collectors' line, this - "if your dog loves meaty nutrition".

If the voice-over's pathetic, the pack-shot's worse, like a 1960s provincial grocery trade show: tins and packets grouped in a lifeless pyramid. It's all been quickly and cheaply imposed on the original glorious composition - now no doubt called a "brand property" - to launch a rather dull-looking new product range.

Years ago Julie Burchill said of the growing use of evocative pop in commercials that the advertisers were "mugging your memories". Winalot mugs a whole English collective unconscious - legends, books and pictures - for meaty nutrition.

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