The Psychedelic Animated Video for Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” (1979)

Ah, yes, “Auto­bahn.” From the moment the door slams and the igni­tion starts, prog rock­ers and pre-new wavers know a jour­ney is afoot. Though the mem­bers of Kraftwerk made three albums before this, the mem­bers still look­ing like well mean­ing book­ish hip­pies, 1974’s “Auto­bahn” is con­sid­ered Year Zero for the denizens of the elec­tric cafe, the four Ger­man robots who made human music with machines.

Cre­at­ed in 1979, but bop­ping around again in pop cul­ture orbit is this cel-drawn ani­ma­tion by Roger Main­wood, cre­at­ed to pro­mote “Auto­bahn” after most of the cul­ture had caught up. By that last year of the ’70s Omni mag­a­zine was a year old, music was sift­ing through the shock­waves left by Bowie’s Low and Heroes, ana­log was flirt­ing with dig­i­tal, and the world was ready to dri­ve on that long, elec­tric high­way.

Mainwood’s pro­tag­o­nist is part alien, part human, and he begins look­ing around in awe in his hip gog­gles, then set­ting off for a run straight out of a Muy­bridge loop, only to wind up float­ing, fly­ing, sail­ing and swim­ming through a land­scape indebt­ed to Peter Max, Push­Pin Stu­dios, under­ground comix, and 1930 mod­ernism.

Main­wood had just grad­u­at­ed from London’s Roy­al Col­lege of Art Film and Tele­vi­sion School, and was com­mis­sioned by John Halas, the Hun­gar­i­an immi­grant who became known as the Father of British Ani­ma­tion, for Kraftwerk’s record label. The label want­ed to put out one of the first music Laserdiscs. (Halas, by the way, direct­ed a very UPA-influ­enced short called “Auto­ma­nia” in 1963). Accord­ing to Main­wood, he still doesn’t know if the band liked the short or even if they watched it.

Main­wood avoid­ed any direct rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dri­ving or auto­mo­biles, much to his cred­it, which may be why the film holds its fas­ci­na­tion. The ani­ma­tor con­tin­ued in his field, wind­ing up a pro­duc­er of sev­er­al clas­sics of British ani­ma­tion, includ­ing The Snow­man and the chill­ing When the Wind Blows. As for the mean­ing of “Auto­bahn,” we’ll let Main­wood have the last word:

Think­ing back to my thought process­es at that time, I remem­ber want­i­ng to specif­i­cal­ly not have con­ven­tion­al cars in the film. I want­ed a sense of a repet­i­tive jour­ney, and alien­ation, which I took to be what the music was about…hence the soli­tary futur­is­tic fig­ure, pro­tect­ed by large gog­gles, mov­ing through and try­ing to con­nect with the jour­ney he is tak­ing. The auto­mo­bile “mon­sters” are delib­er­ate­ly threat­en­ing (I have nev­er been a big fan of cars or motor­ways!) and when our “hero” tries to make human con­tact (with dif­fer­ent coloured clones of him­self) he can nev­er do it. In the end he realis­es he is mak­ing the repet­i­tive and cir­cu­lar jour­ney alone but strides for­ward pur­pose­ful­ly at the end as he did in the begin­ning. All of which sounds rather pretentious…but I was a young thing in those days!

You can read more of an inter­view with Main­wood here.

Find more ani­ma­tions in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kraftwerk’s First Con­cert: The Begin­ning of the End­less­ly Influ­en­tial Band (1970)

When Kraftwerk Issued Their Own Pock­et Cal­cu­la­tor Syn­the­siz­er — to Play Their Song “Pock­et Cal­cu­la­tor” (1981)

Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” Per­formed by Ger­man 1st Graders in Cute Card­board Robot Cos­tumes

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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