Holden: A New Star, the New Holden FE (1956)

Holden: A New Star, the New Holden FE (1956)
General Motors Holden
Access fees

This colour cinema advertisement by Litchfield Film Productions launches the new model Holden sedan, the 1956 FE. This clip shows the whole advertisement minus the opening and closing titles.

A curtain parts to reveal the new model Holden FE on display on a turntable in a car showroom. As the car spins around, a male voice-over lists the model’s many new features.

A couple inspect the car. The woman sits behind the wheel as the man closes the door. The narration concludes by saying that Holden is 'Australia’s own car, Australia’s finest value’.

Summary by Poppy de Souza

The FE Holden was released only three months before the introduction of television in Australia. The coming of television had a huge impact on the way companies promoted their products and prompted the shorter and sleeker advertising we are used to today. As a cinema advertisement released on the cusp of television, it is an important example of the way in which Holden’s own advertising methods developed in subsequent years. As the commentary at the beginning of this ad states, the new Holden FE has a 'fashion-setting beauty to thrill the eye’ – a beauty which is displayed here in a straightforward, but effective, way. Cinema advertising at this time had the luxury of a captive audience which allowed advertisers to convey their message in a less hurried way than their television counterparts (although the first couple of years of television advertising commonly retained the longer format).

This advertisement consists of a series of static framed shots, most of which show the car either rotating on its showroom turntable or its interior features. Audience attention is held mostly through the voice-over listing the car’s new features. There was no need to extend beyond this approach at the time because Holden was already popular (the Holden slogan 'Australia’s Own Car’ had passed into the public consciousness) and its market share was growing. Up until the 1960s, it was common for Holden cinema and television advertisements to hinge on each model’s itinerary of new features and the technological developments that General Motors Holden employed in creating a new model. The glamorous 'new look’ of the FE as described by the narrator is reinforced by the presence of a stylish couple who inspect the car in the showroom. The closing credits tells us the actress’s frock was supplied by Georges, a fashionable department store then located in Collins Street, Melbourne. The car is marketed to both men and women as well as to the growing family market. The interior styling and the re-circulating ball steering (which allowed for easy parking on the Saturday shopping run) would have appealed to women drivers; while the larger wheel base and increased boot room catered for the family market.

Cinema at this time also had the advantage of screening in colour – something that didn’t come to television in Australia until the mid-1970s. The two-toned paintwork and vibrant interiors of the FE in this ad (now a little less vibrant due to colour dye fade of the film print) were transposed into monotone when shown on television (see the black and white television advertisement General Motors Holden – FE Holden: 'The Average Man’, made in the same year). For cinema audiences watching this ad in the 1950s, the car’s 'fashion-setting beauty to thrill the eye’ would have been seen in sparkling Eastman colour (a then newly developed colour single strip multilayer film developed by Kodak).

The discolouration of the image in this advertisement is an example of heavy colour dye degradation, caused by changes in chemical composition as the film stock ages. The cyan and yellow image dyes have faded, leaving only traces of magenta, which is responsible for the purplish cast. This clip’s colour is already very washed-out; once the dyes have completely broken down, this advertisement will look virtually monochromatic. It also exhibits signs of moderate vinegar syndrome which can result in the shrinking and buckling of a film print. Advanced vinegar syndrome causes the film to give off a pungent vinegar smell. Film preservation techniques (including correct storage conditions) can slow down the decomposition process but not reverse it.

The New Holden FE Curator's Notes

The 1956 FE Holden was the second issue since the first Holden (the 48–215 or FX) was released in 1948. The previous model, the FJ, was released in 1953 but only exhibited minor changes and was largely the same car as the FX. The FE, on the other hand, brought a completely new look to Holden. Many of the FE’s aesthetic modifications reflected the fashions of the 1950s – such as two-toned exterior paintwork and matching interior, cleaner lines in the design and the generous use of chrome.

By the 1950s, Holden had secured a firm hold on the car market in Australia at a time of postwar prosperity, increasing suburbanisation and expanding private car ownership. This advertisement taps in to this broad appeal by supplying an itinerary of the car’s features (both aesthetic and functional) as well as emphasising its versatility (suited to city driving and winding roads, easy to park), its affordability and high resale value (a common feature emphasised in Holden advertisements from the mid-1950s to the 1960s).

This cinema advertisement was made in the same year that television came to Australia – a technological development that significantly changed the way that we produce, consume and make meaning out of images. In its explanatory style, direct address, product-based appeal and relatively long running time (two minutes), this advertisement is also an example of the techniques used to market products in 1950s Australia. By the late 1960s, GMH advertisements were more dynamic and fast paced – in response to shorter television slots but also to more sophisticated audiences and a diversification of competitors. Television advertisements for the Torana and the Monaro Holden models, for example, were associated with sex appeal and youth – a long way from the reliability and economy of the FE Holden on display here.

The 35mm film release print was deposited with the National Film and Sound Archive by a private film collector from Melbourne.

Notes by Poppy de Souza

Teachers' Notes

This clip shows a colour advertisement for the 1956 Holden FE sedan. It begins with curtains opening to reveal the Holden FE turning slowly on a revolving platform in a showroom surrounded by floral displays and accompanied by a dramatic orchestral score. A series of static framed shots show the car’s interior and exterior features as it is inspected by a smartly dressed man and woman. The woman gets into the car to inspect its interior features. In voice-over, a man describes the sedan’s selling points. The advertisement was shown in cinemas.

Educational value points

  • The advertisement draws on theatrical and cinematic language to present the Holden FE as though it is the ‘star’ in a movie. From the curtains opening at the beginning to the lights dimming at the end the car is the centre of attention on a garlanded elevated revolving platform. The authoritative narration highlights the selling features of the Holden FE and the announcement of ‘a new star, the new Holden’ affirms the car as the star of the show.
  • The advertisement reinforces the cosmetic and engineering upgrades of the Holden FE through an emphasis in the narration and the close-ups of the model’s new features. The FE was the first Holden model to look significantly different from the original and by then dated 48-215 (or FX) Holden, which had been released in 1948. The script reiterates this selling point by repeating the word ‘new’ almost 30 times in 2 minutes.
  • The advertisement was made for cinemas, and reflects film techniques unavailable to television advertising in the years after television was first introduced to Australia in 1956. The advertisement’s leisurely pace, relatively long duration and use of colour film distinguish it from television advertisements of the time.
  • Two attributes of the early-model Holden cars – high resale value and affordability – are used as selling points in the advertisement. General Motors-Holden’s claim that the car was locally designed to suit Australian conditions gave it an advantage over foreign competitors and, by the time the FE was released in 1956, Holden had cemented its place as ‘Australia’s favourite car’. Easy availability of parts also made a Holden car a good investment for many Australians.
  • The car is a famous product of General Motors-Holden’s, now known as GM Holden. The company was originally established as a saddlery and harness business in Adelaide in 1856 by James Alexander Holden (1835–87), and evolved into a mass manufacturer of car bodies. In 1931 General Motors-Holden’s was formed when the biggest US car manufacturer, General Motors, bought what was then Holden’s Motor Body Builders.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia