[Dixielandjazz] The Scopitone Films That Time Forgot
domitype at gmail.com
Sun Jun 19 00:10:07 EDT 2016
There has been a multi-decades long tradition at KFJC FM ( kfjc.org ) of
presenting the Psychotronic Film Festival - 16mm films from all parts of
our past. Scopitones are a vital part of these presentations and I have
seen quite a few of them over the years! Some are interesting, but most are
pretty horrible productions! You can watch a lot of them on Youtube by
On Sat, Jun 18, 2016 at 7:21 PM, Robert Ringwald <rsr at ringwald.com> wrote:
> The Scopitone Films That Time Forgot
> Two local collectors are putting on their second annual event dedicated to
> the passe precursors to contemporary music videos.
> by John Owens
> Chicago Reader, June 16, 2016
> About 15 years ago, vernacular photo collector Nicholas Osborn was
> rummaging through a flea market in Wisconsin when he came across a bunch of
> 16-millimeter reels. They featured kitschy performances by B-list 1960s
> music acts, formatted in a way that resembled the modern music video: one
> was of singer-songwriter duo Dick and Dee Dee poorly lip-synching their
> tune "Where Did All the Good Times Go" while a bevy of scantily clad
> dancers moved clumsily behind them on the Santa Monica Pier; another
> captured platinum-blonde model Joi Lansing singing the torch song "Web of
> Love" while ensnared in a giant spiderweb.
> Osborn was fascinated by what was on the reels, but he was equally
> delighted with their quality. "They were obviously directly from a
> distributor, so they were pristine and in perfect condition," he says from
> west-suburban Brookfield, where the items are stored. "And they were shot
> in Technicolor, so the films were stunning to look at. The colors were so
> vibrant, they just popped."
> What Osborn found was a collection of three-minute films that were
> originally played in Scopitone jukeboxes, which for a brief time in the
> mid-1960s were a staple of American taverns and pool halls. He now owns
> about 60 reels, and with the help of his friend and fellow vernacular photo
> collector Ron Slattery will showcase the best of them at the second annual
> Scopitone Party at Comfort Station in Logan Square. It's part of the
> Vernacular Photography Festival, a 23-day show curated by Slattery that
> kicked off on June 10. The Scopitone show will last somewhere between one
> and two hours, and based on the response to last year's screenings, there
> should be a good turnout.
> "We had to turn people away [last year]," Slattery says. "Young crowds go
> crazy over them."
> The Scopitone films are descendants of the better-known "soundies,"
> musical shorts distributed in coin-operated jukeboxes called Panorams,
> which were around in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The production of
> Panorams was halted during World War II, and the technology didn't
> resurface until the late 1950s in France, when the CAMCA company (an
> acronym for Compagnie d'Applications Mecaniques a L'Electronique au Cinema
> et a l'Atomistique) reproduced the jukebox in a vertical cabinet. CAMCA
> gave the device its new name, Scopitone, and soon top French pop stars like
> Juliette Greco and Johnny Hallyday were being featured in segments for the
> European market. Miami lawyer Alvin Malnik, reportedly backed by the
> east-coast Mafia syndicate, brought the jukebox to America in 1963 and soon
> after partnered with Chicago-based Tel-a-Sign to manufacture it; Tel-a-Sign
> then contracted with Harman-ee Productions, a company owned by actress
> Debbie Reynolds, to produce the content.
> From the beginning of its time in America, Scopitone had problems. The
> Wall Street Journal reported on its mob ties in 1966, and the company was
> sued by the folk group Back Porch Majority for inserting "lewd" shots of
> dancers in its Scopitone film The Mighty Mississippi. And the machines were
> constantly breaking down in bars. "They were difficult to keep running,"
> Osborn says, "because they aren't conventional jukeboxes, due to the film
> The Scopitone company formally went out of business in 1969, and the
> jukeboxes disappeared from bars shortly afterward. Today they're
> collector's items, fetching prices as high as $8,000 on sites like
> gameroomantiques.com and showcased as museum pieces in places like the
> Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and Third Man Records, the hip Nashville
> record emporium owned by Jack White. A vintage Scopitone jukebox, which
> Slattery currently houses in his cluttered storage space in Brookfield,
> will make an appearance at the Comfort Station screenings.
> Slattery often has problems firing up the 60s-era techno wonder -- it
> makes sputtering, wheezing noises when it's plugged in -- but it's still a
> marvelous-looking device. It stands about seven feet tall, and the lower
> half of the machine looks like a traditional jukebox, dominated by a huge
> speaker and an area where a customer can insert a coin and make song
> selections near the center. On the top of the Scopitone is a 26-inch screen
> where the shorts are projected. Turn the machine around, open it up, and
> see how it operates: 36 tiny reels are queued up, side by side; when a
> customer makes a selection, the chosen film drops into an area where it's
> threaded and illuminated.
> "When it's working, [the jukebox] is a beautiful thing to watch in
> action," Slattery says. "To hear the mechanism turning, it's just a killer."
> But the main attraction, of course, is the films. The closest thing to
> "celebrities" featured in the Scopitone shorts are R&B singers like Lou
> Rawls, pop crooners like Billy Eckstine, Brook Benton, and Vic Damone,
> trumpeter Herb Alpert, and somewhat surprisingly, English progressive-rock
> band Procol Harum. Yet the performers are overshadowed by the gaudy,
> eye-popping Technicolor and the well-recorded audio. The Scopitone reels
> had magnetic soundtracks (most films in the predigital age had optical
> soundtracks) that give the audio more resonance.
> The most noticeable aspect of the Scopitone productions is the
> straight-male- oriented, 60s-era sex. Invariably, female dancers wearing
> either bikinis or bra and panties perform period dances like the frug or
> suggestively thrust and kick toward the camera. Many times, the
> choreography has no relationship to the song -- in Brook Benton's "Mother
> Nature, Father Time," a medium-tempo R&B ballad, the dancers are shaking
> and undulating three times faster than the music. "The titillation factor
> is huge, and part of what makes the Scopitones special" Slattery says.
> "It's like a blast from the past that you didn't know existed."
> Bob Ringwald piano, Solo, Duo, Trio, Quartet, Quintet
> Fulton Street Jazz Band (Dixieland/Swing)
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