Monday, December 15, 2014

Wait - Robert Altman Directed Music Videos?


Back during the '60s in the US and Europe, you might have walked into a bar and come face to face with a video jukebox. The most well-known of these brands was the Scopitone. Just as a standard jukebox is loaded with records of current hits, these video jukeboxes were loaded with 16mm (or 8mm) film loops specially created for the machines. These were often lip-synch clips, though sometimes there were more adventurous scenarios - and almost always a lot of sex appeal.

Scopitone's main stateside competitor was the Color-Sonic unit, whose clips were created by the non-theatrical Hollywood distributor Official Films. The films contracted by Official are many of the best of the proto-music video clips we now generically call Scopitones.

Robert Altman was a jobbing director at the time, making TV shows and picking up gigs where possible. He made a few Color-Sonic shorts and - while we won't put them with his best work - they're pretty interesting.

These 16mm and 8mm films have never been preserved so the extant (highly faded) versions are all we have to judge them by. They are further degraded by bad transfers and compression, but check them out and you'll get an idea of what Robert Altman's world looked like in 1966.

This one is fairly typical of a Scopitone-type scenario. The (alarmingly sedate-sounding) actor/singer Bobby Troupe is surrounded by women eager to model outfits for him.



Here the legendary stripper Lili St. Cyr (aged 48 or so) rolls around in diaphanous clothes in a tent on the beach at Big Sur while a guitar-heavy version of "Ebb Tide" plays.



This is the cleverest one. It's a whole party scenario set to Herb Alpert's "Bittersweet Samba." Hopefully a better quality version of this can be found. It's very funny and very Altman.

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