Behind the Music 

The Brief But Sordid Life of the Scopitone

Scopitone-a-Gogo
Opens Fri Feb 1
Clinton Street Theater

Remember the eight-track, the Beta VCR, floppy disks, calculator watches, or mechanical pencils? They're all obsolete these days. Just think In this technological era, devices are probably becoming obsolete before they've even finished being invented.

The rather clunkily named Scopitone Machine is one such bombed invention that lived for only a few short years in the mid-1960s. The Scopitone, popular in bars and lounges, was a small-screened jukebox/16 mm film player, on which people could watch video-like films and listen to music. Colorful videos--featuring 1960s artists traipsing through forests, fruitily dancing and smooching--played on the screens, and beer-swillers took time away from their barroom conversations to watch them. Instead of men gaping over football, they could dial up some naked legs, low-cut dresses, and surreal hyper-color sets. In one film, pieces of colorful paper float downstream that say cheesy words like "ardor," and "marriage."

The Scopitone films seem like a product of the '50s rather than the '60s; everyone is impeccably dressed, singing about love, and vaguely infusing sexuality in the form of swimsuits and short skirts--but nothing directly addresses fornication like the hippie/Woodstock '60s. Ironically, however, the reason Scopitone went out of business is that they were sued by the Back Porch Majority for the lewd sexual content added to their video of "The Mighty Mississippi." That, and alleged Mafia financing.

The collection showing at the Clinton Street includes a bevy of similarly utopic sets, always focused entirely on the featured artist walking around happily singing. Debbie Reynolds does a floaty version of the protest song, "If I Had a Hammer," recklessly ignoring the Civil Rights implications of the song. The male artists, like Janes Darren and Johnny Halliday (the French Elvis), are always surrounded by throngs of doting, bikini-clad females. Their plots reflect '50s misogyny and ideals (man chooses woman, they fall in love, she worships him and has babies). Though these may be dying concepts now, they provide interesting reminders of how quickly American ideals changed in the '60s.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Comments are closed.

From the Archives

More by Katie Shimer

Most Commented On

Top Viewed Stories

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC

115 SW Ash St. Suite 600
Portland, OR 97204

Contact Info | Privacy Policy | Production Guidelines | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy