Scopitone A Go-Go

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend The Sacramento Mid-Century Modern Home Tour. The focus of the event was on interior and exterior home design from the ’50s and ’60s but there were also plenty of other distractions to keep attendees busy such as a classic car show and a small theater was set up to show Scopitone films.

Scopitone (pronounced scop-a-tone) was the name given to a new kind of coin-operated film-jukebox that was introduced in France in 1960 by the French company Compagnie d’Applications Mecaniques à Electronique au Cinéma et à Atomistique (CAMECA). These film-jukeboxes looked a lot like the typical jukeboxes that became popular in the ’40s and ’50s but the Scopitone machines featured large screens that sat on top of the jukebox and played 16mm films. These 2-4 minute long Scopitone shorts offered viewers a new kind of audio-visual experience that allowed them to see and hear their favorite performers. Scopitone films are often referred to as the original “music videos” and for good reason. Just like the modern music videos that became popular in the ’80s thanks to television outlets like MTV; Scopitone films were also created to promote entertainers and sell records.

Between 1961 and 1964 hundreds of Scopitone machines were manufactured and they became extremely popular throughout Europe. The first Scopitone films featured popular French musical artists such as Serge Gainsbourg, France Gall, Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy but as interest in Scopitone grew, so did their audience. In 1965 Scopitone Inc. launched an ambitious program aimed at expanding its market in the United States. Together with the American manufacturer Tel-A-Sign, Scopitone announced that they would start releasing short films featuring American artists including Bobby Vee, Barbara McNair, Vic Damone, Frankie Avalon, James Darren, Kay Starr, January Jones, Della Reese, Paul Anka and Nancy Sinatra.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIkhh0V6Who]
Sylvie Vartan – “Est ce Que Tu Le Sais” aka “What’d I Say” (1961)

One of the first American Scopitone films featured Debbie Reynolds singing the Pete Seeger and Lee Hays protest song If “I Had A Hammer.” If you think this was a strange song choice for Debbie Reynolds, you’re not alone. She sings the song beautifully but her rendition of “If I Had A Hammer” completely strips the song of any social significance. This isn’t necessarily her fault but the costume choices; elaborate set designs and choreography probably had Pete Seeger cringing. Today the film is just plain charming and really fun to watch.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MATRxNEsRsY]
Debbie Reynolds – “If I Had A Hammer” (1965)

Like most contemporary music videos, Scopitones were usually filmed without any sound and artists were forced to lip-synch their songs. At the time they were expensive to make and usually shot in one afternoon after a day of rehearsal. These mini musical movies often featured eye-catching set designs but many of them were filmed on location. Thanks to Scopitone’s origins in France, the films they made occasionally seemed inspired by European art movies or colorful genre films. Scopitones were creatively shot, cleverly edited and they employed a lot of provocatively dressed go-go dancers.

Most of the Scopitone films appear to have been made by unknown or uncredited directors but the Oscar winning filmmaker Robert Altman directed at least three or four Scopitone films during the ‘60s including one for Bobby Troup’s song “Girl Talk” originally released in 1965. Bobby Troup was a popular American songwriter who had some big hits with songs like “Route 66,” “The Girl can’t Help It” and “Girl Talk.” He was also an actor and even appeared in Robert Altman’s critically acclaimed film MASH (1970) five years after they made the Scopitone short together.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDcCxaktex4]
Bobby Troup – “Girl Talk” (1965) directed by Robert Altman

One of the most popular American Scopitone stars was the beautiful actress and singer Joi Lansing who was nicknamed “The Scopitone Bombshell.” Lansing started acting in the ’40s and appeared in some impressive films such as Easter Parade (1948), Singing in the Rain (1952), Touch of Evil (1958), Queen of Outer Space (1958), A Hole in the Head (1959) and The Atomic Submarine (1959) before she started making Scopitone movies. She only made three Scopitone shorts but the busty blond bombshell had a lovely voice. Her revealing wardrobe, sexy moves and sultry song renditions captivated audiences.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kbv8p1YfJbI]
Joi Lansings – “Web of Love” (1966)

In an effort to overcome competition with regular jukeboxes in the United States, Scopitones were placed in luxury locations such as hotel lobbies, restaurants and cocktail lounges. Naturally they attracted a more mature audience and the American Scopitone films reflected this. Unlike the French Scopitones that often featured teen oriented pop stars, the American Scopitones usually featured easy-listening artists that appealed to adults. They even developed peep-show style Scopitones featuring strippers that were placed at bars or strip clubs. Unfortunately this marketing strategy would lead to Scopitone’s downfall in the U.S. In the ’60s American Teenagers wanted to watch and listen to rock ‘n’ roll artists and they didn’t have much interest in performers like Joi Lansing or Bobby Troup. The music industry that Scopitone Inc. relied on simply failed to see the appeal of the product and assumed it was a passing fad. In turn, the quality of Scopitone films suffered.

In 1966 Scopitone was hit by a barrage of bad luck. After shooting a short film for a folk rock act called Back Porch Majority; the company was sued by the group’s management for adding “smut” to the final product. The group had asked Scopitone to provide them with a family friendly short film but in usual Scopitone fashion the company decided to include sexy female dancers in suggestive stages of undress. The Scopitone film made for the Back Porch Majority song “The Mighty Mississippi” seems rather silly and almost wholesome by today’s standards but in 1966 it was rather daring. The lawsuit against Scopitone Inc. was unsuccessful but this was followed by an even bigger scandal involving various company investors who were discovered to have mob connections. Naturally Scopitone’s reputation began was damaged due to all the bad publicity. Combined with bad marketing strategies and a disinterested music industry, these events would finally force Scopitone Inc. out of business in 1969.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwHJdkOrPOk]
Back Porch Majority – “The Mighty Mississippi” (1966)

The short-lived but explosive rise and fall of Scopitone is the stuff of legend. Today we take many of the innovative ideas pioneered by the company for granted but Scopitone is responsible for helping to shape the style, length and format of modern music videos. In recent years there has been a lot of interest in Scopitone films and artists like Joi Lansing have developed a following of new fans that still appreciate her work. There has also been a large resurgence of interest in French pop music from the ’60s that Scopitone is partially responsible for. Fans and collectors enjoy sharing Scopitone films on Youtube and there are also great websites and blogs such as the Scopitone Archive, Bedazzled and Scopitones.com where you can find out more about these films and interact with other Scopitone enthusiasts. Scopitone might be gone but the films they made definitely live on!

23 Responses Scopitone A Go-Go
Posted By Mercurie : July 1, 2010 7:35 pm

Great article, although I do have one correction to make. Robert Altman did not direct Scopitone films, but rather films for a competing visual jukebox, Color-Sonics. The Color-Sonics was quite similar to the Scopitone, and even had the advantage of using more durable film cartridges instead of the film reels that Scopitone used. Unfortunately, Color-Sonics would have even less success here in the States than Scopitone. It would go within a year. In all Robert Altman directed four Color-Sonics films.

Posted By Mercurie : July 1, 2010 7:35 pm

Great article, although I do have one correction to make. Robert Altman did not direct Scopitone films, but rather films for a competing visual jukebox, Color-Sonics. The Color-Sonics was quite similar to the Scopitone, and even had the advantage of using more durable film cartridges instead of the film reels that Scopitone used. Unfortunately, Color-Sonics would have even less success here in the States than Scopitone. It would go within a year. In all Robert Altman directed four Color-Sonics films.

Posted By medusamorlock : July 1, 2010 9:43 pm

Kimberly, this post has everything! I’ve always been fascinated by these films and what a great topic for Morlocks!

I mean, Joi Lansing, Bobby Troup and Debbie Reynolds — doesn’t get better than that.

Troup is also possibly best known to babyboomers from his starring role in 1970s TV’s “Emergency” series alongside his wife Julie London, who earlier had been married to series creator Jack Webb. Pretty cozy, eh?

It’s great that the films are turning up and being shared around!

Fun post!

Posted By medusamorlock : July 1, 2010 9:43 pm

Kimberly, this post has everything! I’ve always been fascinated by these films and what a great topic for Morlocks!

I mean, Joi Lansing, Bobby Troup and Debbie Reynolds — doesn’t get better than that.

Troup is also possibly best known to babyboomers from his starring role in 1970s TV’s “Emergency” series alongside his wife Julie London, who earlier had been married to series creator Jack Webb. Pretty cozy, eh?

It’s great that the films are turning up and being shared around!

Fun post!

Posted By smallerdemon : July 2, 2010 12:28 am

I have seen TWO of them for sale in San Francisco over the eleven years that I’ve been here.

I can probably tag the most modern song used that was distributed via Scopitone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9iAcUjQ4WI

This exact version wasn’t used, but THIS one was:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VePpNvzY218
:) I love both of these versions (and I loved Grindhouse, so this is the kind of crap I know).

Posted By smallerdemon : July 2, 2010 12:28 am

I have seen TWO of them for sale in San Francisco over the eleven years that I’ve been here.

I can probably tag the most modern song used that was distributed via Scopitone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9iAcUjQ4WI

This exact version wasn’t used, but THIS one was:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VePpNvzY218
:) I love both of these versions (and I loved Grindhouse, so this is the kind of crap I know).

Posted By Al Lowe : July 2, 2010 9:26 am

GREAT POST!

I remember Joi Lansing from when I first started noticing girls. She was fun to notice. She had a small role in several episodes as a model on the TV show “Love That Bob,” featuring Bob Cummings as a girl loving photographer who lived with his sister and teenage son. She played Shirley Swanson. She never had a lot to say or do; it was assumed that she was smitten with the irresistible Bob.
Orson Welles used her that way too in TOUCH OF EVIL. She doesn’t make it past the credits. She is in the car that carries the fatal bomb.
She and another attractive lady guested on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” created and produced by Paul Henning, who also did the Bob Cummings program. They were girlfriends or wives of Flatt and Scruggs, the musicians who were visiting Granny. Joi and her friend assumed that Elly Mae was Granny and decided to go back to the beauty parlor so they could look better.
I, of course, have many VHSs and some DVDs. Only one features Joi, along with Barbara Nichols, who also guested on “Love That Bob.” They date the married Tony Curtis and his buddy Dean Martin, as Tony’s wife Janet Leigh watches, in WHO WAS THAT LADY?
And I will admit that I probably purchased the DVD because I wanted to see Joi.
I suspected in my later years that she was one of those people who looked much better in black and white than in color. There are some people like that and they benefited enormously from the Golden Age of Movies and Television.

As for Bobby Troup, I know him from MASH and “Emergency.” But I have an odd story to tell. When I was stationed in Long Bihn, Viet Nam for a year, we had television, thanks to the Armed Forces Television Network. We did not get to watch it much because they kept us pretty busy. When we did we were treated to reruns of “Wild Wild West” and “Carol Burnett.” However, Mr. Troup taped 10 minute segments of himself singing standards that they aired occasionally. As you say, this was probably not geared to the tastes of the young people at the time. I remember that it aired and no one commented about it.

Have a good day!

Posted By Al Lowe : July 2, 2010 9:26 am

GREAT POST!

I remember Joi Lansing from when I first started noticing girls. She was fun to notice. She had a small role in several episodes as a model on the TV show “Love That Bob,” featuring Bob Cummings as a girl loving photographer who lived with his sister and teenage son. She played Shirley Swanson. She never had a lot to say or do; it was assumed that she was smitten with the irresistible Bob.
Orson Welles used her that way too in TOUCH OF EVIL. She doesn’t make it past the credits. She is in the car that carries the fatal bomb.
She and another attractive lady guested on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” created and produced by Paul Henning, who also did the Bob Cummings program. They were girlfriends or wives of Flatt and Scruggs, the musicians who were visiting Granny. Joi and her friend assumed that Elly Mae was Granny and decided to go back to the beauty parlor so they could look better.
I, of course, have many VHSs and some DVDs. Only one features Joi, along with Barbara Nichols, who also guested on “Love That Bob.” They date the married Tony Curtis and his buddy Dean Martin, as Tony’s wife Janet Leigh watches, in WHO WAS THAT LADY?
And I will admit that I probably purchased the DVD because I wanted to see Joi.
I suspected in my later years that she was one of those people who looked much better in black and white than in color. There are some people like that and they benefited enormously from the Golden Age of Movies and Television.

As for Bobby Troup, I know him from MASH and “Emergency.” But I have an odd story to tell. When I was stationed in Long Bihn, Viet Nam for a year, we had television, thanks to the Armed Forces Television Network. We did not get to watch it much because they kept us pretty busy. When we did we were treated to reruns of “Wild Wild West” and “Carol Burnett.” However, Mr. Troup taped 10 minute segments of himself singing standards that they aired occasionally. As you say, this was probably not geared to the tastes of the young people at the time. I remember that it aired and no one commented about it.

Have a good day!

Posted By Al Lowe : July 2, 2010 11:04 am

A couple more points.

According to Kitty Kelly, Joi Lansing dated Frank Sinatra, who, of course, had notorious mob connections. Did Joi? Was she a girl that the Mob passed around? She made movies with Sinatra and – as I mentioned – Dean Martin.

As for Troup, he actually has quite a memorable small role in MASH. He is the sergeant escourt who curses a lot (perhaps because he hates accompanying officers). At the end of the movie, Altman has the acting credits announced over the loudspeaker system. The last credit is Troup’s and the last words in the movie are his. “Goddamn Army!”
As you noted, Altman directed Scopitones with Troup. I was stationed in Long Bihn from March, 1969, to March, 1970. Is it possible that Altman, not long before he directed his groundbreaking anti-war film, directed the “For the Boys” clips that Troup starred in and that I saw?

I checked the TCM database for info on Joi. She died from cancer at the age of 43. How sad.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 2, 2010 11:04 am

A couple more points.

According to Kitty Kelly, Joi Lansing dated Frank Sinatra, who, of course, had notorious mob connections. Did Joi? Was she a girl that the Mob passed around? She made movies with Sinatra and – as I mentioned – Dean Martin.

As for Troup, he actually has quite a memorable small role in MASH. He is the sergeant escourt who curses a lot (perhaps because he hates accompanying officers). At the end of the movie, Altman has the acting credits announced over the loudspeaker system. The last credit is Troup’s and the last words in the movie are his. “Goddamn Army!”
As you noted, Altman directed Scopitones with Troup. I was stationed in Long Bihn from March, 1969, to March, 1970. Is it possible that Altman, not long before he directed his groundbreaking anti-war film, directed the “For the Boys” clips that Troup starred in and that I saw?

I checked the TCM database for info on Joi. She died from cancer at the age of 43. How sad.

Posted By ratzkywatzky : July 2, 2010 11:05 am

The first Scopitones I ever saw were projected by Dennis Nyback, who has toured his collection of Scopitones all over the world. He had just screened Necromantik at the tiny Jewel Box Theater in Seattle in about 1990, and my friend and I were sitting there looking shell-shocked. He asked us if we’d like to see something he’d just bought: his first two Scopitones–Queen of the House and Sea Cruise. It cleared all the cobwebs of cannibalism and necrophilia right out of our heads! If you haven’t seen Jody Miller’s Queen of the House, an answer song to King of the Road, watch it now! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdMISGruB0Q

Posted By ratzkywatzky : July 2, 2010 11:05 am

The first Scopitones I ever saw were projected by Dennis Nyback, who has toured his collection of Scopitones all over the world. He had just screened Necromantik at the tiny Jewel Box Theater in Seattle in about 1990, and my friend and I were sitting there looking shell-shocked. He asked us if we’d like to see something he’d just bought: his first two Scopitones–Queen of the House and Sea Cruise. It cleared all the cobwebs of cannibalism and necrophilia right out of our heads! If you haven’t seen Jody Miller’s Queen of the House, an answer song to King of the Road, watch it now! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdMISGruB0Q

Posted By smallerdemon : July 2, 2010 12:10 pm

Aw, my other comment was unceremoniously deleted.

Posted By smallerdemon : July 2, 2010 12:10 pm

Aw, my other comment was unceremoniously deleted.

Posted By smallerdemon : July 2, 2010 12:12 pm

Wait. Dang. I guess it’s my web browser being CRAZY. Sorry about that. Cleanup on aisle Morlock!

Posted By smallerdemon : July 2, 2010 12:12 pm

Wait. Dang. I guess it’s my web browser being CRAZY. Sorry about that. Cleanup on aisle Morlock!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 2, 2010 3:13 pm

Thanks for all the feedback! I’m glad people enjoyed my look at Scopitones.

Mercurie – I appreciate your insight! I had thought that Color-Sonics was a sort of film-making process for Scopitones sort of like Cinemacope if that makes any sense? I didn’t realize it was a different technology all-together. Scopitone machines could play Altman’s Color-Sonic films so I guess there was a lot of crossover between competing film-jukeboxes in the ’60s. It seems so strange to me that the music industry didn’t realize the power of music videos until the ’80s.

Medusamorlock – Thanks for sharing more info about Bobby Troupe! He’s was a fascinating & talented guy and I enjoyed watching him in Emergency with Julie London when I was a kid too.

smallerdemon – That’s a great Scopitone and a great song. I really like France Gall’s early recordings. I also enjoyed Grindhouse too and I’m glad the movie has encouraged people to seek out the original music heard in the movie.

Al Lowe – Thanks for sharing all that info! Joi is pretty amazing and I really enjoy the sc-fi movies she made (Queen of Outer Space & The Atomic Submarine). I don’t know if you own the book ‘Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood’ but it has a nice section on Joi complete with photos of the actress. I think you’d enjoy the book. I don’t know if Altman directed the other Troup clips you saw but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. It’s definitely worth looking into.

ratzkywatzky – Great story! I think the first Scopitones I saw were on Something Weird Videos. And I love Jody Miller’s “Queen of the House.” Great song and it’s one of my favorite Scopitones as well!

smallerdemon – No worries. Your earlier comment is visible now. Sometimes it takes awhile for comments to show up on the blog so don’t be alarmed if there is a delay.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 2, 2010 3:13 pm

Thanks for all the feedback! I’m glad people enjoyed my look at Scopitones.

Mercurie – I appreciate your insight! I had thought that Color-Sonics was a sort of film-making process for Scopitones sort of like Cinemacope if that makes any sense? I didn’t realize it was a different technology all-together. Scopitone machines could play Altman’s Color-Sonic films so I guess there was a lot of crossover between competing film-jukeboxes in the ’60s. It seems so strange to me that the music industry didn’t realize the power of music videos until the ’80s.

Medusamorlock – Thanks for sharing more info about Bobby Troupe! He’s was a fascinating & talented guy and I enjoyed watching him in Emergency with Julie London when I was a kid too.

smallerdemon – That’s a great Scopitone and a great song. I really like France Gall’s early recordings. I also enjoyed Grindhouse too and I’m glad the movie has encouraged people to seek out the original music heard in the movie.

Al Lowe – Thanks for sharing all that info! Joi is pretty amazing and I really enjoy the sc-fi movies she made (Queen of Outer Space & The Atomic Submarine). I don’t know if you own the book ‘Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood’ but it has a nice section on Joi complete with photos of the actress. I think you’d enjoy the book. I don’t know if Altman directed the other Troup clips you saw but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. It’s definitely worth looking into.

ratzkywatzky – Great story! I think the first Scopitones I saw were on Something Weird Videos. And I love Jody Miller’s “Queen of the House.” Great song and it’s one of my favorite Scopitones as well!

smallerdemon – No worries. Your earlier comment is visible now. Sometimes it takes awhile for comments to show up on the blog so don’t be alarmed if there is a delay.

Posted By mbm : July 2, 2010 7:29 pm

here’s some of my faves:

The Exciters – Tell Him (’62, filmed in Central Park): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ah-tui1ubnU

Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbyAZQ45uww

Nino Tempo and April Stevens – Land of 1000 Dances:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBjr2rNkub0

Brigitte Bardot (!) and Serge Gainsbourg – Comic Strip:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URr37OUyC6I

Della Reese – If I Never Get to Heaven:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkWMdux53-Q

Brook Benton – Mother Nature Father Time:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEOnbiiRHUs

Vic Damone – Lost and Found:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TsYgnlXkjc

Bobby Vee – The Night Has a Thousand Eyes:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TsYgnlXkjc

Lesley Gore – Wonder Boy:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNj78igXr_Y&feature=related

Petula Clark – Calcutta:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymc9hRcOJTg&feature=related

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass – Bittersweet Samba (directed by Robert Altman):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87hwQPh7ML8

Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb3iPP-tHdA

Posted By mbm : July 2, 2010 7:29 pm

here’s some of my faves:

The Exciters – Tell Him (’62, filmed in Central Park): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ah-tui1ubnU

Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbyAZQ45uww

Nino Tempo and April Stevens – Land of 1000 Dances:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBjr2rNkub0

Brigitte Bardot (!) and Serge Gainsbourg – Comic Strip:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URr37OUyC6I

Della Reese – If I Never Get to Heaven:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkWMdux53-Q

Brook Benton – Mother Nature Father Time:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEOnbiiRHUs

Vic Damone – Lost and Found:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TsYgnlXkjc

Bobby Vee – The Night Has a Thousand Eyes:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TsYgnlXkjc

Lesley Gore – Wonder Boy:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNj78igXr_Y&feature=related

Petula Clark – Calcutta:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymc9hRcOJTg&feature=related

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass – Bittersweet Samba (directed by Robert Altman):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87hwQPh7ML8

Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb3iPP-tHdA

Posted By geneonlbk : July 11, 2010 8:22 pm

I wish that TCM could find a business model that worked for streaming the cable broadcast content over the internet. Perhaps a paid subscription on Raku or a paid subscription to a web site. I will be forced to drop my expensive Comcast TV due to required economies and I shall miss TCM. I would afford $20/year for TCM content via the internet or Raku.

Posted By geneonlbk : July 11, 2010 8:22 pm

I wish that TCM could find a business model that worked for streaming the cable broadcast content over the internet. Perhaps a paid subscription on Raku or a paid subscription to a web site. I will be forced to drop my expensive Comcast TV due to required economies and I shall miss TCM. I would afford $20/year for TCM content via the internet or Raku.

Posted By Panna : March 31, 2017 3:12 pm

HI.. Was wondering if anybody knew the name of the girl that was in the back seat of the motorbike in Bobby Vee’s Scopitone– “Night Has A Thousand Eyes”? Thank you…PP

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