Sunday, March 28, 2010
Filmed in “Electronovision,” the early 60s equivalent of today’s high definition video, the videotape was then transferred to 35mm film. Hence, as David Ehrenstein and Bill Reed suggest in Rock on Film (1982), “there is a case to be made for taking exception to dubbing The T.A.M.I. Show a movie at all. It looks and acts just a [black & white] television special, replete with moderne simplistic décor, chiaroscuro lighting, and a troupe of go-go dancers wildly frugging away on and around background scaffolding a la TV’s Shindig” (77). They are right: given the large, heavy, clunky, and studio-bound cameras used to record the event, The T.A.M.I. Show easily could have been filmed in a television studio (the large, 3,000-member audience would have been lost as a consequence, however). Moreover, according to Don Waller in his interesting and valuable liner notes included in the booklet accompanying the DVD, the featured performers, including dancers, spent two days rehearsing prior to the actual filming. Filmed over two nights, on October 28 and 29, 1964, according to Waller “the footage that makes up [the 112 minutes of] The T.A.M.I. Show was taken exclusively from the second night’s concert, which took five hours to film” (12). Thus for those expecting The T.A.M.I. Show to have the immediacy and spontaneity of the rock documentaries made after, it does not—the Monterey International Pop Festival, held June 1967, filmed by D. A. Pennebaker using lightweight, portable 16mm color cameras equipped to record synchronized sound, was still over two years away. What we typically refer to as the “rock documentary” is defined as much by the technology used to record it as it is by its free-wheeling cinéma vérité style, not usually by the TV variety show aesthetic that governed The T.A.M.I. Show.
Which isn’t to say The T.A.M.I. Show is without charm. Considered in historical terms, and as something other than a nostalgic “time capsule” as it is currently being pitched by Public Television fund-raising campaigns using the DVD as a reward to contributors, the film reveals not only a change in American social consciousness but also the discovery of an emerging, substantial economic market. For one thing, the African American performers featured in the film (primarily from Motown; Memphis’s Stax/Volt goes unrepresented until Monterey Pop, primarily in the figure of Otis Redding) were among the true beneficiaries of Civil Rights Era America. The film’s producers seemed to have intuited the white fascination with blackness, and hence five, or almost half, of the featured acts were black. As a consequence of his justly historic performance in The T.A.M.I. Show, James Brown, for instance, would appear in AIP’s Ski Party, released a few months later, in the summer of 1965. (White envy of blackness would take the form of the Rolling Stones’ reluctance to follow James Brown, although they acquitted themselves pretty well by their performance, perhaps because they did have to follow Brown, and so tried a little harder.) The aforementioned Ehrenstein and Reed, in Rock on Film, believe the most important thing The T.A.M.I. Show revealed was that “rock as mere music (and live performance as just a show) is about to change drastically” (77). In other words, the film shows rock music on the verge of redefining itself: no longer was it to be a consequence of cold calculation and commerce, but also changing social consciousness. For there’s a vast gulf between D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968) and The T.A.M.I. Show, a consequence of something other than aesthetics.