Showing posts with label Monterey Pop Festival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Monterey Pop Festival. Show all posts

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The T.A.M.I. Show

I finally managed to sit down and watch Shout! Factory’s DVD issue of The T.A.M.I. Show (1964, 112m 25s), which received a heavily-hyped release earlier this month. Considered a legendary rock ‘n’ roll concert film, this is the movie’s first release on DVD, and in fact the film’s first issue on home video ever, although parts of the film were cut together with its follow-up, 1966’s The Big T.N.T. Show, for a VHS issue in 1984 titled That Was Rock. The back cover blurb on the DVD says The T.A.M.I. Show was filmed “just eight months after The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show”—true, but also misleading, because more significantly, it was filmed slightly over two months after the U. S. release of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night (released on 11 August 1964), still doing great boffo when The T.A.M.I. Show (an acronym for “Teenage Awards Music International”) was being filmed in late October at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Moreover, considering the kind of libidinal excitement The Beatles could generate during a live performance, a “live concert” film was ripe for exploitation. Given the road-to-discovery-and-fame plots of previous films featuring rock stars, such as Rock Around the Clock (1956) and Don’t Knock the Rock (1956), they could only feature two or three acts: the latter movie, for instance, had featured Bill Haley and His Comets, Little Richard, and a couple of lesser-known acts, The Treniers and Dave Appell and the Applejacks. In contrast, The T.A.M.I. Show featured twelve different acts, including Lesley Gore, The Rolling Stones, James Brown and The Famous Flames, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Supremes, and “British Invasion” acts such as Gerry and the Pacemakers—the latter given an inordinate amount of screen time it seems to me, as was Lesley Gore, but then she was, at least, in terms of the number of hits, the biggest star attraction at the time the film was made.

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.