Back in the early 60s, an early form of music video developed in France struggled to gain a footing in the public consciousness and ultimately failed. Scopitones used 16-millimeter color film to capture performances and featured magnetic sound. They could be viewed only on Scopitone machines and four decades ago it cost about a quarter to watch one—a pretty penny when you factor in inflation. The technology made it to America in the mid-60s, but by the end of the decade it was pretty much through. One reason it never caught on was the format’s failure to attract enough marquis names to appeal to the average music fan—and as you can discover on this archive, many of the performers were pre-rock pop singers. Robert Altman once took a stab at the format, shooting one for Herb Alpert—cutting edge!
I’ve never seen one of these thingamajigs, but I’ve heard they’re something to behold. As for the films themselves, you can check some out tomorrow at 4 PM in a program called "Scopitones and Other Delights" at the University of Chicago's Film Studies Center. Local film and photograph collector Nick Osborn will present about 15 or 16 from his collection, featuring songs by Brook Benton, Françoise Hardy, and Vic Damone. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of most of the artists. Osborne will also present a handful of amateur 3-D slides shot in Chicago of entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Duke Ellington. The event is free.