From Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag, first published by the Partisan Review, 1964
Scopitone films are 1960s music shorts, which were distributed on color 16mm film with a magnetic soundtrack. An extinct technology, the Scopitone film jukebox, was the medium for public presentation. The first Scopitones were produced in France in 1960, triggering a Scopitone craze throughout Europe – particularly in West Germany and England – before crossing the Atlantic to the United States in mid-1964. By the end of the 1960s, they were gone.
(dac) will be transforming its gallery space into a barn in homage to the backdrops used in many Scopitones. Complementing the three-week run of Scodown, David Serlin, an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California at San Diego and Editor-at-Large for Cabinet magazine, will present a public talk, “Reel Music for Real People: Unwinding the History of the Scopitone,” on Wednesday, February 28, 2007, at 7 pm in the (dac) gallery.
According to Serlin, “There’s a great deal to say about the relationship between Scopitones and late 20th/early 21st century art. Beyond the fact that Sontag refers to Scopitone films as part of the canon of Camp in her seminal essay, “Notes on Camp,” during the height of their popularity, both French and U.S. Scopitones are part of the overlapping histories of amateur and hand-held film and video work, the rise of the “European art” soft-core film genre, automated and coin-operated broadcast technologies as well as post-vaudeville and burlesque forms of popular dance. It is not difficult to draw parallels between the amateur cinematography of Scopitone films and the work of 1960s Pop auteurs like Andy Warhol, Russ Meyer, or brothers Mike and George Kuchar. They also occupy an interesting place in the genealogy of music videos, coming after “soundies” of the 1930s and 1940s and before the rise of MTV in the 1980s. While there are plenty of unintentionally hilarious and camp moments in most Scopitones, there are some absolutely bizarre Scopitones that are worth watching purely for their use of mis-en-scène and questionable directorial choices.”