Song Of The Day 6/23/2013: Sonny King - "I Cried For You"

Scopitone Week: Like quadrophonic sound, the consumer reel-to-reel tape player and the Chapman Stick, The Scopitone was a music delivery system so specific to its timeframe of availability that now it's all but forgotten. But the Scopitone is even more consigned to oblivion because it never really got a foothold in North America. It was huge in France, but virtually nowhere else. Its history, however, is fascinating, and Scopitone music films are truly like nothing else the industry ever spewed out.

The Scopitone itself was sort of a music visual jukebox: a wide, full-color television tube sitting atop a cabinet, with hand-level selection buttons underneath. Tech writer David Serlin says the original prototypes were developed by French film buffs out of surplus military supplies: "(They) gained access to a huge surplus of 16-millimeter film cameras used for high-altitude reconnaissance missions." They adapted the cameras into actual projectors, then somehow designed a way to stack the projectors together, 36 at a time, and show the films through the TV-jukebox contraption, to be viewed upon by drunkards inhabiting France's most technologically advanced drinking establishments in the late '50s. During its heyday between 1962 and 1965, the Scopitone was a big hit in France.

The guts of the Scopitone: 36 individual film reels
Yes, the Scopitone did make its way to America, but the exportation didn't exactly go smoothly. The first dealmaker who tried worked for William Morris (according to Robin Edgerton) and was encumbered by gambling debts, so he had to cut some of his earnings to individuals involved in organized crime. This man was relieved of his duties, that is to say his mortal coil, after the mob determined he'd already shown too many people the product. One of his associates took over and promised that America would manufacture tons of Scopitones, and even got fledgling screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola to invest. Only about 1,500 of the machines were made, though, and distribution to American lounges and servicemen's clubs never topped 500. By 1967 the Scopitone bubble had deflated, but only after approximately a bunch of music films had been made for the devices, most of them featuring songs from low-A to B-level musicians of the time. (I couldn't confirm a ballpark number of how many of these films were made, but I recall seeing the phrase "over 700" somewhere. That seems a little high to me.)

Since the primary area of consumption was the cocktail lounge where compromised morals and titillation were just fine, the music films the Scopitones were often softcore porn dreams that showed a lot of female flesh. Other films were just odd. Many of them were both, like today's entry, the first in a week dedicated to Scopitone mania. This film features Sonny King, a minor Rat Pack associate and lounge singer who really should be enjoying himself much more than he appears to be doing in the clip for "I Cried For You."

Thanks to Cinnamon Brunmier-Keller for this one. And if you'd like to get a jump on other Scopitone movies you'll be seeing this week, go to scopitones.com and check out a few. Be warned of the likely time-suck, but for some of us it's time blissfully spent.
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