12 Jul 2008 6:22 pm   //   Filed under: Music, Technology

Today’s history obsession: Scopitones!

Scopitone vintage ad

Suddenly, I’m obsessed with finding a Scopitone machine.

What was the Scopitone? It was one of those splendid electro-mechanical clunkers that people relied on for entertainment in the pre-digital world. Scopitone was one of several brands of European-made jukeboxes that played 16mm films on a built-in screen, kind of like an early version of MTV. They appeared in bars in the 1960s and had apparently vanshied by the end of the decade.

I’m sure the machine was a marvel itself, but oh the videos! Think Leslie Gore, Bobby Vee, French pop music and burlesque striptease. The Scopitone films are saturated with jiggling girls, barely rehearsed dance numbers, and vivid tertiary colors. The surviving recordings, at least the ones you can find on YouTube, will haunt you with their warm, analog sound.

Susan Sontag listed Scopitone films as part of the “canon of Camp,” right between Tiffany lamps and The Brown Derby restaurant. Here we have camp in the form of a weird, forgotten collision of culture and technology. I’d love to see a Scopitone machine if one still exists somewhere.

Credits: Info about Scopitone from Wikipedia, Scopitones.com, and the Scopitone Archive, where I found the vintage ad that appears at the top of this post.

I was inspired to look up Scopitone after it was mentioned in this week’s episode of The Venture Bros.