tapehead | Sunday March 9th, 2014
Music has always been a key ingredient of Golden Palm winner and Oscar nominated French director Claude Lelouch’s stylish, often somewhat unconventional love stories. The “chabadabada” theme from “A Man and a Woman” (1966), composed by longtime collaborator Francis Lai, has become an easy listening earworm. EDITH ET MARCEL (1983) tells the tragic love story between legendary chanson singer Édith Piaf and middleweight boxing champion Marcel Cerdan. Singers starred in Lelouch’s films, notably Jacques Dutronc opposite Catherine Deneuve in A NOUS DEUX (1979). Lelouch’s knack for combining music and image can surely be attributed to his beginnings as a director and producer of over 100 Scopitones, song-based short 16 mm films viewable on audiovisual jukeboxes in restaurants, nightclubs, cruise ships and other places of amusement. Scopitones are direct forerunners of the music clip as we know it today.
Visual jukeboxes were first introduced in 1939; the Panoram played a stream of black and white music shorts (“soundies”) mostly by jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and many others. In the late 1950s, French engineers devised the Scopitone jukebox based upon the Panoram, but with color films and improved magnetic sound. And it was possible to select individual clips, a business decision which allowed for increased revenue. Scopitones were widespread throughout France, the U.K. and West Germany. (Italy used similar but competing systems, Cinebox/Colorama and Color-Sonics.) In 1964, businessmen brought the Scopitone to the U.S. (Francis Ford Coppola invested some of his scriptwriting fees in the technology.) Top artists such as Neil Sedaka, Debbie Reynolds and Nancy Sinatra released Scopitones to accompany their hits. The popularity of Scopitones fizzled out by the late 1960s as young audiences gravitated away from two minute slices of artificial-seeming music clips to the more immersive rock concert experience with 100+ db sound, light shows, and elaborate stage sets. The older crowd who still liked Debbie Reynolds and Neil Sedaka didn’t go out much anymore and tended to watch the idols of their youth on TV variety shows. The last of an estimated over 2,000 Scopitones was released in 1978. Claude Lelouch, working for the Paris-based company Cameca, was responsible for over 100 Scopitones as director or producer. Here is a selection of some of his most noteworthy clips:
Francoise Hardy Tous les garcons et les filles 1963
Johnny Hallyday C’est le Mashed Potatoes 1962
Tornados Robot 1963
Dalida Je n’ai jamais pu t’oublier 1964
The Scopitone for Dalida, with the singer mourning her lover who perished in a car racing accident, foreshadows the plot of “A Man and A Woman” – a beautiful, elegant widow (Anouk Aimée) is reluctant to become involved with a dashing racecar driver (Jean-Louis Trintignant) because her late husband had the same profession and died on the racetrack.
After the Scopitones’ demise, Lelouch continued to engage with audiovisual pop music between feature films. This 1987 music video for Nana Mouskouri is a charity clip for the children’s aid organization SOS Enfants.
Nana Mouskouri Serons-nous spectateurs ? 1987