THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE T.A.M.I. SHOW”

During the past year, there’s been a surprisingly high level of interest in a 1965 concert movie called “The T.A.M.I. Show.” After being out of official circulation for more than three decades, the film has popped up in several special non-theatrical screenings around the country. Even the Library of Congress played the film last fall, when it was considered for inclusion on the National Film Registry.

The rediscovery of “The T.A.M.I. Show” is fascinating, since it is not (by any stretch) a great film. But it is a fascinating relic of a distinctive moment in rock music history. And while some of the performances are below par, it does offer a to-die-for line-up of music legends on a single bill.

The eponymous acronym stands for “Teenage Awards Music International,” and the film was promoted as offering “The excitement, entertainment and music of teenage America!” The concert’s nominal hosts are Jan & Dean, who are truly abysmal as hosts. Either they are dressed up in strange jokey costumes (in Ascot finery to introduce The Rolling Stones, in firefighter garb to introduce James Brown and His Famous Flames) or they are at odds with each other (at one point Jan literally pushes Dean away to take the microphone). Fortunately, they have little hosting duties and their damage is minimal.

The show opens with Chuck Berry, which was a strange choice given that Berry’s star had already waned by the time this concert was made (it was shot in October 1964). Berry is still in fine form, but his performance is marred by the decision to back him up with a small army of dancers (mostly girls in bikinis and mini-skirts) doing the trendy dances of the day. Too often, Berry is pushed to the corner of the screen while the gyrating girlies shake their stuff. Gerry and the Pacemakers turns up for a few songs and then engage Berry in a battle-of-the-bands duel (and Berry wins).

Motown reigns for the next two acts: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, followed by Marvin Gaye (backed by the Crystals). No complaints there, for certain! But then “The T.A.M.I. Show” loses steam when some legendary recording artists come out and show they have no knack for connecting with live audiences. Leslie Gore performs her hits (and a couple of misses), but she seems strangely enervated. Jan & Dean come back to sing their hits, and Dean inexplicably opens a guitar case to remove a skateboard, which he rides about while Jan sings. The Beach Boys perform three songs, but they are so juiceless that you’d think they were zombiefied. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas emerge and fail to bring any life back to the proceedings.

But then, Motown reigns supreme thanks to The Supremes, who come out to perform several of their hits. Their number, like Chuck Berry’s, is polluted with bouncy dancers flopping around the stage – and if you look carefully you can spot a young Teri Garr in the mix.

After a brief and uninspiring interlude by The Barbarians, “The T.A.M.I. Show” finally catches its vibe when James Brown comes out. This was probably Brown’s greatest moment on stage and he brilliantly turns on the audience with his over-the-top, all-over-the-stage routine (complete with the one-legged skating dance and the limping-off–with-a-cape-only-to-return shtick). In fact, it is difficult to watch this without thinking of Eddie Murphy’s wicked hot tub parody. Yet for this production, Brown’s act was still fresh and the audience was caught off-guard by his energy (so were the mini-skirted dancers, some of whom tried to shoo him back on stage for an encore).

Closing the show (with the unenviable task of following James Brown) was the Rolling Stones. Perhaps the Stones have been around for so long that it is difficult to remember they were once young and fresh faced. Seeing Mick, Keith and company back before the fast living and hard drugs reshaped their visages is a happy shock. Mick Jagger’s style is somewhat nebulous here, lacking the melodramatic prancing which became his concert staple (or maybe he was just intimidated to follow James Brown’s similar act).

One of the problems with “The T.A.M.I. Show” is that it does not look like a concert movie. It actually looks like a an old black-and-white TV special, which is no accident: it was directed by Steven Binder, who helmed some memorable made-for-television rock fests including “Hullabaloo” and Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special, and it was shot on videotape. The videotape was transfered to film via a primitive process called Electronovision, but the transfer was not that great and (quite frankly) it is a visually unappealing production.

The film also has a somewhat amusing but often annoying audience of teenage girls who seem to scream wildly at everything and everyone. Even The Supremes and Leslie Gore get them worked up, which is mighty odd since it suggests the girl audience suddenly turned Sapphic.

“The T.A.M.I. Show” was theatrically released by American International Pictures in January 1965. But after its theatrical run, problems began. The sequence with the Beach Boys was removed due to a dispute over music clearance rights (their numbers, including one that was cut from the final print of the film, were presented in a 2004 DVD release covering the life of the band). Changes in the music scene prevented any theatrical re-release (this film dated almost immediately), but it managed to get some TV airdates in the early 1970s. Sixteen-millimeter prints were popular for a while (Quentin Tarantino reportedly acquired one), but then the film literally vanished by the mid-1970s. It has never been on home video, although parts of this film featuring the Rolling Stones and the African-American performers were incorporated with scenes from another concert movie (“The Big TNT Show” from 1966) for a 1980s straight-to-video release called “That Was Rock.”

Bootleg copies of “The T.A.M.I. Show” have been around for a long time, and in a few countries they’re even sold commercially. Dick Clark Productions owns the rights to “The T.A.M.I. Show,” but has not announced any plans for a DVD release. Even if plans were in the work, the expense in putting this out on DVD (a digital restoration plus clearing music rights and performance rights from all of the talent) would pretty much destroy whatever profit margins exist on this title.

Music fans and those hungry for 1960s nostalgia may have fun with this. While it is nowhere near perfect, it is a fascinating time capsule which offers a few surprises to those who find it.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on June 24, 2005 in Features by
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