J’aime le Scopitone

Françoise Hardy, france gall, nancy sinatra procul harum, scopitone, Serge Gainsbourg, sylvie vartan

My dad used to talk about how, back in the Sixties, they would watch ‘mainly French music videos’ in coffee shops on ‘video jukeboxes’. I never really got to the bottom of it, at the time, and it was only when someone actually gave me the word Scopitone that I finally worked out what on earth he’d been talking about. (According to him, that was the only possible reason that Johnny Hallyday had ever become so popular here).

The Scopitone phenomenon was never really adopted by British or American stars on the same scale as in continental Europe, despite the fact that there were hundreds of machines installed throughout the US, so it is mostly effective as a record of those beautiful Yé-yé stars who briefly invaded the consciousness of British coffee shop-dwelling teenagers.

“From an American consumer’s standard, not only were there so few available to watch, but half of these were in French, made on crummy, reddish film stock (which, over time, has gone from bad to worse). It’s no wonder the Scopitone’s already negligible popularity was surplanted by the growth of color television.Robin Edgerton, Le Scopitone!

It has also given us a handful of brilliant videos for some iconic English language Sixties pop songs, such as Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking and Procul Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale. These would prove valuable years later when music channels such as VH1 required videos for songs from this period.

I decided to blog about this after seeking out footage of France Gall singing ‘Baby Pop’. Her appearance in Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) is so hilarious, I needed to see the original. I’m somewhat disappointed by the lack of insane dancing there, but it did remind me to blog a few of my favourite examples of the genre.

6 thoughts on “J’aime le Scopitone

  1. Ah smashing! I used to spend hours on youtube watching old music videos from the ye ye girls and boys. I'd never heard of a scopitone before and I always wondered where these lovely albeit slightly odd videos would be shown, so thanks for settling that!Laurax

  2. The Bar Italia in Frith Street used to have a Scopitone Juke Box at the far end of the narrow bar – all on 16mm and not a very wide choice, nor changed frequently, and mostly in French.

  3. Scopitones are great. My parents used to watch them in the bars, and on TV.Some music halls and bars do revival Scopitone parties today in France.

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