#303) The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)

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#303) The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)

OR “American Grandstand”

Directed by Steve Binder

Class of 2006

The Plot: Live on tape from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, it’s the biggest concert event of 1964! Filmed with the modern miracle of Electronovision, Teenage Awards Music International presents, in order of appearance: Chuck Berry! Gerry and the Pacemakers! Smokey Robinson and the Miracles! Marvin Gaye! Lesley Gore! Jan and Dean! The Beach Boys! Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas! The Supremes! The Barbarians! James Brown and the Famous Flames! And The Rolling Stones! It’s the best of the early ‘60s music scene, minus that one band from Liverpool whose asking price is waaaay above this show’s budget!

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “quite possibly the greatest rock and rhythm-and-blues concert on film”. The essay by rock/film expert David E. James focuses on director Steve Binder and the film’s Civil Rights-era racial unity.

But Does It Really?: “The T.A.M.I. Show” is the rare movie on this list that meets all three NFR criteria: culturally it’s an encapsulation of the Motown/British Invasion/Surf sounds of the ‘60s, historically it’s a representation of Electronovision, and aesthetically it’s just so damn entertaining. In short, “The T.A.M.I. Show” is the greatest American film ever made, and I will fight you on this one.

Everybody Gets One: Ev-er-y-bo-dy. Special Mention goes to future Oscar nominee Diana Ross; though God help us all if “The Wiz” ever makes the NFR cut.

Wow, That’s Dated: Nothing. This ‘60s shindig is as timeless as “Casablanca”.

Seriously, Oscars?: I doubt that “The T.A.M.I. Show” would have been eligible for an Oscar, but coincidentally, the 1964 Oscars were held at the same venue as “T.A.M.I.”: The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. That’s right, some of these rabid teenagers are sitting in the same seats one day occupied by the likes of Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.

Other notes

  • “The T.A.M.I. Show” was planned to be the first in a series of concert films whose proceeds would go to providing students with music scholarships. Sadly, that never happened, making the “T.A.M.I.” acronym completely irrelevant.
  • Executive producer Bill Sargent not only came up with the concept of “T.A.M.I.”, but the process of Electronovision as well. In essence, Electronovision was high-definition video that could be instantly converted to film without losing picture quality. Electronovision didn’t catch on, but the technology it inspired endures.
  • Is Chuck Berry up first so that all the other bands know who they’re stealing from? And where’s his cousin Marvin during all of this?
  • From “Maybelline” to Vaseline: what’s with the fuzzy camera lens on Gerry Marsden?
  • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were famous for a reason. Even in this brief appearance, they know how to put on a show.
  • Among the background dancers are Teri Garr (another future Oscar nominee) and Toni Basil (this show’s assistant choreographer).
  • Marvin Gaye’s post-Motown work is better, but “Can I Get a Witness” is pretty damn flawless.
  • How much hairspray was used in this concert? Lesley Gore alone is probably the reason we’re all doomed.
  • If all of Lesley Gore’s songs are about the same guy, I am very concerned for her well-being. “Maybe I know that he’s been untrue/but what can I do?” Leave his ass, girl!
  • “Sidewalk Surfin’” is about that brand new phenomenon called skateboarding! And yes, it’s “Catch a Wave” with re-written lyrics, but Jan and Dean did so with Brian Wilson’s permission.
  • Of the British groups on the roster, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas are the most obvious Beatles copycats. Case in point: Lennon & McCartney wrote three of the songs on their set list.
  • The screaming teenage girls in this audience are experiencing Beatlemania-mania: Not Beatlemania, but an incredible simulation.
  • You can definitely see Diana Ross emerging as the Supremes’ breakout star. There’s even an extended close-up of her during “Where Did Our Love Go”. Did Berry Gordy sneak into the control booth?
  • The Barbarians were the shortest-lived of the groups featured in “T.A.M.I.”, lasting from 1964 to 1967. I guess we weren’t ready to revisit the Dark Ages back then.
  • James Brown’s performance is all the proof you need that he was indeed “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”. The volcanic energy he possesses in his performance is unparalleled. Plus we get “Please, Please, Please” and his legendary cape routine!
  • The Rolling Stones did not want to follow James Brown, but they make a satisfying conclusion to “T.A.M.I.” nonetheless. You can see Mick and Keith’s appeal from the start: they’re the only Brits on the program not mimicking the Beatles. And 55 years later, time is truly on their side.

Legacy

  • “The T.A.M.I. Show” more or less disappeared after its theatrical run, partly due to copyright issues with the music (notably the Beach Boys). Bootleg copies kept the film’s legacy going, and “The T.A.M.I. Show” finally got a proper DVD release in 2010, four years after its NFR induction.
  • Director Steve Binder became the undisputed king of filmed concerts thanks in part to “T.A.M.I.”. Follow-up specials included “The Elvis ‘68 Comeback Special”, “Diana Ross Live in Central Park” and…“The Star Wars Holiday Special”?
  • American International Pictures made an unrelated follow-up concert film: 1965’s “The Big T.N.T. Show”, featuring an equally impressive line-up of talent. Footage from both films was combined for the 1984 retrospective “That Was Rock”.
  • Every live HD event owes a debt of gratitude to Electronovision. Bill Sargent tinkered with adding color to the process during the ‘70s, and gave us “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert”.
  • I am not chronicling the post-“T.A.M.I.” careers of every performer in this film. Suffice it to say that between them all, these people/groups have broken up, are still touring, died, become international superstars, found Jesus, left the business entirely, and consumed an unfathomable amount of drugs.

Listen to This: I’ve previously covered the Beach Boys’ and Rolling Stones’ NRR entries, but now we can add to that list Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”, James Brown and the Famous Flames’ “Live at the Apollo”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears”, and The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go”. Still suspiciously absent from the Registry is anything by Lesley Gore.

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