Steve Binder, The T.A.M.I. Show, 1964, Electronovision, black-and-white, sound, 123 minutes.


CONSIDERED THE FIRST ROCK-’N’-ROLL-CONCERT FILM, The T.A.M.I. Show turns fifty this year, though its unsurpassed exuberance, not just onstage but also off it, assures that it will remain forever young. The acronym in the title stands for the unwieldy “Teenage Awards Music International,” a tag that’s partially misleading. No competition was staged (which isn’t to say that there’s no one-upping) and no prizes handed out, though of the twelve acts assembled, three were indeed from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. These British-invasion bands (Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Rolling Stones) shared the stage with Motown stars (the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes), surf-pop groups (the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, the latter also serving as the concert’s doofusy hosts), and four other luminaries in as many different genres—none more thrilling than Mr. Dynamite himself, James Brown.

Filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 29, 1964, in front of a screaming, jacked-up crowd of three thousand (primarily students from a nearby high school), The T.A.M.I. Show was directed by Steve Binder, who later in the decade would helm the music-variety TV show Hullabaloo and Elvis Presley’s ’68 comeback special, broadcast on NBC. (Jack Nitzsche, one of Phil Spector’s most prominent lieutenants, was the musical director.) Binder shot the concert on television cameras in Electronovision—an early hi-def video system—then transferred it to 35 mm via kinescope. I don’t know whether there’s a proper term for the Vaseline-smeared lens (Lube-o-Vision?) used for the close-ups of Lesley Gore and her Aqua-Netted flips as she performs her emancipation proclamation “You Don’t Own Me.” But the effect, rather than being irredeemably corny, gives a touching tawdry gravitas to Gore’s soaring vocals as she demands her independence. The singer, only eighteen at the time and soon bound for Sarah Lawrence, is the most eager of the concert’s acts to connect with the audience members, who are roughly the same age she is; she smiles, waves, says “Hi there!” softly into the microphone. Two lines in “You Don’t Own Me” could serve as a tagline for The T.A.M.I. Show: “I’m young, and I love to be young / I’m free, and I love to be free.”

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James Brown's 18-minute performance in The T.A.M.I. Show (1964).

Yet some of those shrieking teens were freer than others. The T.A.M.I. Show was recorded three months after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. Significantly, the concert—even if attended mostly by white kids (and specifically white girls)—was integrated, extending to the corps of wildly frugging backup dancers, who include Teri Garr and Toni Basil. Yet not even their speed-of-light hip gyrations could match the electrifying moves of Brown, the show’s penultimate entertainer. (Much to JB’s displeasure, the Stones concluded the concert; Mick Jagger, dazed by what he’s just seen from the wings, appears slightly terrified as he takes to the stage.) Brown’s four-song, eighteen-minute set—consisting of “Out of Sight,” “Prisoner of Love,” “Please, Please, Please,” and “Night Train”—essentially marked the first time he performed his raw R&B for a predominantly white audience. He shimmies across the stage on one foot, does splits, and, during “Please, Please, Please,” enacts his legendary cycle of collapsing, being comforted and bedraped, and restorming the mic. (Some of the Godfather of Soul’s T.A.M.I. set—and its effect on the five pasty, skinny newcomers who followed it—is re-created in the recently released JB biopic, Get On Up.) Part Pentecostal preacher, part sex machine, Brown initiated every one of the adolescents at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, regardless of race or gender, into adulthood.

Melissa Anderson

The T.A.M.I. Show screens Sunday, August 31, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of the series “James Brown: The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”