By : Mike Clark | Posted: 22 Mar 2010
Featuring The Rolling Stones, The Supremes, James Brown.
The most dynamic show biz performance I’ve ever seen appears near the end of this revered but (until now) haphazardly distributed rock ‘n’ roll revue when James Brown at his hardest-working left a crater in the stage that the poor Rolling Stones were left to fill.
The story goes that a worried Keith Richards was chain-smoking backstage and likely thinking of more benign times — as when, say, Dean Martin insulted the Stones on ABC’s “Hollywood Palace” (“I’ve been rolled when I’ve been stoned” was just the beginning). The group comes remarkably close to salvaging the T.A.M.I. situation — it helps that their segment is exceptionally well shot and edited — but truth is, there’s only one person whose performance conceivably may have been more impressive. That would be the dry cleaner charged with removing the scuff marks from Brown’s pants from all the times his knees hit the floor.
The acronym stood for Teenage America Music International, and the show was conceived as one in a full series of music concerts that did not come to be. Shot in late October 1964 at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, it utilized the then high-def video “Electronovision process” — which producer Bill Sargent had recently employed with his theatrical presentation of Richard Burton in Hamlet. Teachers encouraged students to see the latter and even organized high-school field trips. They were not so forthcoming to trek their teens down to witness two hours of screaming California peers (5,000 or so) for an extravaganza emceed by those anti-Bards Jan and Dean (skateboards on hand).
The guys lead off by noting that concert opener Chuck Berry started it all “back in 1958” (talk about a time machine that needs a Jiffy Lube), but from then on the show rarely misses a beat. The set looks like a Go-Go joint — with well-endowed women in bikinis gyrating on a high platform (at the end of the movie, with the entire cast on stage, Brown bee-lines for the most provocative-looking one). Or sometimes — along with male dancers and less flaunting-it femmes in T-shirts — the dancers flank performers or even come between them and the camera (as in Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch-Hike” number). One of them is Teri Garr, but you have to look quickly.
Even beyond the Stones, there’s some British Invasion (Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas) plus lots of spectacular Motown (the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Gaye oozing so much sex in a white tux that you’ll bet he didn’t have to go back to his hotel room after the show to read Saul Bellow’s Herzog, the No. 1 best-seller at the time). Plus Lesley Gore, whose pioneer feminist manifesto You Don’t Own Me holds up nearly as well as her snit-fit staple “It’s My Party.”
We also see the Beach Boys in spectacular form after being introduced by Jan and Dean (a privileged slice of rare history there). At one point long ago, the Boys had their footage removed from the few remaining T.A.M.I. prints — and they’re the oft-rumored reason it took such a Holy Grail eternity to clear the music rights for a legal DVD release (though bootlegs have abounded). In 2007, distributor First Look was so close to bringing it out that it sent out review copies, but again hopes were dashed. At least someone has been making up for lost time; the documentary has just been playing on PBS stations as well.
Serving up two hours of sheer exuberance, The T.A.M.I. Show is among my favorite movies ever — of any kind — and my No. 1 rock movie over close calls Woodstock and Stop Making Sense. It captures so many performers at their peak and certainly in their youth. It’s also of paramount historical importance because it offered the first chance a lot of white kids got to see the black artists whose records they bought — at least in sustained performance.
The commentary by director Steve Binder (almost as famous for having directed the 1968 Elvis “comeback” special) and music historian Don Waller is packed with info, and Binder confirms the longtime rumor that Glen Campbell and Leon Russell (at this time sporting short hair) were in the house band. Filmmaker John Landis, in an enthusiastic voiceover with the movie’s original trailer, informs us that he was at the actual concert as a teenager — which would have been 16 years before he directed James Brown in The Blues Brothers.