Music Video

4 Visual Jukebox 1: Soundies

A certain routine in the production of short music films was introduced in the United States in 1939 in the form of so-called soundies: short, approximately three-minute-long, black-and-white music films in 16-mm format, which could be watched on visual jukeboxes. The soundies usually featured famous jazz musicians and already offered a broad palette of ideas for staging. The acoustic and visual presence of the performers and the esthetic presentation of the music they played was juxtaposed or intertwined, for example, in the short film made to Count Basie’s Take Me Back, Baby in 1941. This is particular evident when the staging of live performance functions as the visual realization of the framing instrumental parts, while the central vocal passages are translated into a visual narrative that interprets the song lyrics. By contrast, the photographer Gjon Mili opted for a direct visual translation of musical structures for his film Jammin’ the Blues, produced together with Norman Granz, using dance interludes and superimpositions that produced kaleidoscope effects, which were then taken up again in a similar context thirty-one years later in Bruce Gowers’ video for Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (1975). One clear homage to these jazz soundies was the prizewinning video directed by Godley & Creme for Every Breath You Take by the Police in 1983.