All that is dull and predictable in modern rock-show films — caffeinated-jitter edits, hagiographic close-ups, the cheesy melodrama backstage — can be traced to this fact: The best example of how to do it right, The T.A.M.I. Show — a 12-act revue topped by James Brown and the Rolling Stones, shot live in Los Angeles with a delirious audience on October 29th, 1964 — has been officially unavailable, in its entirety, for more than four decades. The T.A.M.I. Show: Collector's Edition (Shout! Factory) is the movie's first release on DVD. Class starts now.
The first lesson: Get to the music, immediately. After breezy opening scenes of the artists heading to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium — Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in a limo, hosts Jan and Dean on skateboards — director Steve Binder (who later directed Elvis Presley's 1968 TV special) jumps to a sly, bracing zigzag of Fifties roots and Liverpool cheek, Chuck Berry alternating hits with Gerry and the Pacemakers. Everything follows at the same velocity — Marvin Gaye's manly lust into Lesley Gore's vengeful-schoolgirl sugar; the proto-garage rock of the Barbarians.
There are also long, magnetic highs, when a single camera finds a thrill and stays there. When the Beach Boys (with a smiling Brian Wilson on bass) leap into "Dance, Dance, Dance" like the Ramones with tans, you see Dennis Wilson racing at the drums like Keith Moon during all of Carl Wilson's guitar solo. In "Prisoner of Love," Brown's face slowly fills the lens as he staggers offstage, in his cape, before spinning back to the mike for more spectacular agony.
The Stones follow Brown's set (the first time many white teens saw such black fire) with a prophetic mettle. The extended leaping-devil shots of Mick Jagger capture him sharpening the sex and danger in his own R&B choreography. Note the glimpses of a cocky, grinning Brian Jones and, too, the way Keith Richards plays guitar while facing drummer Charlie Watts. Some things, even in rock-concert films, never change.
[From Issue 1099 — March 4, 2010]