June 12, 2020

The T.A.M.I. (1964)
Grade: 73/100

Director: Steve Binder
Stars: James Brown, Chuck Berry, Lesley Gore

What it's about. The First Annual Teenage Awards Music International was a two-night indoor concert filmed in Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The multi-tiered stage was big, and the crowd consisted of local teenagers who attended for free and shrieked throughout. How did the producers intend to make money? The concert was filmed, and the mono black and white movie was shown in theaters, although for many years the film was unavailable except in abridged bootlegs.

It was the height of the British Invasion, and England is represented by three groups, The Rolling Stones (who close the concert); Gerry and the Pacemakers; and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. African-American artists are represented by the best of Motown: The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and The Miracles, as well as non-Motown acts James Brown and Chuck Berry. Teen pop is represented by Lesley Gore; and surfer acts include The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. The latter host the show.

All performers were hitmakers on the Billboard charts during 1964, with the exception of The Barbarians, an obscure rock band that performs only one song. One wonders whether the producer owned the band's manager any favors.

Although The Rolling Stones eventually rivalled The Beatles in importance, at the time of the concert they had only one Top Ten hit in the States. Likewise, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown had careers on the rise, but the future would be mostly downhill for Jan and Dean, Lesley Gore, Billy J. Kramer, and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

All, or at least most, of the artists are backed by a house band and several dancers, imported from the television series "Shindig!", then in production. The house band included Glen Campbell, and the dancers included Toni Basil (later of "Mickey" fame), and Teri Garr.

There never was a Second Annual T.A.M.I show, though the producers did follow up in 1965 with The Big T.N.T. Show, another filmed pop concert with significant stars: The Lovin' Spoonful, The Byrds, the Ronettes, Donovan, Roger Miller, Tina Turner. But it lacked the climactic live performances of James Brown and The Rolling Stones, which explains its relative obscurity. The T.A.M.I. Show was added to the National Film Registry, while The Big T.N.T. Show lacked Mr. Dynamite, despite its title.

The fame of The T.A.M.I. Show mostly rests on the broad shoulder of James Brown. He does the splits, he falls to one knee, he dances across the room on one leg, and in all regards makes the other performers look like they belong in a high school talent show, at least in terms of visual impact. That is not to knock the performances of Diana Ross, Mick Jagger, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Brian Wilson, or Chuck Berry. They also represented the best of 1964 popular music sans The Beatles, who go without mention throughout the film. The producers could not afford them.

How others will see it. Despite innumerable showings on PBS over the years, The T.A.M.I. Show has surprisingly few user votes at imdb.com: only 620. The user ratings, though, are exceptionally high at 8.4 out of 10. The over 45 crowd, who has greater respect for the artists, grades it highest (8.5), while those under 45 see it a bit lower (8.0). The user reviews are packed with praise and nostalgia, and nobody seems to mind the endlessly screaming teenagers or the occasional Vaseline on the camera borders.

How I felt about it. It is almost painful to watch natural balladeer Gerry Marsden be obliged to rock and roll. Also under the thumb of his manager is Billy J. Kramer, who would like to rock out but remains condemned to to crank out the bubblegum. Genuine teenager Lesley Gore is better live than expected, but nonetheless crowds out more deserving artists of the day, such as The Kinks or The Four Tops. On the whole, though, The T.A.M.I. Show is a wonderful historical document, the best video to see the classic Stones lineup and James Brown at his most amazing.