Thursday, October 26, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Soundies: The Ultimate Collection - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

SOUNDIES: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION, was released this summer by Kino Lorber in partnership with the Library of Congress.

SOUNDIES is an absolutely stupendous collection of short musical films from the 1940s. The only reason I haven't reviewed it more quickly is the set's size, 200 shorts plus introductions and extras, spread across four discs. It's provided many hours of happy viewing.

Some readers may know about Soundies from the great series Turner Classic Movies hosted in the summer of 2022. For those who are new to Soundies, they are musical shorts, typically about three minutes long, which were produced for coin-operated jukeboxes called Panorams in the 1940s.

Famed jazz and big band musicians such as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa, and Count Basie made Soundies, along with rising performers such as Doris Day and Ricardo Montalban. 

Some of my all-time favorite singers, like Nat King Cole and the Mills Bros., also appeared in Soundies. Liberace, Fats Waller, the King Sisters, Dorothy Dandridge, Gale Storm, and many more great performers can be found in the set as well.

I've been familiar with the concept of Soundies for some years thanks to my late jazz collector father, who actually used to attend L.A.-area screenings hosted by Mark Cantor, one of the historians featured in this set. It was at such a screening, in fact, that my father met Fayard Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers and got his autograph.

Occasionally my dad would come across a Soundie on YouTube and email me the link, but until this set I had only seen a handful.

The Soundies in this set come from a variety of musical genres including jazz, swing, boogie-woogie, and country. They're grouped into half a dozen "programs" of eight Soundies apiece, which is how they were presented on Soundie machines in the '40s. Most of the Soundies programs were grouped especially for this set, but each disc concludes with a reel of eight songs as originally created to play on a Panoram. Each program contains an interesting introduction which provides context and adds to the enjoyment.

I'd be hard-pressed to name favorites, as it's a succession of good music. Most of the songs chosen for the set are bouncy and upbeat, leaving the viewer in a cheery mood.

It's a fascinating collection which melds musical entertainment with important cultural history. In addition to the enjoyment of watching the shorts, there's also a great deal of listening value; along with watching the movies, the programs can also simply be listened to. It's a movie or a music jukebox, as one prefers!

Print quality varies considerably. Some Soundies, restored from 35mm elements, are pristine; others are rough. As Susan Delson explains in her introduction to Soundies, it was very common for sound and lips not to be synchronized properly, so those flaws are inherent to the material.

I found all of Delson's comments particularly interesting, such as her note that 20% of all Soundies featured black performers; that ratio increases to a third of the Soundies in this set. One of the notable things about Soundies is that they were made by and marketed to a much wider ethnic and racial cross-section of America than feature films of the same era.

In addition to Cantor and Delson, the other historians providing introductions are Ina Archer and Matt Barton.

This four-disc set is accompanied by a glossy 44-page booklet with essays by Cantor, Delson, and Ellen C. Scott, along with a thorough disc-by-disc listing of the music. (Readers with aging eyes may need a magnifying glass; so much information had to be presented in fairly tiny print.) There's also an interview with Cantor and additional interviews with Matt Barton and Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress. The set comes in a cardboard slipcase.

This set provides many hours of watching, reading, and listening enjoyment, and it's also an extremely educational piece of musical, film, and cultural history. Very highly recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

This set 'soundies' absolutely wonderful! I have seen one or two of the Ellington soundies and they are filmed to show the band at its exciting best. Many bands and singers here that I love to listen to. Seeing them perform them just adds to it hugely. This set is a must!

11:24 PM  

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