The Scopitone

By The Cinémathèque française

The Scopitone was a device that started up automatically when you put a coin in the slot: a sort of jukebox, it showed color films with sound, also called Scopitone, projected on the inside of the box, and had a small ground-glass screen on which you could see the desired music video.

Scopitone ST 16, 1961, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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One of the first Scopitones, the ST 16, was manufactured and marketed by the Caméca company, Courbevoie, from 1961. This large box (182 cm high), covered with Formica, contained 36 reels of 16 mm Eastman color film with a magnetic sound track, with a maximum length of 50 m, in reels mounted on a rotating cylinder on a vertical axis.

Intérieur d'un projecteur Scopitone ST 36, 1961, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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Putting in a coin — a franc at that time — would illuminate a panel displaying the list of songs. The chosen title would control an electromagnet that would set the cylinder in motion. Thanks to an oscillating mirror, the film was continuously projected onto a fixed mirror that reflected the images onto the screen (30.5 x 40.5 cm) placed at the top of the device. This continuous rolling system had the advantage of extending the lifespan of the copies. The sound was played by a read head with an amplifier which had an output of 8 watts, and a speaker placed just below the screen.

Projecteur Scopitone ST 36, 1963, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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The Scopitone allowed people, usually in bars, to watch the very first music videos. Made very quickly, often in less than a day, on improvised sets, and with limited budgets, these videos lasted about 4 minutes each. Andrée Davis-Boyer, producer and director of Scopitones, was behind the creation of more than 500 videos, which earned her the nickname "Grandma Scopitone". A true pioneer, she managed to convince record companies of the value of releasing images of their artists. Shot in 16 mm to begin with, she later used 35 mm films in order to adapt as the machines developed. As well as the inevitable stars of the era, from Claude François to Sylvie Vartan, not forgetting Dalida or Serge Gainsbourg, the producer-director also filmed young performers who were just starting out, and helped to launch their careers.

Many young directors also got their start from this process, like Claude Lelouch, director of more than 80 videos, and even François Reichenbach, and other famous names like Jean-Christophe Averty or Gérard Sire.

Intérieur d'un projecteur Scopitone ST 36, 1963, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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Another device of the same type, the Cinematic 50, was created in 1966. It worked on the same principle, but with 50 reels of Super 8 film with magnetic sound. It was 216 cm high.

Cinematic 50, 1966, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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The selection panel had 50 slides that lit up to show the titles to chose from: Henri Salvador, Abba, les Chats Sauvages... as well as a selection of music videos shot with stars from Algeria, Lebanon, or Egypt: Mohamed Mazouni, Abdel Halim Hafez, Farid el Atrache, Om Kalsoum, who were very successful in postcolonial France.

Cinématic 50, 1966, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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Cinématic 50, 1966, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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One of the last models based on this principle, the Wurlitzer Lasergraph (with a height of 228 cm) marked the end of the system (the Caméca company ceased production in 1974).Made in 1984, the Lasergraph was equipped with an automatic changer for 15 laser video discs. These were read by an adapted Philips VLP830 Laservision. James Brown or Elton John would appear in exchange for 5 francs. This machine was a bit absurd, since the automatic reading of 30 cm laser discs — a technology that would have a short lifespan — only allowed music videos to be viewed on a simple Sony Trinitron television. It was therefore no longer a projector, as the old Scopitones had been.

Lasergraph Würlitzer Kombi, 1984, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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