…in which I celebrate the 4th of July by watching a bunch of Italian television from before the Bicentennial.
A few years ago, when YouTube was just getting going, one of the first viral videos that really stuck with me was a performance of Andriano Celentano’s Prisencolinensinainciusol. It appealed to me on two levels. First was the song itself, done by the Italian singer in order to mimic how American-accented English sounds to people who don’t understand English. So while the song is complete and utter gibberish, it actually sounds like words. Also, many credit Prisencolinensinainciusol with being one of the first popular rap songs to become a hit.
But what has really stuck with me about that viral video was the actual video itself. Even though it was from 1974, it was in glorious black and white:
It’s a clip from an 8-episode variety series, Milleluci, which aired from March thru May of 1974. It was hosted by the amazing blonde featured in the the Prisencolinensinainciusol number, Raffaella Carrà. She sang the opening credits and was featured in many times.
The first test broadcast was not until 1972; the 1972 Olympics were broadcast in two competing versions of color TV (PAL and SECAM, if you’re keeping score). Fortunately for my purposes in 2015, dithering over format, economic challenges, and plain ol’ Italian politics stalled full color broadcasting until 1977. (Click here for way too much about this.)
A lot of my earliest television memories are of 1970s variety shows like The Carol Burnett Show, Sonny & Cher, and Donnie and Marie. When I was a kid, it seemed everyone had a variety show.
Even the Captain and Tenielle had one. It featured a bionic watermelon.
Seeing things similar to childhood memories in black and white is a rather jarring thing. For me, it’s adds about ten years to my age. When I was a kid, the only things in black and white were old movies, The Little Rascals, and reruns of the first season of Lost in Space. Variety shows were in full living color; I think everyone knows the exact color of Carol Burnett’s dress from that Gone with the Wind spoof. When I watch these clips, I am free to imagine each color. Watch this dance number done to Hot Butter’s 1972 instrumental hit Popcorn, and try not to imagine the dancers in red, white and blue. (USA! USA! USA!):
Freed of color these clips allow you to focus on other aspects of the numbers. Like the weird way Lola Falana can move her head:
Moreover, shooting in black and white forced the producers to employ tricks like the mirrors that are so prominent in the Prisencolinensinainciusol video or fancy-boy editing like in this version of Proud Mary, clearly shot in the same studio as the Milleluci clips:
Watching these black and white clips makes me wonder how much not being in color would’ve improved upon some the dreck of the era. Sorta like how footage from Vietman looks harrowing while pretty much the same footage in WWII black and white seems somehow noble.