Friday, September 25, 2015

The 1951 DuMont Teleset

One of the most gorgeous features of the treasure trove of old ads I just discovered on YouTube is a whole series of ads for the DuMont television set (which is what it was called back then). These ads were performed live on variety shows with singers, dancers and comedians doing their stuff. Some of the ads featured a male chorus singing radio-style ditties praising the superior clarity of the DuMont picture. I remember TV from the late '50s on, and in no way, shape or form was the picture "clear". It wobbled all over the place. It flipped. It developed noisy static and went all white and grainy. We didn't care because we had nothing to compare it to. This 1951 DuMont set must have been much more primitive. For all that, it has a much larger screen than the earlier models from the 1940s which were only a few inches across.

Back then, you didn't say "watch TV" - you said "look at television". It's one of those quaintitudes that disappeared at a certain point (like exclaiming "saaaaaay!" at the beginning of every sentence). But if you listened to the radio, you - what? Looked at television, as in "stop, look and listen". Or something. Even the terminology was unfamiliar. People marvelled at the new technology, but were a little scared and intimidated by it all.

By now you may be noting a certain bizarre feature of these very early DuMont commercials. The hostess or whatever you call her is not opening out the cabinet doors to display the "teleset". She always CLOSES the doors to cover the screen up. I think there's a reason for this. People just weren't used to having this honking big open eye, this shiny piece of glass staring at them in their living room. It was not uncommon for the uninitiated to believe that the people on television could see them. It was more modest, somehow, to keep that thing closed away until viewing time. It looked more like a piece of furniture that way. Maybe a radio.

No one knew how to display a product visually in those days - thus the catchy jingles sung in four-part harmony like a Barbasol ad. A woman walked in, shut the doors on the ghastly thing, and walked off. That was about all the movement people could handle in those days. These television commercials for televisions were meant to waft out into Televisionland only once, as everything was done live and couldn't be repeated. These ghostly remainders come from kinescopes, a primitive way to film a program directly from the camera monitor. I like the smudgy, shadowy, phosphorescent atmosphere of them, a sense of technological antiquity. In many cases they're all we have left of the baby years of TV, when the DuMont network reigned supreme before disappearing into the abyss of obsolescence.

This flickering image of a DuMont Teleset, with doors closed, appeared onscreen for nearly a full minute, with only the slick male chorus to remind us of what they were selling. Come on, folks - buy the new 1951 DuMont - uh - whatever-this-is.

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Gifsforum: where art thou?

This is one of the best film leaders I've giffed in a long time

But I'm still not satisfied with it.

Want to know WHY??

Because Makeagif, the program I use now, only makes a straight gif in a small size (or a grainy larger size). The time limit on them is 20 seconds.

Gifsforum, the beloved site I used for years, had all sorts of options: forward and reverse; color into black-and-white or sepia; captions top and bottom; three different speeds; and in olden times, all sorts of different effects so that your gif could look something like a film negative or an impressionist painting.You could also set it to tenths of a second and make gifs from full-length movies. The time limit was 30 seconds.

Then one day, my beloved Gifsforum simply disappeared.

What is even more frustrating is that I can't find ANY information on this. I don't know what happened. Gifsforum has a Facebook page, but it is three years out of date. Usually you'll get something on somebody's forum somewhere. I don't know why people aren't complaining or at least saying something, but they're not. There's nothing, and that never happens on the internet, does it? This was, as far as I know, the most popular and user-friendly gif site, was easy and fast to use and produced a great result. Then it disappeared and nobody said anything.

There are plenty of other sites, and most are shitty or impossible to use. Makeagif has improved quite a bit from its abominable beginnings. Makes me wonder if Gifsforum somehow melded together with Makeagif like Jeff Goldblum and the fly in the teleporter.

Anyway, though this is a superb film leader and one of the best I've ever found, if I still had Gifsforum I could run it on fast, normal or slow speed, run it backwards, and run it in sepia tones. Damn.

Defunct and loving it

When I find a YouTube playlist called Commercials for Defunct Products I'm thrilled, but when I find out that this is a trove of 107 videos, each running 10 - 15 minutes, I am ecstatic and ready to begin firing up the gif machine.

In many cases I haven't even included the name of the product, but who cares? They gif up so nicely because they're unfocused and full of blips and those scratchy-looking things that have no name. There is quite a bit of repetition here, as most of them were taken out of that archive that I can never quite figure out how to use.

These videos heavily emphasize ads for obsolete cars, Studebaker and DeSoto among them;  Raleigh cigarettes (Raleigh coupons were the key to a good life in the early '60s and could furnish your whole house); more cereal ads than you even want to look at (including the fad of "fruit in the box", which must have been completely dessicated); and, of course, PREAM! I have given Pream its own post of gifs which isolate the reaction shots, in which baffled husbands (usually) have a "what the -?" look on their stupid faces, not knowing if their coffee is full of cream or powdered milk solids that don't dissolve worth a damn and probably sink to the bottom in a disgusting sludge.

There's one Pream ad that I just could not bring myself to gif: a shot of a whitish liquid squirting into a pail, with the announcer shouting, "Here it comes!" Turns out the guy was milking a COW, but. . .well. . . I won't say what it reminded me of.

These videos also include some of the oldest TV ads ever, obviously taken from kinescopes in the 1940s. TV back then was radio with pictures crossed with vaudeville, and the result was a bastard child that baffles us today. During ad time, the host of the show stepped out in front of the curtains (these shows were acted out live on-stage) and pushed whatever the sponsor was pushing, often home permanents or Stinko deodorant. (No, that's Stopette.) In one amazing clip, Arthur Godfrey sits on-stage with a massive headset on and radio paraphernalia all around him. Quite literally, radio on TV.

The ads show an interesting historical time progression:

- smudgy late '40s kinescopes of clowns running around on a stage;

- neat and tidy, Eisenhower-esque tableaux of families smoking Bel-Air cigarettes;

- spontaneous-looking early-'60s  ads involving "real" people talking into the camera while eating         cereal with dessicated fruit in it;

- "swingin' '60s" ads in hideous faded formerly-psychedelic colour;

. . . and finally. . . 

- '70s ads which are really very hard to describe, kind of like a frenetic polyester-clad high school musical.

One product, a deodorant called Tickle, looks exactly like a vibrator, sports an an "extra-wide ball" and depicts women giggling seductively with a voiceover saying, "Make yourself happy".

I'm only halfway through all these, not even, and I do them late at night. I made gifs all morning and don't have as many to show for it as I thought. The thing is, even with all the negative feeling I've had about Facebook lately, I had an out-and-out crisis when someone I've known since childhood posted a blatantly racist video about "the Muslims". That little word "the" obviously includes the entire category (though people deny it up, down and sideways - there's a lot of that going on these days).

So it's back to the gifs. If I do Facebook at all, I'm going to be VERY quick to unfriend and unfollow if anything bothers me even a little. It's my Facebook and I'll do what I want to. I will hide and chop and cut myself loose. I'm not going to read that list of comments down the side any more because most of them don't even apply to me, and besides, how will that make my life better? Some of the people I've been following are completely insane. One of them claimed to be married to the ghost of Louis Riel (even changed her Facebook status!). It was scary. And I am tired of people trying to argue me out of my opinions. Arm-twisting and veiled racist hate was never my cup of tea.

Dirty Aftermath. Oh OK. I'll show you the Pream commercial that made me wonder. It makes me wonder because when you milk a cow, the milk goes DOWN instead of sideways, and is usually done with two hands so you have TWO, well, what can I say, "spurts" going alternately. Don't you? Just what were they trying to show us here? This is made especially questionable when the announcer shouts, "HERE IT COMES!"

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Pream or cream?

WANT MORE? Here you go!