Saturday, March 27, 2010
Trade Test Colour Films
With hundreds of channels of nonsense on TV nowadays, it is hard to imagine a time when there simply wasn't enough TV programming to fill the airwaves over the course of the day. In the 1960s, the repertoire of most TV stations was far too thin to span the gap between breakfast and dinner. As a stopgap measure, some networks like the BBC turned to pre-made "trade test colour" films, which were sponsored by huge corporations like Philips and BP and looped ad nauseum through the daylight hours. They were primarily for use by those in the "trade" — i.e., electronics dealers wanting to demo color TVs in shop windows. But through sheer repetition, along with snappy titles like "Prospects for Plastics" and "L for Logic," they also seem to have entered the popular imagination in a nearly subliminal way.
They tended to be chamber-of-commerce friendly travelogues through the industries or natural spoils of a given area — the post office in England, the railroads in Canada, light technology, national parks, the mechanics of food safety, etc. Because of their canned, pre-packaged nature, the trade test films strike me as a kind of tele-visual equivalent of library music. And this is not only because their soundtracks were often extremely weird and interesting. They also have a fleeting, disposable feel that gives them a certain archeological interest, and that lends itself to the database-gathering mentality that a lot of record collectors have. The grainy, pigmenty 16mm stock is also pure confection to my eyes, especially in the landscape films. The colors are so saturated and beautiful (check out the green grass in "Atlantic Parks" below). Really arresting fonts and title sequences too. You can get a glimpse of the striking visuals of other trade test films here.
Below are some clips of my favorite trade test colour transmissions, followed by a mix that is built largely around the incidental music found within them (along with some other stuff.) The first clip is about the Philips-sponsored Evoluon museum in the Netherlands. Strange electronic plinky plonky soundtrack by Jaap Hofland. "Light," the second clip, gets more and more J.G. Ballard as it moves from natural to artificial light. Haunting music in that one by Hans Kox. "Multiplicity" might be my personal favorite. "Canada...the land! A land of promise!"
And here is the mix, which along with the trade test stuff includes Peter Schulthorpe's Sven Libaek-esque score to the early Helen Mirren film Age of Consent.
Die Gänseprinzessin und ihr Pferd Falada - Zdenek John
A Wish - Desmond Briscoe and Vera Gray
The Captive River - Sam Sklair
Multiplicity - Larry Crosley
Fire - Johnny Dankworth
Evoluon - Jaap Hofland
Crown of Glass - Misha Donat
Underwater Menace - Tristram Cary
The Rebel - Basil Kirchin
Haru - Jun Fukamachi/Bando Tamasaburo V
Light - Hans Kox
Age of Consent theme - Peter Sculthorpe
Mensch - Karl-Ernst Sasse
Ma Bu - Kim Choo Ja
Imaginons - Jean Schwarz
Big Ram - Sam Sklair
Melodic Percussion - Vera Gray
Age of Consent (Cora) - Peter Sculthorpe
The Bio Song