Soundies: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray review

Aug 09, 2023- Permalink

I’ve been spending a few days exploring and enjoying Soundies: The Ultimate Collection, a new Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Soundies were WWII-era jukebox short films and these precursors to music videos could be seen on movie jukeboxes in bars. They spanned the breadth of popular music from big band and swing to folk and country. This new collection brings together artists like Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Hoagy Carmichael, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Doris Day, Duke Ellington, Spike Jones, Liberace, Gale Storm, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Merle Travis, and Fats Waller. The segments are introduced by Susan Delson, author of Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time. The four-disc set features 200 of these gems. The collection also does not shy away from the era’s racial, ethnic and gender stereotypes and some of the soundies reflect those views. The set also includes an illustrated 44-page booklet with essays by Susan Delson, Ellen C. Scott and Mark Cantor.

The 1080p AVC encoded digital transfer is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality of the various soundies depends on the still-existing source materials, with some scanned from damaged 16mm prints several generations from the original negative and others sourced from well-preserved 35mm original elements, but even the damaged soundies don’t detract from how amazing it is to be able to see them. Apart from any source issues, there’s no evidence of compression artifacts or digital noise from the transfer.

On the audio side of things, the set comes with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack and English SDH subtitles. Sound quality again depends on the source material and many performances feature some noise and background hiss. Did that distract me? No, not really, because again I was just so happy that these performances have been preserved.

The four-disc set comes with the aforementioned booklet and features several featurettes that look at the history of the soundies as well as the preservation work done to present them to us.

Physical media collectors can always expect to see new releases of the latest tentpole movie or timeless classics. Soundies: The Ultimate Collection is a testament to film preservation and it’s a ray of sunshine to see these get an HD presentation as opposed to being lost to the sands of time. Kudos to Kino Lorber and the Library of Congress for releasing this wonderful set. Definitely recommended to music and film history lovers.