Friday, October 26, 2007

Night Watch

The Return of NIGHT FLIGHT?

I think Scott "Unpainted" Huffines would agree with me that USA Network's '80s series Night Flight (1981-1988) was probably the greatest inspiration and influence on our late '90s public access show Atomic TV (the show even had a regular Cold War Scare Films segment called "Atomic TV"!). Not that we ever ascended the lofty programming heights of that storied program. Bootleg copies of individual shows have popped up on the Internet over the years, but now comes word that on October 11, 2007, television producer - and Night Flight creator - Stuart S. Shapiro acquired the Night Flight library, copyrights and trademarks, and that he is preparing for a relaunch of the show both online and on television. That's great news because Night Flight really created the template for innumerable pop culture TV variety shows and Web broadcasts, a template that in many cases is still being used today. For example, Night Flight played music videos before MTV and played "bad movies" with voiceover wisecracks decades before the Mystery Science Theatre franchise. (They also parodied good movies, like George Melies A Trip to the Moon.)

I don't today's high tech generation - with the Internet, YouTube, Video Streaming, Podcasts, iPods, Nanos, Cell Phones that play music and video, Bit Torrent Downloads, TiVo, Hi-Def TVs and On Demand Everything - can truly appreciate how important this show was in the nascent days of video. Those of us who lived in the '80s remember all too well how video-challenged we were because MTV didn't hit the scene until 1981, VCRs weren't mass-produced until the mid-'70s (and were very expensive, like Hi-Def TVs today, when they did hit the shelves), and CDs weren't even invented until 1979 (becoming available only many years later). Back then Night Flight was a show you literally had to stay up to watch in the wee small houys because there was no TiVo and only Gerry Todd video geeks or industry professionals could afford to buy VCRs. But people like Scott and I did stay up bleary-eyed, because it was well worth it. If only to see gems like Dynaman (forerunner of The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers),


...or Diane Lane as a teenage punk rock sexpot in a see-through fishnet top in Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabulous Stains (which also featured bit roles by Fee Waybill and Vince Welnick of The Tubes and, as "The Professionals," Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook and Clash bassist Paul Simenon backing up frontman Ray Winstone!),


(This clip is from Sarah Jacobson's 2004 short doc The Making of "Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains," which is available as an extra on the DVD of Sam Green's documentary The Rainbow Man/John 3:16.)

...or to be amazed by the incredibly strange cartoons and shorts like Russian stop-motion genius Wladyslaw Starewicz's "Devil's Ball" segment from his 1934 film Fetiche - the latter an obvious influence on the Quay Brothers work decades later.


News about the possible resurfacing of the show comes from Wikipedia, and the entry there provides as good a description of the Night Flight phenomenon as any:
Night Flight was a ground breaking television program on the USA Network from 1981-1988 which ran for four hours on Friday and Saturday nights then repeated into the wee hours of the morning. USA's Up All Night starring Rhonda Shear (and, later, Gilbert Gottfried) would replace it in 1988. It was later revived through syndication in 1990, with a single season of new episodes before the format was changed to "best of" shows from the USA years with host Tom Juarez. These shows were seen as late as 1996 on local TV stations.

Night Flight was one of the first places to see films and shorts not generally aired on broadcast television or on the pay-per movie channels such as HBO. It was the first place many Americans were able to see music documentaries like Another State of Mind, The Grateful Dead Movie, and Word, Sound and Power. Night Flight was also one of the first American television shows to display the music video as an art form, rather than purely as a promotional tool for the artists. And, with the freedom had by them on early (and late-night) cable television, they would at times show portions of videos that were censored (or in some cases, banned) by MTV and other outlets.

In the original format of the show, there was no formal host. Voice-over introductions were made by Pat Prescott before segments started.

There were a number of recurring segments on the show, but my faves were the Bela Lugosi Monogram movies, Dynaman (an English-dubbed parody of six episodes of the Super Sentai series Kagaku Sentai: Dynaman - you know this series because footage was later used on The Power Rangers!), Love That Bob (Church of the Sub-Genius) (a serialized presentation of the Sub-Genius video Arise!), Peter Ivers LA-punk centered New Wave Theatre (Ivers, who penned "In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)" for David Lynch's Eraserhead, was later found bludgeoned to death in his Los Angeles apartment in 1983), the even better late-'80s Brit alternative music show Snub TV (featuring music by unknown bands and directed by former Rough Trade Records employee and video director Peter Fowler), and cult movies like (the still out-of-print) Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, Frank Hennelotter's Frankenhooker (1990), Fantastic Planet (the 1973 animated sci-fi film by René Laloux) and (the also out-of-print) Dr. Caligari (directed by Stephen Sayadian, aka as Rinse Dream, the director such X-rated art films as Cafe Flesh (1982), Night Dreams (1981) and my personal favorite, Party Doll a Go-Go (1991) - the latter a major editing influence on Baltimore's Atomic TV).

Fave Night Flight Videos on YouTube:

EARLIEST "NIGHT FLIGHT" BROADCAST (pre-flying logo and theme song)



This one feature's Baltimore own "St. tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE"




DR. CALIGARI (by Rinse Dream)



See more YouTube clips here.

Related Links:
Night Flight
Night Flight at the Open Directory Project
Night Flight Fan Site
Night Flight on DVD at Subterranean Cinema
Night Flight on DVD at KC Texan


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! Yeah, rare vids were more special when they were harder to see. Night Flight turned me onto some of my favorite short films, GRAVITY and SQUEAL OF DEATH, plus it's where I first saw URGH! A MUSIC WAR and plenty of cool music videos MTV never played.

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ADORE Night Flight. Being 15 years old, coming home from a punk show unable to sleep because of the gamelan-like ringing in my ears and the black tar snot in my nose (can't slamdance in a roomful of smokers without getting it), too buzzed to sleep at 3 am and turning on the TV and falling in love . . . They introduced me to the Sub-Genius, The Sisters of Mercy, and this one incredible filmmaker who did stuff with photocopies and handdrawn film, I'd love to know his name. And the danger was always falling asleep - you'd miss as many shows as you caught just because sometimes you can't argue with your circadian needs. Oh, the disappointment to wake up to some infomercial realizing you didn't go the duration to the golden hour.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think people realize that Trip To The Moon by George Melles, was a silent film. Mel Garcia wrote and produced this segment, adding dialogue and sound effects mading a masterpiece out of masterpiece.

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