Dan Carbone’s post-apocalyptic surrealist sci-fi short film “Dot” was an ’80s Night Flight fave

By and on November 7, 2017

Award-winning playwright and performance artist Dan Carbone’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi short film Dot won awards in several international film festivals back in the ’80s, and aired frequently on “Night Flight.”

We now have Dot featured over on Night Flight Plus (it’s on the b-side of our “Take Off to Rock and Horror” episode, which originally aired on October 25, 1986).

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We reached out to Dan via e-mail and asked him to tell us about his film, and here’s what he told us…

Dan Carbone:

I had an image in my head from a dream of two little children huddled in the dark by a window in a burned out tenement after some sort of apocalypse, and the storyline for what would eventually become Dot grew out of that.

I was inspired by Cocteau, Buñuel and Eraserhead, and I remember listening to a lot of Eric Satie when I was writing it.

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The idea was to keep it very simple. Very stark. I wanted to evoke the creepy feeling I got when I watched the sleepy surreal, early-morning black & white religious shows for children I’d watched as a toddler in the very early ’60s, such as “Davey & Goliath,” and, more particularly, an even more obscure show called “Light Time.”

Dot was shot in 1982 as a senior year project over six long and arduous days on an NYU soundstage. It was a real “sound” stage in those days and we had to pause many times for subway cars rumbling underneath and band practice next door.

Everyone worked on it to the best of their abilities and there was a lot of squabbling and much clashing of youthful egos. The age of nearly the entire crew was 21 and under, including myself.

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After many hours carving out the thing with intrepid editor Erica Gold we ended up with something but no one was quite sure exactly what the heck it was.

The film was completed in 1983 and had its premiere at a private screening at the Bleecker Street Theatre in NYC, where I was working at the time, after which the camera operator said “I got to go out and get drunk.” I never saw him again.

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This sort of summed up the attitude of the majority of the crew members at the time despite what they may say now in retrospect.

The rest of the audience reaction was mixed. One audience member said “That was the stupidest film I’ve ever seen,” which sort of stung. Still does, actually. Others responded very enthusiastically and some said it even brought them to tears.

At the NYU student festival in 1984 it got the biggest laughs in the entire festival and the head of the department said it was the strangest of all films screened that year.

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I was glad the students appreciated the humor. Many people take the film completely seriously because of the tone, but there is a lot of humor buried in there.

After that, I started entering it in film festivals and lo and behold it won awards in Germany, New Zealand and Connecticut.

The film got a boost on “Night Flight” mainly due to my friend, Marina Skopinich, who got it to them, and the tenacious efforts of Night Flight producer, Cynthia Friedland, who really loved the film. Cynthia saw a certain special quality in it and insisted on showing it despite the protests of some of the Night Flight crew who said it wasn’t technically up to the “broadcast standards” of the time (e.g. it wasn’t slick like an MTV video).

It’s true that the film looks and feels like it was made by actual imperfect humans, not by machines, therefore some found this unacceptable.

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Dot showed on “Night Flight” several times over a three year period in the mid-80s, but as far as the reception it got, I’m the last one to know. Cynthia told me it was a hit and they had even gotten letters from audience members, but I never saw any of that.

I knew it was out there doing its thing and many people were seeing it, but in those pre-internet days I got no feedback. I felt completely disconnected from it –- like it was a child that left home to live a life of its own, never to return.

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Then, about ten years ago, I started to slowly hear from people that had seen it and the impact it had on them from people who contacted me through my website.

One person said he used to act out scenes from it with his high school buddies in Bakersfield. Another said it inspired them to go into filmmaking. I’ve heard about bands writing songs about it, and I’ve read others praising it in chat rooms and on social media.

I’m grateful that our little cranky crew created something that actually affected people. What more can you ask for from a student film?

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For those that are interested, in the days since Dot I’ve gone on to write and perform in my own theatre productions. You can read about them on my website.

In 2010, I created the persona of Budd Underwood and formed a theatrical rock duo called Kingdom of Not along with another madman who calls himself The Slow Poisoner. We recently opened for the pop band Foxygen in several cities to a terrific response.

We’ve got a critically acclaimed conceptual album out called Journey to the Far Side of the Room. Check it out on our website, and while you are at it, have a look at a recent KoN band video I wrote and act in called “Sleeping,” which was directed by Bulk Foodveyor (who has also directed videos for the Residents).

And, last but not least, our Facebook page is located here.

Thanks, Dan!

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Kingdom of Not (photo by Sam Koskela)

Watch Dan Carbone’s short film Dot and our “Take Off to Rock and Horror” episode on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.