Multiscreen Madness: Night Flight TV isn’t the typical TV trope you’ve seen before

By on August 20, 2015

Have you checked out Night Flight TV yet? Our TV section is a mosaic representation of all of the videos embedded in the posts you can find under each of the categories here in the Night Flight video blog, which includes Film, Music, Art, Comedy, Cult and our Impact section. Our hope is that you’ll take some of your free time and get lost in the daze of discovering wherever your eyeballs take you.

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We have to say, we’re pretty proud of Night Flight TV (or NFTV — that’s a screenshot up there, by the way), which is completely different from what typically happens when when you see a wall of multiscreen TV’s displayed, like the way they might appear in the work of the late artist Nam Jun Paik, or in a feature film or dramatic TV show, which reminds of the famous speech given by FCC chairman Newton N. Minow to the convention of the National Association of Broadcasters on May 9, 1961, the one where Minow referred to American commercial TV programming as a “vast wasteland”: ““a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons…”

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You probably already know it’s become a typical TV trope to see a character sitting in a room and watching a wall of TV’s as representative of something sinister happening, or sometimes there’s some kind of mental breakdown underway. Sometimes multiplying the number of TV screens simply multiplies the oppressive factor of whatever scene they’re in, whether it’s meant to represent some kind of dystopian Orwellian surveillance by someone wanting multiple camera angles and views to spy on another character (these are typically security monitors, though), or sometimes, a wall of TV’s might be shown when someone has hacked into a broadcast signal, whether the TV’s look down over Times Square or inside a control room of a TV station.

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There are perhaps literally hundreds of scenes to choose from, but we’re only going to mention a few here as examples of what we’re talking about, and first up is from Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell To Earth, where David Bowie’s earthbound alien character succumbs to our numbed saturation of media, images, entertainment and the ongoing spectacle of the global information culture, and he eventually sinks to the lowest depths, the very dregs, abusing alcohol and that “vast wasteland” of broadcast TV, until he becomes fully human himself, sitting in a room and watching 12 TV’s at once, eventually screaming out (towards the end of this clip): “Get out of my mind, all of you!!”

Another truly memorable scene we remembered where a character was facing a roomful of TV’s and undergoing some sort of breakdown (although definitely more subtle) was in Richard Linklater’s debut film Slacker (1991), where a relatively quiet Austin, Texas shut-in character (he’s actually credited as “Guy in a Roomful of TV’s”) has a bit of a rant about seeing a stabbing in real life and being disappointed that the blood he saw did not look as real as it did on his TV’s. It’s an almost quaint depiction of what we’re saying here, that seeing hyper-real images displayed on multiple TV’s often represents a kind of mental instability of the character.

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Another scene depicting a character sitting in front of a wall of TV’s can be found in the 1974 TV movie The Questor Tapes, but it’s largely a forgotten film (one that should perhaps remain so), but not as forgotten is the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, where we see a megalomaniacal international media mogul named Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) in a room full of TVs. His multi-media empire does not merely report the news, his corporation creates it by fomenting worldwide terror, murder and war, then reporting on it using all available (non-digital) media forms.

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In some ways, Carver’s psychotic need to control the creation and dissemination of the news could represent a kind of throw-back to William Randolph Hearst (had TV’s had been invented back then); you’ve likely heard the possibly apocryphal anecdote which involves artist Frederic Remington, who had been sent by Hearst to Havana, Cuba to cover the uprising against Spanish colonial rule in January 1897, on assignment for Hearst’s New York Journal. Remington had sent a telegram once he was there, saying: “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return.”  Hearst supposedly replied: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.” (You might also recognize that it was appropriated for a scene in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane). There were those who thought that Carver might perhaps loosely be based on Fox News’s Rupert Murdoch, but the screenwriter Bruce Feirstein says he was actually based on media magnate Robert Maxwell.

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We suspect you could even include the multiscreen madness seen inside a NORAD control room, like the one you might see in a movie like 1983’s War Games, although those aren’t typically television sets being watched (it does, however, give us the chance to link to this recent post on hacking in 80s movies).

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More recently we’ve seen a wall of TV’s in movies like Alan Moore’s Watchmen (2009), where the character of Adrian Veidt, aka “Ozymandias” is seen in front of a wall of TV’s, watching a variety of TV shows and films (we’ve spotted TV show like “Dallas” and “The Outer Limits”, the movies too, like Fail Safe, Mad Max and Mad Max II, Altered States, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and, of course, 1984.

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Finally, and this doesn’t fit into the multiscreen scenario we’ve presented but it certainly represents some kind of madness: we recently found this recently-made deconstruction montage of the second-tier candidates from the Fox News Republican debate that was held on August 6, 2015 — no, not this one — which was created by media artist Randall Packer, who we imagine might actually be sitting in a room full of TV’s (he says he makes his video projects “live from the underground studio bunker in Washington DC”).

According to his website, the press are eating up these mass-media creations, like this one above: “Critics across America have raved about Packer’s multimedia spectacles, which have been described as ‘a high-energy, high-tech, savvy, satirical, digital mediarama – a total immersion, parallel universe’ by the New York Times, and the Washington Post called it ‘a mix of surrealism, situationism, and dada… the blurring of the real and fake,” while Art in America wrote: “a proactive approach to political propaganda by manipulating the manipulation.'” Honestly, though, we love his work, and will perhaps be sharing more of it here in the future. Perhaps he’ll make us a video montage of all of the wall of TV’s examples that we’ve provided.

To return to NFTV, however, let’s just say that we’re hoping you’ll take some time to check it out here on Night Flight and see the videos we’ve been curating for your eyeballs. Every time you visit the TV site, it randomly loads up new clips to watch, vids that come from our stories. We guarantee that a lot of what you find on our TV is going to be pretty surprising, and we think you’re going to enjoy the discovery process — we’ve furnished you with the pictures (but you don’t need to feel that you need to furnish the war), now all you need to do is watch. Feel free to take a screenshot of the TV Wall that you get, and send it back to us as a comment, every one should be different.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, 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.