“Night Flight: Born Again”: A flashback to 2009’s DKTR screening and L.A. Record’s chat with Stuart Shapiro

By on January 11, 2016

We didn’t have the Night Flight blog up and running in 2009, but we do now, so we’re taking this opportunity to revisit when Night Flight: Born Again was screened on the last night of Allison Anders‘s and Tiffany Anders’s annual “Don’t Knock The Rock” summer film festival at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles, with Night Flight creator Stuart Shapiro appearing in-person for a Q&A after the program.

CINEFAMILY

Here’s what L.A. Record‘s Nolan Knight had to say about it on August 30, 2009, in a blog posting titled “Night Flight: A Freak On My Own”:

This year’s “Don’t Knock the Rock” came to a close on the highest of high notes Thursday night with the screening of Night Flight: Born Againto a packed house at Cinefamily. Hat’s off to Allison and Tiffany Anders for another solid year of rock-out flicks. Things started with the ever so charming Michael Des Barres guiding us into the picture with just enough heroin and groupie jokes before the soothing voice of Pat Prescott took over narration.

From then on out it was an endless buffet of cool, highlights including Grandmaster Melle Mel’s impromptu Night Flight rap, B.B. King’s recounting of dubbing his axe Lucille, Ozzy Osbourne’s War on Drugs, and Zappa’s explanation of why music videos are shit in 1985.

All this and more mashed between vintage commercials, cult movie excerpts, presidential footage, and cartoons, making for a fluid experience into the world of the weird and profound. Along with the vintage footage were fresh Bush-era segments as well as new animation by Joe Cartoon, both complimenting the effectiveness of the piece, reminding the viewer not only of what “Night Flight” was but still is about.

It’s clear to see that a modern Night Flight has the potential to be greater than ever before. Show pioneer Stuart Shapiro was met with a standing ovation as the titles rolled before announcing an upcoming monthly residency at the Cinefamily along with a “New Wave Theatre” Night sometime soon.

Needless to say but with great relief, Night Flight is officially reborn!

L.A. RECORD

For one night only, Stuart Shapiro, the captain behind “Night Flight” — the late-night rock ‘n’ roll/trash film/and beyond! program that was the beating heart of cable television during the eighties — is taking over Cinefamily. Screening an evening of “Night Flight”’s rare gems and unfathomable awesomeness, he’ll present selections that could explode any two-bit flat screen. He speaks here with Nolan Knight on how Otis Redding and the Circle Jerks helped launch television into another galaxy.

L.A. Record: What was your upbringing like and what were some of the major influences that brought you to the creation of “Night Flight”?

Stuart Shapiro: Mostly as an independent film distributor. My company was International Harmony in New York, which I started in 1976. I had a bunch of cult type of movies — Tunnel Vision was the first movie I distributed. I had a lot of music from these titles too—Rust Never Sleeps, Reggae Sunsplash, The Space Movie, The Blank Generation, D.O.A. with the Sex Pistols I was very involved with the independent feature film distribution, which I kind of spawned into a lot of midnight screenings.

TUNNEL VISION

L.A. Record: What was the initial idea for “Night Flight”?

Stuart Shapiro: Basically — at the time in 1980, cable had just started to take its foothold. USA Network hadn’t even become USA yet. At that time there was this sort of evangelistic attitude that cable was really gonna come out and be another world for alternative programming. It was gonna be the birth of a freer reign of programming.

It’s hard to think today what it might have been like back then but in the 1970s — in terms of your choice of programming— there was very little. Cable was supposed to be this new bastion of entertainment but it really wasn’t happening. I was so involved in late-night theatrical exhibition — it was always a very social experience.

I mean, when a lot of people think about midnights they think of just The Rocky Horror Picture Show but there was a whole culture of concert film midnight movies— The Song Remains the Same, Pink Floyd [Live at Pompeii] — so I knew that there was a culture of late-night [moviegoers] that were hungry for programming late at night on the weekends.

In the beginning, the cable system was going dark late at night—there was really nothing on, so I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to try to put cool hip programming on television.

So we pitched the idea. Jeff Franklin, who became my partner on “Night Flight,” had a friend who worked at USA Network, which at that time was called Madison Square Garden Network. We basically pitched them on the idea of giving us a two-hour time slot as a test. They agreed to give us two hours on Friday night and two on Saturday night, eleven to one, from June until September. We kind of opened up “Night Flight” a lot with my movie catalog that I actually had already.

NIGHT FLIGHT1

L.A. Record: And the USA Network had no control over the content of your programming?

Stuart Shapiro: It was the height of freedom. I had this time slot and Jeffrey was my partner but I was a creative force along with a lot of associates I worked with. I had control over the time slot.

L.A. Record: The music featured on the show was wide ranging — from Circle Jerks to Otis Redding to Zappa. What kind of an impact did this variety have on the viewership at that time?

Stuart Shapiro: We looked at stuff really primitive in those days. We never programmed for ratings because it was really hard to tell a different rating from another, but “Night Flight” was a very, very high rated show. We programmed variety but looking back, I can’t really tell you if Bob Marley in Reggae Sunsplash did better than some other movie.

L.A. Record: What made you decide to include “New Wave Theatre” into “Night Flight”?

Stuart Shapiro: I think David had come to us. David Jove had “New Wave Theatre” on for, I think, one season on local access television here in L.A. He came to us in New York with the shows and pitched us on becoming a production partner. I felt that he was the outer crust of what Night Flight stood for. It became important for us in terms of Night Flight being able to be so bold.

NEW WAVE THEATRE1

L.A. Record: Can you reflect a bit on its host, Peter Ivers?

Stuart Shapiro: When I listen to Peter now, I think that he was a poet. When you listen to him speak, he really was a rapper to a degree — he was very very poetic and quite visionary. Both he and David were committed to a higher worldly order, you could say. Peter was a beacon.

I’ve only learned, later on in life, in what way “New Wave Theatre” made its appeal because I’ve come across so many people over the years who have come to me and said almost the identical thing — they tend to be people from the middle of America more than anywhere and they would say, ‘God, you know I thought I was just a freak on my own until I turned on ‘Night Flight’ and saw ‘New Wave Theatre’ and realized that there really was a world out there that was like me.’

I always became more and more aware of the influence of this sort of cultural freedom of expression that New Wave Theatre exemplified. If you came from New York or L.A., you would be exposed to that. But if you had cable for the first time in your entire life and came in contact with New Wave Theatre from some small town in Kansas, it was really a beacon of life.

L.A. Record: Are there any future plans to resurrect “Night Flight” in an online format or for television?

Stuart Shapiro: Well, we’re building NightFlight.com right now and it’s a pretty cool concept. It should be live sometime in a month or so [edit: well, took a bit longer!]. The concept is a video blog— kind of a community of discovery where you embed YouTube links and underneath there would be commentary — both a forum and a blog. We would actually have bloggers going in and writing — a good stable of interesting content-providers.

The idea is for it to be a Night Flight YouTube with a social network community around it. One of the elements that I think is really important to Night Flight is that there is a discovery element to everything we put on. We’re trying to bring that to an online experience where people would host and share — old stuff, new stuff, whatever — and it would be category-centric. There will be animation and comedy and video and music. That’s what I’m pushing for.

MICHAEL DES BARRES AND GABRIEL BYRNE

Michael Des Barres and Gabriel Byrne at the Don’t Knock The Rock screening of Night Flight: Born Again, 2009

L.A. Record: So what are some of the things in store for us at Thursday’s Night Flight Night at Cinefamily?

Stuart Shapiro: Well, it’s an hour and a half film that I put together — a “Best of” which I called Born Again because I thought it was funny — in the Night Flight vein of sarcasm.

The thing that’s the most exciting about it is the interviews. There are interviews with Johnny Rotten, Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne, Frank Zappa, Freddie Mercury, Annie Lennox—it’s a really rife spattering of interviews. What you will come away with — which is really amazing — is how beautiful, both visually and intelligent, the interviews are. I don’t know how much you’ve seen of the interviews on “Night Flight” but when you haven’t seen it for twenty-five years, it’s really amazing.

L.A. Record: I caught one online with John Waters and Divine during the filming of Polyester that I thought was really candid and excellent.

Stuart Shapiro: That interview with Divine is priceless! It’s in the fuckin’ movie!

STUART SHAPIRO

About Night Flight

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