Night Flight on IFC: Episode 17!

By on November 30, 2018

“Night Flight” was the most radically fun, nostalgically cranium-bursting cable TV program of all time, originally airing in the ’80s (and syndicated shows aired during the ’90s) during the wee hours on Fridays and Saturdays on the USA Network. Now we’re back on the IFC channel — and we’re now on at a new time, 1am east coast/10pm west coast, but as always be sure to check your local listings for time/TV channel location.

Tune in once again each weekend (check your local listings for the right time) to see a mash-ups of clips from rock movies and documentaries, concert films, experimental short films, weirdo kaiju monster flicks, computer art films, campy ’50s sci-fi serials, banned cartoons, and loads of music videos that MTV wouldn’t dare show.

We’ve had an online presence for a few years now with Night Flight Plus, our streaming subscription “channel,” which is where you can find all the above and more, supplemented by full-length streaming titles we’ve added from our content partners, including fellow cultural insurrectionists MVD Video.

Tune in to see why VH1 called us “the single greatest rock omnibus program ever aired” and Brooklyn Vegan named us “the most consistently weird and awesome thing on cable television in the ’80s.”

Read more below about our seventeenth “Night Flight Highlights” half-hour episode (“Vocal Vanguards”) on IFC — the cable network describes these episodes as “A fever dream of classic clips including iconic rock stars, animation, and heavy metal music, a trip back to the boundary-pushing music and videos of the 1980s” — and be sure to sign up for Night Flight Plus to watch more classic episodes of the original ’80s, available on Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV.

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In 1984, Lennon’s UK record company, Charisma Records, decided that the best way to introduce Julian Lennon as a new artist — showing him having grown beyond the influence of his father — was to make him the focus of an hour-long, behind-the-scenes documentary.

They hoped that MTV would air the documentary special — showing Lennon at rehearsals, recording sessions and in intimate concert settings — during primetime.

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According to David Weddle’s If They Move… Kill ‘Em!: The Life & Times of Sam Peckinpah, British humorist, TV personality & film producer Martin Lewis was brought aboard the project as a producer.

One of his first tasks was to find a director for the project, and Lewis thought that a seasoned feature filmmaker — and not a young, fresh-out-of-film-school music video director — could add, in his words, “some texture, some perspective.”

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Lewis first approached the great director Robert Altman, who wasn’t available, and then approached an Altman protégé, writer-director Alan Rudolph, but he wasn’t available either.

A friend of Lewis’s — L.A. Weekly film critic Dennis Delrogh — suggested Sam Peckinpah, the occasionally controversial director of a handful of western classics, like The Wild Bunch (1968), and contemporary crime dramas, like The Getaway (1972).

(Be sure to read Night Flight contributor Chris Morris’s blog about Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid).

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Lewis thought his friend was joking, since Peckinpah’s films were noted for their brutal and often shocking violence, saying: “Are you kidding me? I can just imagine what he’d do, open the film with a slow-motion recreation of John Lennon’s murder.”

Delrogh pointed out that Lewis was thinking about the clichéd image of Peckinpah, and Lewis then remembered that Peckinpah’s 1970 western The Ballad of Cable Hogue — a poetic, melancholy non-violent story about a failed prospector who finds water in the desert — was one of his favorite films.

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Lewis realized that Delrogh was right, Peckinpah was a great choice, and was astonished when the veteran film director expressed great enthusiasm for the project and agreed to direct the film.

The deal for a Julian Lennon documentary film was soon delayed, however, due to the fact that Lennon was reluctant to be filmed performing live in concert.

Lewis then decided that Peckinpah should instead direct two videos, one each for the first two singles from his debut album, Valotte: the title track and “Too Late for Goodbyes” (watch that one above).

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“Valotte” was named for the Manoir de Valotte in the remote hilly region of Saint-Benin-d’Azy, described by Lennon as a “beautiful little run-down château in the middle of France.”

Lennon spent three months at the château, where he did little else besides writing songs (“Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar”) and recording demo tapes.

He later completed the song with two of his school pals, lead guitarist Justin Clayton and Jamaican-born guitarist Carlton Morales (they share songwriting credit with Lennon).

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Peckinpah — who was paid just $10,000 — was not overly familiar with music videos and had never seen MTV, and thought the idea of making a two-minute short film of Lennon lip-synching to his songs was a ridiculous idea.

Nevertheless, he stuck with the project and shot 35mm footage of Lennon for three days in a small studio in upstate New York, mostly showing Lennon in a recording studio, playing the piano and singing while being supervised by producer Phil Ramone.

“My biggest moment of pride was to see him in person,” Ramone says later in our interview. “Here’s a guy who wouldn’t sing in front of an audience before, he was too shy, and he’s standing out there and galloping all over the stage, and having a great time and being himself. He’s a great talent, and I’m very fortunate that we’ve met, and I’m thrilled to work with him. “

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As David Weddle writes in his Peckinpah biography, “the videos exhibited a quiet lyricism and subtle eye for nuance that [Peckinpah’s] critics would never have thought him capable of.”

The videos also proved to be Peckinpah’s final work as a director, however, as he died on December 28, 1984, from heart failure. He was 59.

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Sam Peckinpah, Julian Lennon and Phil Ramone

Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species — subtitled: “A Critical Review Of The Band’s Roots And Branches” — documents Led Zeppelin‘s early years, with a particular focus on their myriad influences all the way up to the release of their celebrated second album, 1969’s Led Zeppelin II.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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This 70-minute film from 2006 covers each band member’s journey towards the formation of Led Zeppelin, although clearly the lion’s share of the focus here is on guitarist Jimmy Page.

We learn how Page went from being a teenage skiffle-band musician and member of the obscure Neil Christian & the Crusaders, was clearly enamored with American blues greats like B.B. King — as well as with Elvis Presley‘s guitarist Scotty Moore — before he became an in-demand session guitarist who was “estimated to have played on sixty percent of the hit records that came out of London between 1963 and 1966.”

(Be sure to check out this previous Night Flight post about the time Led Zeppelin met “the King”).

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We also learn the band’s name was originally conceived by the Who‘s bassist John Entwistle, and not their drummer, Keith Moon, who usually gets the credit by saying he thought the rival British rock band would “go down like a lead balloon.”

Additionally, we learn”Led” was spelled incorrectly because the band feared American audiences would attempt to pronounce the word “lead” literally.

There’s also a segment on Robert Plant and John Bonham’s previous Midlands group, Band of Joy, who were more of a psychedelic, West Coast-influenced outfit (think Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape) who played the London club circuit opening for Ten Years After and Fairport Convention.

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Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species features rare interviews, rarely-seen photographs and fairly-obscure film footage, one example being a 14-year old Jimmy Page from the BBC’s ’50s children’s TV show, “All Your Own,” during which he explains to presenter Huw Wheldon that, even though he’s already quite a good guitarist, he didn’t plan to become a musician and had actually desired to become a biological researcher.

Speaking of Page, there’s also great footage here of Page with the Yardbirds, performing “Stroll On” from the 1966 Antonioni film Blow Up, as well as an obscure live TV performance by the Yardbirds of their 1966 song “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” one of the doc’s real highlights.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald famously jotted down the following note while writing The Last Tycoon: “There are no second acts in American lives.”

When Fitzgerald died prematurely — at age 44 in late 1940 — his friend Edmund Wilson cobbled together enough of the novel so it could be published in 1941.

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We’d like to posit that perhaps Fitzgerald would have re-thought his “second acts” note entirely had he lived long enough to meet some of the famous British rock frontmen who were able to enjoy successful second acts in their careers as solo artists.

We’re talking about classic rock heroes like the BeatlesGeorge Harrison, the Rolling StonesMick Jagger and Led Zeppelin‘s legendary leonine lead singer Robert Plant, whose “Heaven Knows” video here is accompanied by our 1985 Night Flight interview.

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In the late ’80s — after releasing three solo albums that embraced then-current New Wave and Modern Rock influences — Plant underwent another musical metamorphosis with “Heaven Knows,” the first track on Now and Zen, which featured Middle Eastern musicians at the beginning and end of the song.

The accompanying video saw Plant and his new band in Morocco, where he stumbles around like a lion in the desert and visits a foreign bazaar, where he sees the beautiful Dutch model Alice Gee. He eventually follows back to her hotel room, where she wraps him with a red veil.

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Much of the video looks like it could be a TV commercial for Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s national airline, enticing you to visit the mystical North African country.

The video was directed by the late Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (he died in 2010).

Plant’s “Heaven Knows” single, released on January 18, 1988, ultimately reached #33 on the UK singles chart and #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, his third #1 rock hit following 1983’s “Other Arms” and 1985’s “Little by Little.”

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Plant’s Now and Zen album — released on February 29, 1988 — was the result of a conscious set of backward moves to recapture some of the mystical magick of Led Zeppelin, something he’d avoided doing for most of his solo career, up to that point.

He also reunited with Zeppelin’s lead guitarist Jimmy Page, who plays lead guitar on two of the album’s best tracks, “Heaven Knows,” and Tall Cool One,” the latter track featuring samples of three beloved Zeppelin songs: “Black Dog,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Whole Lotta Love.”

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About Night Flight

Voice of a generation that spoke from 11PM-7AM EST Friday and Saturday on USA Network in the '80s. Back to enlighten and inspire 24/7.