Night Flight on IFC: Episode 8!

By on June 8, 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, 12am east coast/9pm 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 eighth “Night Flight Highlights” episode (“Rock Photography & NYC Hip-Hop”) 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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Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock is a documentary film sourced entirely from the personal collection of photos, audio recordings and film archives of legendary British-born photographer Mick Rock — “The Man Who Shot the Seventies” — including fascinating footage of David Bowie backstage at a Ziggy Stardust concert, and former Pink Floyd singer Syd Barrett tripping balls on acid during one of Rock’s first photo sessions.

Rent Mick Rock’s Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock from Amazon Video

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Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock — directed by Barney Clay and featuring a musical score by the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd — featured theatrical dramatic recreations and lighting directly inspired by Mick Rock’s original photo sessions.

What makes the film so engaging and personal is the fact that Mick Rock was not just an incredible photographer (we’re sure you’ve seen his photos on the covers of iconic albums like Lou Reed’s Transformer ) but he actually became friends with many of the music legends he captured on film, including Reed and David Bowie (to whom the documentary is dedicated) and Iggy Pop.

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Clay’s documentary was actually organized around Rock’s own near-death experience in the early ’90s — involving a quadruple bypass surgery, the result of having suffered three heart attacks, hampered by decades of substance abuse — during a period in which Rock began to look inward at his own life (he’s since then led a clean life and practices yoga on a regular basis).

“…I turned myself to face me, but I’ve never caught a glimpse…,” as his friend David Bowie sings in “Changes,” and soon Rock began to see how a personal documentary about his iconic life’s work might be the best way to tell his own story.

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Rock pilots us through the rough waters of his past life, telling us how he navigated his way through London’s glam rock scene, then crossed an ocean to witness New York City’s snarling punk milieu.

Rock reviews the familiar terrain of his own rock history, providing his own first-person perspective about what was going through his own mind as he snapped the photos, a journey that deposits us in this new millennium.

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In 1977, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards formed Chic, who then rode the disco wave to much success even though they were actually an R&B band like Kool & the Gang or Earth, Wind & Fire.

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Chic would end up scoring multiple Top Ten hits, including the Grammy-nominated “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah).”

Their success led to the opportunity to work with other Atlantic roster acts, which is how they ended up producing Sister Sledge’s massive hit “We Are Family,” and that led to them, separately and together, to becoming highly sought-after producers, but it also played a part in Chic disbanding in 1983.

Rodgers focused for a time on his own solo career, but ultimately he ended up spent more time in the studio working with other top acts of the day, including David Bowie.

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Let’s Dance, Bowie’s fifteenth studio album, released on April 14, 1983, would feature three of his most enduring hit singles: the title track, “Let’s Dance” (a massive #1 hit in the UK, U.S. and several other counties), “Modern Love,” and “China Girl,” which Bowie had originally co-written for Iggy Pop‘s 1977 album The Idiot.

In addition to Bowie, Nile Rodgers has also worked with and/or produced (in no particular order):

Michael Jackson, Prince, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, David Lee Roth, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, Steve Winwood, INXS, the B-52’s, Philip Bailey, Thompson Twins, Sheena Easton, Bryan Ferry, Al Jarreau, Cyndi Lauper, Howard Jones, David Sanborn, Britney Spears, Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera and many, many more.

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Buy TV Party: The Documentary (Director’s Cut)

If you’re a big fan of Blondie’s Debbie Harry, like those of us here at Night Flight HQ, then you won’t want to miss her appearances in Danny Vinik‘s TV Party: The Documentary, which features some of the best of Glenn O’Brien’s public access TV show, TV Party.

In a snippet of one of Ms. Harry‘s appearances on the show — which aired on Manhattan cable access Channel D and Channel J between 1978 and 1982, the show’s final season in color — Debbie Harry bounces up and down on a pogo stick, circa 1978, to show viewers how to Pogo (after admitting the UK punk dance wasn’t cool anymore anyway).

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She also appears in as a mysterious “special guest,” her identity hidden by a wrestler’s mask (callers phoned in saying she wasn’t fooling anyone).

Of the estimated ninety episodes of the show, Night Flight currently has five of the episodes released on DVD by Brink Vision.

Debbie Harry also appears in “Premiere Episode,” which aired on Manhattan’s Channel D on December 18, 1978.

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Buy Mondo New York (coming from MVD in December 2018)

“In the 1980s, Charlie Barnett performed raunchy comedy in New York City,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott in her introduction to a clip of the NYC street comedian, excerpted from 1988’s Mondo New York.

Barnett captivates a “nice mixed crowd” who’ve gathered around the fountain in Washington Square Park in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.

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In 1988, director Harvey Nikolai Keith’s Mondo New York “shockumentary” — distributed by the film’s producer, Night Flight creator Stuart S. Shapiro — showed the seedier, seamier side of New York City’s underground art scene.

According to his former manager in a 2015 New York Times article, comedian Dave Chappelle cried after seeing Barnett perform for the first time, reportedly saying, “I’m never going to be as funny as that guy.”

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Grandmaster Melle Mel and Scorpio

In an original episode focused on style in rap music — part of our occasional “20 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Style” series — Night Flight made a quick examination of the style presented in a handful of legendary ’80s-era rap music videos, including the very stylish Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message,” the first “socially conscious rap,” which delivered the truth about what it was like to live in urban inner-city America at the time.

“Born in the inner city, now commercially accepted the world over,” Pat Prescott explained in her introduction to this segment, “rap made its social statement with a look, as well as a sound.”

Style-wise, the group’s key members — Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Kidd Creole, Scorpio, Cowboy, Rahiem — delivered their messages with a look that was definitely influenced by NYC’s punk and funk rock aesthetics, ultimately showing up in their videos and concerts wearing stud-covered leather jackets and jeans, vests and headbands, feathers and fur coats, even occasional bondage gear.

However, when they first started out, they looked just like a lot of other kids in New York City at the time.

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Their true medium, however, was the tone and content of “The Message,” a gritty rap about ghetto poverty and violence, becoming urgent urban street life manifesto.

“The Message” has been called the first attempt at “conscious rap” — or sometimes conscious hip hop, or socially conscious hip-hop — which is a sub-genre of hip hop that challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic consensus, and/or comments on social issues and conflicts.

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The track — released as a single by Sugar Hill Records on July 1, 1982 and later featured on Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s first studio album, The Message — ended up changing rap music forever, shifting rap away from party rhymes and boast records, and placing its emphasis on the rapper being a community voice and a political poet, and not someone who was seen as the leader of a Bronx party crew getting together to have some summer fun on the dancefloor.

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Buy Style Wars

In early 1984, the PBS network premiered Style Wars, a documentary that chronicled New York City’s youthful street culture, focusing in on two of its most exciting and polarizing facets — break dancing and graffiti — from its earliest days in the ’70s onward through what was then the present day, the early ’80s. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

Today, Style Wars– directed by Tony Silver and produced in collaboration with Henry Chalfant — is considered an indispensable document of NYC street culture in the early ’80s, capturing what was quite literally a dynamic but vanishing urban environment.

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The film simultaneously embraces both the spirit of the then-still relatively new hip-hop movement and the world of NYC street art — its styles, techniques, terms and rules — which was largely being created on the spot by urban teens who were using graffiti as a new visual language to express themselves creatively in bold, oversized and colorful ways (imagery that would soon be visible in other ways, including fashion and tattoos).

The film focuses in particular on how New York City’s rundown metro subway system’s underground tunnels — in addition to uptown city streets, playgrounds and parks, parking lot walls and handball courts, etc. etc. — had all become both a canvas and a battleground to NYC’s legendary kings of graffiti, all to an early ’80s hip-hop soundtrack.

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Tony Silver and Seen in the 6 yard, The Bronx, 1982

Style Wars features extensive interviews with graffiti documentarian (and the film’s co-producer) Henry Chalfant; then New York City mayor Ed Koch (the city’s mayor from 1978-1990); chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway system, Richard Ravitch; one-armed graffiti writer Case/Kase 2; graffiti writer Skeme and his mother, graffiti “villain” Cap; graffiti writers Dondi, Seen; and Shy 147; breakdancer Crazy Legs of the Rock Steady crew; and various NYC cops, art critics, subway maintenance workers, as well as regular “people on the street.”

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“D.A. Pennebaker invented the modern genre of direct documentary filmmaking,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott in her introduction. “From Monterey Pop, to Don’t Look Back, and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

Pennebaker is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of cinema verite, a style that revolutionized the documentary genre by using uninterrupted observation, creating a fly-on-the-wall sense of immediacy.

We’ve excerpted here from D.A. Pennebaker’s Daybreak Express, a kinetically-edited 16mm Kodachrome ride he’d taken on New York City’s “Third Avenue “El” elevated railway, which was originally shot by Pennebaker in 1953 (the railway was demolished soon after).

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Buy D.A. Pennebaker’s Criterion Collection DVD of Don’t Look Back, which features Daybreak Express in the bonus material.

Daybreak Express — accompanied by a Duke Ellington track of the same name — begins at sunrise as we follow a group of commuters boarding the overground El, and soon we’re careening around New York City on a rattling railway.

Skylines swing in and out of focus, silhouetted against the orange sky, and skyscrapers distort and bend above our heads.

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“I’d never really looked at 16mm film,” says Pennebaker in our Night Flight interview, excerpted in this episode.

“I didn’t even know you could make your own films, I thought films came from Hollywood, you bought ‘em by the yard or something, and so I was really shocked to see that with one camera and pushing your finger, you could make something magic on the wall.”

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Here’s an excerpt from what D.A. Pennebaker has previously written about Daybreak Express:

“I wanted to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and it’s packed-in passengers that would look beautiful, like John Sloan’s New York City paintings, and I wanted it to go with my Duke Ellington record ‘Daybreak Express.'”

“I didn’t know much about film editing, or in fact about shooting, so I bought a couple of rolls of Kodachrome at the drugstore, and figured that since the record was about three minutes long, by shooting carefully I could fit the whole thing onto one roll of film.”

…”I took it to the Paris Theater to see if they would run it. By pure chance it ended up with the Alec Guinness comedy The Horse’s Mouth, which ran there for nearly a year. Since I had a large collection of jazz records, I figured I’d found a way to break into the film business with music films, and it did get me started, but I was never able to make another film like Daybreak.”

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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.