There was a time when the label "alternative," as applied to music, art, and film, actually meant something.
This week marks an anniversary of just such an era. I was reminded of this fact by an excellent article posted at Dangerous Minds. June 5th is the day back in 1981 that Night Flight first premiered in the USA Network. First, let me set the scene.
There weren't many cable channels back in that day. Hell, MTV wouldn't even show up for a full two months after USA premiered Night Flight. But the gates were starting to open and opportunities developed to show content that was either edgier or more "out there" or both than what mainstream TV was showing. The USA Network took full advantage of this by starting a show that would air long after primetime with a vast variety of different things.
First, the viewer would be greeted by the artwork of the logo flying over a dark cityscape. Pretty cutting edge computer graphics for the time. There was no host, only a female voice both disembodied and sultry to guide us and introduce the videos. You'd then see forerunners of the types of cartoons now found on Adult Swim along with cult films and b-movies. Examples of the latter ran a wide gamut. There were German Expressionist/art films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Reefer Madness, and Andy Warhol's Dracula. I also seem to recall vignettes interspersed before the commercial breaks, showing Warhol flinging paint everywhere or something like that. There was also Dynaman, the Japanese TV series that seemed to spawn the insipid Power Rangers only the episodes were dubbed over in English with new, satiric dialogue. Shades of MST3K to come?
And there was music. A whole lot of music.
That was the whole reason I first snuck out of bed late at night to see the show. Already being a massive fan of Duran Duran, I had read that they had a video for the song "Girls On Film" that was banned everywhere on American TV. Why? Well I'm sure you can probably figure that out from the title. It was borderline pornographic for that time but is actually rather tame by today's standards. Anyway, being a devout fan and...honestly...a horny, puberty-stricken boy, I needed to see it.
Night Flight showed it. I risked awakening my parents to sneak to the living room and see it. And it was worth it. Oh was it ever.
I also received formal introduction to DEVO, who seemed to be something of a house band for Night Flight. Oh and punk. A whole lotta punk.
Just by watching it I felt that I was absorbing an "outsider" kind of vibe. The multiple varieties of art I was exposed to on Night Flight were definitely unlike anything I could have found elsewhere. It really was alternative. I was already feeling self-conscious, greatly out of step with my peers. I liked different things than they did, weird things. Seeing Night Flight made me consider that there just might be a few more people like me out there in the world. I just needed to get to someplace hip and find them.
Thank you, Night Flight.
Update: On Facebook, Jason reminded me of a few other reasons why Night Flight was so influential to people of our generation. Among the experimental films and the veritable "Best of" for Bela Lugosi, we were also introduced to the likes of Cabaret Voltaire plus this gem from Webb Wilder:
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