Recently a friend poked fun of my uncontemporary Facebook presence. Aside from political commentary (don’t worry, I’ll spare you), if I post about a pop-cultural artifact, chances are it’s not from this decade, much less this century. Recent posts have involved Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Risky Business (I’d just screened them for my teenage nephew), weekend vinyl listening (Sinatra, Roxy Music, Dusty Springfield), an Instagram shot of an old paperback cover of The Chocolate War, the Robert Cormier novel that blew my mind in junior high. Even the new stuff I love (Feud, 20th Century Women, James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro) involves people and places from at least 40 years ago.
This isn’t about getting old, although that’s obviously in there somewhere. It’s about digital media and its ever-growing archive, where staying current is far less alluring than catching up. One of my latest obsessions is Flight of the Conchords, the hipster musical-comedy series that debuted, um, a decade ago. Look, I was HBO-less for 12 or so years, due to the influence of a cable-phobic domestic partner. But now my Apple TV console is juiced up with HBO Now. And thanks to two other new streaming apps—FilmStruck and Night Flight—it’s doubtful I’ll be checking in with the 21st century anytime soon.
FilmStruck is the streaming equivalent of a cozy reading room stacked with leather-bound classic texts. A joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection, it offers hundreds of movies, short films and supplementary content from essential auteurs like Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Win Wenders and Chantal Akerman. It’s all invitingly curated into double-features (Rosemary’s Baby paired with A Story for the Modlins, a quasi-documentary riff on the Roman Polanski masterpiece) and thematic subsets (click on “Lions in Winter” and you’re treated to eight movies made by great directors in their later years). My only gripe is a frustration that comes with any good streaming app: The choices are endless, which makes settling on something difficult.
If FilmStruck feels like a continuing-ed course for film buffs, Night Flight offers up cheap nostalgia for overgrown ’80s babies. Some might remember Night Flight as an open-format video series that aired on the USA Network from ’81 to ’88. For a time, it was the only place where rural teens could happen upon out-there, experimental art-rock like Laurie Anderson and The Residents. The app allows you to stream full episodes that are astonishingly eclectic. A New Year’s Eve special from ’83 features videos from Gary Numan and the Pointer Sisters, clips of Cab Calloway and Sarah Vaughan performing, footage of Lenny Bruce onstage and then back to videos by Adrian Belew and Philip Glass and Jean-Luc Ponty. That a TV show so audaciously freeform ever existed just wrecks the mind. It’s enough to make a middle-aged music-obsessive cry.
The Night Flight app makes me excited for other possibilities—what if MTV assembled an app for 120 Minutes and its original alt-video show, The Cutting Edge?—but it also makes me weary. Revisiting your formative years via random clips on YouTube is a quick, fleeting high. But soaking in whole vintage episodes can quickly lead to overdose, and getting sad, bitter, nasty drunk on nostalgia ain’t pretty. When that happens, turn off the TV and cue up the new Jens Lekmen or Solange albums, stiff shots of adrenaline that’ll bring you right back to today.