Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979)

          Married filmmakers Beverly and Ferd Sebastian took a break from cranking out trashy exploitation flicks when they made On the Air Live with Captain Midnight, a lighthearted underdog story about a high-school kid who achieves notoriety by operating a pirate radio station out of his van while driving around Los Angeles and avoiding a dogged pursuer from the FCC. On the Air Live with Captain Midnight is rife with problems ranging from dubious plot elements to underdeveloped characters, and the movie never fully realizes the potential of the fun premise. Nonetheless, the texture of the piece is suitably unvarnished, some of the supporting performances are mildly amusing, and the presence of real FM tunes from the late ’70s—as well as the presence of noteworthy real-life Los Angeles DJ Jim Ladd, playing himself if a supporting role—grant the picture a certain degree of authenticity. Curly-haired everydude Tracy Sebastian (presumably a relative of the filmmakers) plays Ziggy, an adolescent ne’er-do-well who skips school to hang out with his nerdy pal Gargen (Barry Greenberg) and to work on his hobby of radio broadcasting. After Ziggy loses his part-time job at a radio station by screwing up a live transmission, he and Gargen trick out Ziggy’s van so that Ziggy can assume the new on-air identity of “Captain Midnight.”
          Soliciting donations and requests from high-school kids throughout LA, Ziggy broadcasts illegally and becomes a cult hero, occasionally receiving encouragement and warnings from legit DJ Ladd. Meanwhile, uptight FCC Agent Pearson (John Ireland, giving an enjoyably crank performance) prowls the streets of Los Angeles, hoping to catch Captain Midnight in the act. Excepting a few scenes of Ziggy’s home life, which feature Ted Gehring giving an amusing turn as Ziggy’s aphorism-spewing dad, that’s the whole story. Had On the Air Live with Captain Midnight been made by more ambitious people, it might have grown into a satire about censorship or even a Capra-esque fable about a little guy fighting The Man. As is, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight feels like a rough sketch indicating where the concept might lead. Still, there’s a lot of ’70s SoCal flavor on display here, right down to the third act set at the Magic Mountain theme park in Valencia, just north of the San Fernando Valley, and the raunchy Ted Nugent tunes on the soundtrack set the right kids-wanna-party vibe.

On the Air Live with Captain Midnight: FUNKY


Sir Sweetstick said...

Sounds almost identical to the Christian Slater movie "Pump Up the Volume"

Barry Miller said...

Forget Paul Thomas Anderson's "Licorice Pizza"! This is real deal, in all of its actual 70's San Fernando Valley teenage glory.