Under the spell of a group of East Coast-based auteurists (mainly Howard Mandelbaum of New York, and Robert Smith and Jeffrey Wise of the University of Connecticut) and with the help of lithographer brother Michael and a job as a typesetter and film critic at the Clifton-Vine Reporter newspaper in Cincinnati, Gary Morris published the first issue of Bright Lights Film Journal in 1974. The goal was to create a film magazine that would feature great photos and combine popular and academic styles, with humor and progressive politics tossed into the mix.
The magazine appeared quarterly (approximately) for six years, expanding from a director-as-auteur approach to analysis of actors, producers, studios, genres, culture high and low — any force in film that could be argued as having a claim to authorship. Thus the range could include profiles and interviews with directors as disparate as Fellini and trashmeister Andy Milligan and activist documentarian Barbara Kopple, theme issues devoted to film noir, Hong Kong cinema, and Douglas Sirk, discussions of the alternative sexualities of vampires and the trauma-inducing horrors of Disney’s Old Yeller. This version of the magazine and the one to follow garnered accolades for both its content and the rare and gorgeous visuals, courtesy of both private photo collections and archives like Howard Mandelbaum’s Photofest in New York.
Bright Lights took a break in 1980 and resurfaced in 1993, which among other things gave us the distinction of being probably the only magazine in history to separate a two-part article by 13 years — that would be Greg Ford’s epic treatment of pioneering cartoon director Tex Avery.
In 1995, Gary and his more tech-minded friend George Brown, who had overseen much of Bright Lights‘ production in its early days, moved the magazine online, where it was published uninterrupted as a quarterly. George presided over the addition of an accompanying blog, Bright Lights After Dark, in 2006. Quimby Melton came on board as tech guy, ad manager, and eventually publisher in 2009 and a year later oversaw an overhaul of the site that streamlined production and made the site more user-friendly and ad-amenable. In 2014, the cabal of Quimby, designer Irina Beffa, and Gary designed a new version of the site combining the magazine and blog content that could publish in a way that’s both more timely and accommodating to any digital device. The commitment to wide-ranging, literate, fun, progressive articles on any subject related to film continues.
For more background on Bright Lights‘ history, check out this interview with Gary Morris in Film Threat by our favorite interrogator, Matt Sorrento: http://www.filmthreat.com/interviews/1261/.