Nighthawks

"OK"

Nighthawks Review


Gay film historians can probably make a valid case for the importance of Nighthawks, one of the first movies to try to depict gay lives in a raw, honest, and realistic way. Produced with very little money over three years by British director Ron Peck and producer Paul Hallam, it made it to London screens in 1978 only to be condemned by the powers that be. Today it serves as a historical record of urban gay life in the post-Stonewall/pre-AIDS era, and for that it has value.

But as a movie... well, that's another story. Perhaps the point of the film is to prove that a gay life can be as mundane as a straight life, and if so, it succeeds. But as we follow the slow-paced night crawling of kind-hearted 30-ish geography teacher Jim (Ken Robertson), an all-around decent bloke who's just looking for love, we realize that the only drama here is the gayness itself. Nothing much actually happens.

A fairly dreary guy with a dreary job in a dreary school in a dreary city, Jim is far from glamorous. His favorite hobby is snapping photos of London's decayed docklands. Get the idea? The bars and clubs he frequents are equally seedy, and as for the music, well just turn down the sound. Apparently disco hadn't made it across the pond.

Like many gay men, especially of this era, Ken runs through a series of terribly polite one-night stands, the kind of encounters where his guests ask if it's OK to put their shirt on the chair as they disrobe. As for the sex scenes, Ken never gets past first base on camera. No wonder he's grumpy!

Only when director Peck takes a moment to try something interesting does the film spark to life. Zooming in on Ken's eyes as he stands morosely in a bar and glances around, Peck holds the shot for close to two minutes, giving you plenty of time to have a staring contest and think about Ken's predicament. He never seems to go home alone, but he never makes any lasting connections, either. One bloke called Neal seems like a keeper, but he fades out of the picture just like all the others.

In the movie's most interesting moment, Jim's rowdy class of obnoxious teenagers start gay-baiting him, and rather than shut them up, he decides to make a lesson of it and tries to answer all their questions, no matter how ridiculous ("Do you like to carry a handbag?" "Do you fancy little boys?") as openly and honestly as he can. He wins a measure of respect from the kids but gets in trouble with the headmaster. Of course, given the low-key nature of the script, it's not too much trouble, and Jim makes a convincing case for the importance of talking about such things with kids before they simply absorb all their parents' prejudices.

Though Nighthawks isn't very interesting on his own, it's highly recommended, almost required really, that you watch it along with Ron Peck's companion piece, Strip Jack Naked, a sort of making-of documentary he created 12 years later not only to talk about the struggles he faced in getting Nighthawks made but also to tell his own story of growing up gay in '50s and '60s England. It's a searing story told with incredible eloquence and accompanied by wonderful images. It's also a very sad coda because the AIDS crisis has intervened in the years that have passed, and many of the brave people who helped him make his movie are gone.



Nighthawks

Facts and Figures

Run time: 99 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 4th April 1981

Distributed by: MCA Universal Home Video

Production compaines: Martin Poll Productions, The Production Company, Universal Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 11 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Ron Peck

Producer: Ron Peck, Paul Hallam

Starring: as Det. Sgt. Deke DaSilva, as Wulfgar, as Det. Sgt. Matthew Fox, as Irene, as Shakka Holland, Nigel Davenport as Peter Hartman, Hilary Thompson as Pam, as Lt. Munafo, Walter Mathews as Commissioner, E. Brian Dean as Sergeant

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