Nighthawks, a film by Ron Peck and Paul Hallam

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Tonight Birkbeck Research in Aesthetics of Kinship screened Ron Peck’s and Paul Hallam’s seminal 1978 film Nighthawks, the two directors and one of the film’s main protagonists (Judy) were in attendance for a post-screening unpacking of the film.

I attended with friend Kevin Maxwell and we were both struck at the aesthetics of the film (the uncomfortably long zoom into the eyes of Jim) who’s disposition for cruising the gay bars in 1970s London allowed Kevin and I to reflect on the similarities and differences of the gay scene past and present. We concurred there is little difference in the emotional drivers of gay relationships, however as Ron Peck commented, digital technology has irrevocably changed the geography and physicality of how sexual encounters are orchestrated.

I was struck by the simple dialogue and the visual narrative which was punctuated by moments of abstraction. This is at its most vivid where Jim and Judy are driving along the M1 with only their voices heard against the backdrop of street lamps and the darting white and red of speeding vehicles against the night sky.

Paul Hallam mentioned that he sensed melancholia while watching the film, as I did, but this was combined with an unerring sense of tension and intrigue, provided not only through the aesthetics, but also in the brief encounters and work-based relationships that Jim was ‘enduring’.

Peck says it was deliberate that Jim’s fate is left in doubt at the films conclusion, much to the wrath of the films financial investors who would have preferred a ‘walking into the sunset’ finality, but the doubt cast by the final scenes was the most satisfying conclusion in that it mirrored Jim’s habitas –intimacy at odds with independence.

Writing about the film in 2009 Matt Lucas asks modern-day viewers to see it ‘not as a gay film but as a social document of life in late-70s London’. I agree, Nighthawks is a window into the complexities of the human condition set in time and context. We should thank Ron Peck and Paul Hallam for overcoming the prejudice and financial obstacles they faced at the time to make a film that provides younger generations of gay men and women with an important window into their past.

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