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Ron Peck’s Strip Jack Naked (UK, 1991): Portrait of the Artist as a Young Gay Man

Strip Jack Naked (Ron Peck, UK, 1991) : Portrait de l’artiste en jeune homme gay
Nicole Cloarec

Résumés

Réalisé treize ans après Nighthawks, Strip Jack Naked pourrait passer pour un documentaire du type « making-of » qui retrace les difficultés qu’a rencontrées le metteur en scène Ron Peck à filmer son premier long métrage : le film de 1978 était l’un des premiers films britanniques traitant ouvertement de la communauté homosexuelle et avait fait polémique à sa sortie. Cependant Strip Jack Naked est aussi un documentaire auto-biographique qui présente, à travers le cas du metteur en scène lui-même, ce que découvrir son orientation homosexuelle signifiait pour un jeune garçon dans les années 1960 et 1970. A travers le montage de matériaux d’archives divers, le film dépeint une époque où une culture gay commence à apparaître au grand jour, posant la question de sa représentation. Ron Peck adopte de fait une démarche doublement réflexive : en tant que sujet de son propre récit, et comme l’atteste le recours à une voix over qui s’adresse de façon directe et intime au spectateur, le metteur en scène propose une histoire personnelle de la Grande-Bretagne des années 1950 à 1980, mais en tant que metteur en scène, il pose également la question de la visibilité des minorités et de son rôle d’artiste vis-à-vis de la représentation de cette communauté.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 To quote but a few: Thomas Waugh (ed.), ‘Show us Life’: Towards a History and Aesthetic (...)
  • 2 Julianne Burton quoted in T. Waugh, op. cit., 376.
  • 3 Françoise Lionnet in writing about women’s autobiographical novels notes that women are “cons (...)

1Recent film criticism has underlined how documentary filmmaking has played a crucial part in the constitution of so-called “minority” social movements — be they feminist, gay lesbian and queer or post-colonial.1 According to Julianne Burton, documentaries have proved invaluable “to expose and combat the culture of invisibility and inaudibility,”2 and ultimately to excavate “histories occluded by HISTORY.”3 In short, the medium of documentary film has operated either as true historiography or as historiographic meditations on the need to retrieve evidence from the margins of history.

  • 4 This would correspond in Bill Nichols’s classification of documentary to the “performative mo (...)

2What is more, critics have observed that more and more filmmakers unashamedly claim their subjectivity and authorship while investigating History, eschewing the claim to objectivity after the prevailing use of direct cinema collecting testimonies in the 1970s.4 As Michael Renov notes in his article “New Subjectivities: Documentary and Self-Representation in the Post-Vérité Age”:

  • 5 Michael Renov, “New Subjectivities: Documentary and Self-Representation in the Post-Vérité (...)

By 1990, any chronicler of documentary history would note the growing prominence of work by women and men of diverse cultural backgrounds in which the representation of the historical world is inextricably bound up with self-inscription. In these films and tapes […], subjectivity is no longer construed as “something shameful”; it is the filter through which the Real enters discourse as well as a kind of experiential compass guiding the work toward its goal as embodied knowledge.5

  • 6 I prefer the term “gay” to “queer” which was claimed by North American theorists in the 1990s (...)
  • 7 Pioneering British researchers like Richard Dyer have mainly studied Hollywood cinema (Gays a (...)

3Nighthawks II: Strip Jack Naked perfectly fits this description: the filmmaker appears as the subject of his own narrative, using a voice-over that addresses the viewer with both directness and intimacy. In so doing, he builds up a highly personal counter-history of Great Britain from the 1960s to the early 1990s, told from a gay perspective6 and focusing on retrieving an “alternative” celluloid archive conceived as an antidote to mainstream representations of male homosexuals. In so doing, Ron Peck’s film offers its cinematographic contribution to the academic works that started to address questions of gender and sexuality in British cinema, of desire and identity on screen or to offer a revisionist bent to what had remained a fairly heterocentric perspective from the bulk of British film criticism.7

Strip Jack Naked as Making-of Documentary

  • 8 The responses to the film ranged from celebration to total condemnation on the part of the (...)
  • 9 It took four years for Ron Peck and Paul Hallam to complete Nighthawks: conceived as early (...)

4As its full title indicates, Nighthawks II: Strip Jack Naked appears as Ron Peck’s sequel to his highly controversial 1978 film Nighthawks, one of the first British films to openly deal with the gay community.8 Made some thirteen years after the first film, it could be taken for a mere making-of documentary relating some of the difficulties that Peck encountered in making his first feature film.9 Had DVD supplements already been in full swing, one could easily believe it had been made to fit this new commercial ploy but if Strip Jack Naked somehow heralds the trend of DVD supplements, the film’s procedure is much closer to Orson Welles’s Filming Othello (1978). Significantly, the opening shots are set in an unidentified dark basement leading to an editing room, an unmistakable echo of the beginning of Filming Othello that introduces Welles in front of a Moviola showing his film Othello. Indeed, Ron Peck retrieves his previous work to shed a retrospective gaze at it, to offer a commentary upon it. This self-reflexive device highlights the status of Nighthawks as an “open work” in so far as its performative dimension is stressed through production context and alternative outtakes. Strip Jack Naked can then be seen, to use Gérard Genette’s terminology, both as metatext and paratext, as an added preface or a large footnote to the original work. The double status of a film that stands on its own but is grafted upon another, along with the mise en abyme of a former film within the film, dramatises from the onset the need for a historical recontextualisation.

5However, what prevails in the opening sequence is the way vision and visibility are made problematic. The first three minutes before the voice-over starts constitute a highly disorienting experience: made of short takes between fades in and out, piles of film boxes appear in a succession of close shots cross-edited with short tracks along a dark corridor and with close shots of human bodies that become hardly visible or blurred; the sequence offers no spatial or temporal landmarks, no narrative thread of any kind, no information on the people photographed. Images appear in fits and starts, sporadically, only to vanish. In the opening shot, the viewer can hardly distinguish a low-key close shot of the face of a man who is stirring in his sleep as if prey to a nightmare. This image, which recurs regularly throughout the film, provides the first framing device of Strip Jack Naked, which ends with a similar close shot of the man who at last wakes up. The viewer is thus led to think that the whole film is the projection of a personal nightmare, to which a second framing device immediately opposes a realistic framework. The recurring close shots of reels of film, of the white spool around which the film rolls up, of numerous film boxes labelled “Outtakes Nighthawks” not only highlight the self-reflexive referentiality of Peck’s sequel to his original film but also the physicality of film itself, the material origin of images.

  • 10 In his short filmic essay What to Do with a Male Nude? (1985), Ron Peck humorously (...)
  • 11 « C’est en ce sens qu’elle force la lecture, ‘captive’ le lecteur, produit sur lui la sensa (...)

6Surprisingly, the two men who appear in the basement full of film archives sitting in front of the Moviola are naked. While this may look like a tongue-in-cheek reference to camp aesthetics, the shot provides a straightforward and powerful confrontation of the human body (as raw material, naked) and film (as material and media). As its title indicates, this confrontation of flesh and image is precisely what is at stake in Strip Jack Naked, using the male body as the corpus delecti of the story/history and the problematic object of representation.10 Stripping naked becomes an allegory of the film’s relationship to the archive material it uses, recalling Arlette Farge’s description of archive as “tearing a veil apart”, as “a laying bare.”11 As the camera tracks in onto the film within the film, not only does Nighthawks become a historical document of its own, but it also clearly appears that Strip Jack Naked is a film about vision, what it means to see and be seen.

7Because Nighthawks has become part of the history of gay culture, Ron Peck in Strip Jack Naked seeks to analyse the significance of media representation as well as of his own filmmaking in the broader history of political struggle for gay rights. Richard Dyer and Derek Cohen note that the emergence of a “radical gay culture” in the 1970s was linked to various artistic experiments:

  • 12 Richard Dyer & Derek Cohen, “The Politics of Gay Culture,” in Richard Dyer (ed.), The Cultu (...)

Visual, written and performance arts were seen as channels through which those who had ‘come out’ and who had some positive things to say about their appearances as homosexuals could communicate to others, whether they were gay or not.12

  • 13 Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Patrick Williams & Laura Chrisman (...)

8For Ron Peck, making Nighthawks was synonymous with coming out, assuming at last his identity as a young gay filmmaker. In Strip Jack Naked the history of the filmmaking itself actually starts after an hour, after what might appear as the detour of a disguised autobiography. In fact, this detour proves essential in interrogating representations of sexuality that coercively determine personal as well as public identities. As Stuart Hall points out: “Identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.”13 Through weaving personal testimony and history, Peck actually examines the ideological conditions of how sexuality is produced as a social construct that requires scripting, casting, editing and broadcasting.

Strip Jack Naked as Autobiography

  • 14 “I made Nighthawks with Paul Hallam in 1978, 12 years ago. I’m 42 now, I was 29 then. But s (...)

9Peck traces back the archaeology of Nighthawks to the moment he experienced his first homoerotic desire at fourteen, which he recalls aroused very disturbing feelings.14 In addition to the taunts and abusive epithets he received over the phone, he was shattered by the absence of any name or representation which could help express his feelings: “Nothing had prepared me for them and I couldn’t give them a name.” It is no coincidence that the filmmaker’s presence is mainly felt through the voice-over: the few self-portraits inserted are all official ‘public’ images of a school class or family photographs of a ‘happy’ family which contrast with Peck’s personal images taken with a Super 8 camera, through which he watched the world outside his window. What is indeed striking about Peck’s childhood and teenage memories is the restriction of the field of vision to this window, often filmed in backlighting, stressing the dark bars of its frame, the effects of lighting through dew condensation. These recurring shots illustrate the whole issue at stake, namely the constricting environment the young Ron Peck grew up in, but also the absence of an image to identify with. Significantly enough, the view from the window reveals a yard with some laundry hanging — a banal picture of a white sheet that acquires deep significance as the site of all projections and of film projection in particular.

  • 15 Richard Dyer has consistently studied the impact of mainstream representation on mi (...)
  • 16 Ron Peck explains: “Just as we are told today there are no homosexuals in China, I thought (...)
  • 17 Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm, The Art Institute (...)

10Likewise, the abusive taunts and laughter echoing in the soundtrack are all the more effective as they impinge upon this blank space. Although Peck emphasises the part cinema played in providing role models, acknowledging that “everything [he] learnt about sex came from films and filming” as when he made great effort to have a girlfriend whom he “kissed against the wall of her house the way they did in the movies,” the fractured disjunctive editing — through the numerous fades in and out, the recurring close shots of the man stirring in his sleep, of blurred naked bodies that the camera caresses like a landscape — highlights his experience of dispersal and fragmentation within the dominant regimes of visual representation: “In this hall of mirrors, there was nothing I could identify with, just some things to laugh at or be scared of.” Later on Peck speaks of “some nightmare mirror image of what I thought I might be” when referring to the “sinister stories about men gathering in parks and commons at night, hanging around public toilets, arrests and murders” that his local newspaper ran.15 This negative hall of mirrors is visually translated by the recurring image of a car driving at night: despite the spots of light from the streetlamps and the car headlights which give an abstract tachist quality to the pictures, the scenes evoke a long dark tunnel symbolising Peck’s long journey towards visibility.16 Some of the shots also include the reflection of the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror, thus framing and isolating them. The scenes are actually outtakes from Nighthawks which itself was elaborated from two night pictures which were Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks17 and the image of driving in the dark on the motorway. However, because they are not explicitly presented as outtakes from the original film, they are endowed with the universal symbolic dimension of a spiritual journey of discovery.

  • 18 Victim, directed by Basil Dearden in 1961, was a landmark “social problem” film in so far (...)
  • 19 Paul Morrissey’s Flesh (US, 1968) opened in London at the Open Space on January 15th, 1970. (...)
  • 20 The film details a series of inserts of book covers tracing back the history of gay (...)

11Because identity is constituted within representation, Ron Peck explains how he felt the need to become a filmmaker in order to build up his own identity through alternative cinematographic representations of homosexuals. Interestingly enough, Peck selects but a single photograph from mainstream cinema before his own film: a long close up on “the face of Dirk Bogarde in Victim18 which “brings back that period with a vengeance.” Commenting on the close-up of Bogarde’s face, the voice-over explains: “in that troubled expression he summed up all the tension between 1961 when the film was made and 1967 when homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Britain.” This single image contrasts with the multiplication of inserts from magazines that heralded the emergence of the gay rights movement. Inserts of covers and photographs from Physique magazine, of small ads from Films and Filming offer a counter history of Great Britain in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Significantly, Ron Peck explains that decriminalisation in 1967 had no real impact on his life: “The law changed in 1967. For some people homosexuality was now legal but I don’t think I even noticed. I saw nothing around me that suggested anything was any different.” The new law did not have the weight pictures had for the young man who relied on the refractions of desire and identification to define himself. Photographs in particular offered indexical evidence: “If they were photographs so they had to be real people in the real world.” Despite decriminalisation, Ron Peck remembers that the media “wrote about beasts or queers if they wrote about us at all.” As the filmmaker recalls how Paul Morrissey’s Flesh was seized by the police after they had raided the venue it was shown at,19 he reminds us that the sphere of representation is a site of struggle. Nighthawks was clearly devised as a critique and an antidote to past depictions of homosexuals’ lives and space. Conceived as early as 1974, Nighthawks was meant to be the filmic counterpart of new media like Gay News (a magazine appearing in 1973) and academic works that embarked upon retrieving and recovering a counter history from gays and lesbians’ perspective:20

The basis for the new film was clear now: it was to put up on the screen something of that life I and others were living and the desire to do just that was all the fiercer because it was still being ignored across the media. And so like a young man fired by a mission, by a clear sense of purpose, fuelled by the energy of the activity around me, I put together in the quiet of my room a plan for a film.

  • 21 Ken Robertson who played Jim was the only professional actor and he was cast long after the (...)
  • 22 In a climactic scene towards the end of the film, Jim is confronted by his pupils and quest (...)

12Thus the original film Nighthawks, although a fiction film, is treated like other pieces of archive, becoming historical evidence of its own. More than an ironical twist, this highlights the constant interpenetration between the film and the actual socio-historical environment wherein it is inscribed. Not only was the main protagonist Jim inspired by the true story of John Warburton, a geography teacher who came out at school and was sacked as a consequence, but the original film mimics the tropes of a documentary style, using non-fiction techniques such as non-professional actors,21 long takes and sequence shots, hand-held camera and synch sound recording.22 Most significantly, the genesis of Nighthawks is typical of a documentary procedure as the film crew first used a video camera to generate the narrative out of re-enactments of directly felt experience: “People improvised for the camera. What they knew well enough from their own lives. Everything was played back and discussed. And out of this process came the material that was to be the basis of the script.” The choice of non-professional actors illustrates this interference between reality and fiction, as the filmmaker’s voice-over explains:

People were invited to bring themselves into the film and they were cast for that — for abundance and variety so that no single stereotype could hold the field any longer. By this time there was almost no distinction between my personal life and the film.

  • 23 Peck’s voice-over states: “Behind closed doors we exchanged the stories of our live (...)

13Peck’s commentary repeatedly draws an explicit parallel between the main theme of Nighthawks which is the difficulty to come out and the common experience of the filmmaker and his friends.23 The viewer then understands that all the scenes used to illustrate Peck’s personal journey out in the world, his discovery of the London “scene” and his night cruising in bars and clubs are not stylised reconstructions but taken from his former film.

Outtakes and the Representation of Gay Identity

  • 24 Matt Lucas, “My favourite Londoner,” Time Out, November 23-30, 2005, 194.

14However, what we are shown in Strip Jack Naked are not extracts from the actual film but what was left over, the outtakes, the possible alternatives to the film itself. The necessary editing brings to light the fundamental question of representativeness: the first version of Nighthawks was three and a half hours long, the filmmaker was faced with the responsibility of selecting what he deemed the most appropriate scenes to publicly expose the gay community in its diversity, eschewing either stereotyping or glamorisation. Indeed the film was both hailed and criticised for depicting gay life as it was, its utter ordinariness; as Matt Lucas aptly remarks: “It doesn’t glamorise it, it doesn’t celebrate it, it doesn’t condemn it, it just shows somebody who happens to be gay living their life.”24 As the voice-over recalls:

We had to ask ourselves a fundamental question: what kind of picture of gay life we were putting across. Was it positive? Was it negative? Was it truthful? What effect was it going to have? If this was going to be the first film about a gay character for several years, that was an important question.

15In so doing, the filmmaker had to delete other scenes that still define a persistent absence from the final narrative. Most appropriately, Ellis Hanson draws an interesting parallel between the outtake and the queer subject:

  • 25 Ellis Hanson (ed.), Outtakes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film, Durham (NC): Duke University (...)

The outtake is that part of the film that, for whatever reason, ends up on the floor of the editing room, a scene that is shot but never quite makes it onto the screen. The outtake is the supplement, the remainder that defines every narrative as a deployment of silences and absences. An outtake has, like the queer subject, a certain reality, place and defining power in the larger narrative of cultural representation, but only as that which should not be looked at.25

  • 26 “When we were editing there was a lot of argument about Colm’s character, whether he should (...)
  • 27 This question of responsibility and legitimacy is a common feature of documentaries (...)
  • 28 James Leggott, “Nighthawks and 1970s British realist cinema,” essay included in the illustr (...)
  • 29 Roland Barthes, Image/Music/Text, trans. Stephen Heath, New York: The Noonday Press, 1977, (...)
  • 30 This idea, which was celebrated by modernist filmmakers, is summed up by Alain Bergala abou (...)

16When Ron Peck’s voice-over starts after the three-minute prologue in Strip Jack Naked, it pays tribute to his friend Colm Clifford in parallel with a series of flickering still photographs from Nighthawks. Although Clifford took an active part in the production of Peck’s first film, his character was eventually excised26 and when Ron Peck started working on Strip Jack Naked, Clifford had just died of AIDS. In this respect, Strip Jack Naked answers Peck’s feeling of guilt and remorse at his responsibility to speak for others or let others speak27 as the author of a film that “has the distinction of being one of the first British feature films to describe everyday gay life.”28 Indeed, as the first major gay film to come from the UK, Nighthawks met with some criticism from the gay communities because it did not fulfil everyone’s expectations as to what it should encompass or represent. The outtakes are then endowed with a memorial dimension, highlighting the indexical quality of film, its ontological proof which Roland Barthes referred to as “le ça-a-été”, “the that-has-been, or the having-been-there of the object depicted.”29 Ultimately a film is always documentary — if only of its own shooting.30

  • 31 The expression comes from Patricia Erens’s article “Women’s Documentary Filmmaking: (...)

17As Peck himself acknowledges, because Nighthawks took four years to make, the gay world had changed by the time it was released. Unintentionally, the film was already a historical piece of evidence. Nighthawks was very much a product of its time when the slogan “the personal is political”31 was at its height. Strip Jack Naked, however, explicitly acknowledges its own limit as historically bound. The film concludes with the evocation of the AIDS epidemics, but paradoxically, the bright colours of the footage showing the various marches of support for AIDS victims stand in sharp contrast with the dark and constricted shots of the scenes recalling Peck’s youth and teenage years or even his night cruising through the London clubs. Likewise, the commentary adopts an impassioned rhetoric in parallel with slow motion effects and an insistent — and rather annoying — use of music. The paradox of this upbeat conclusion is accounted for by the feeling of liberation in the midst of the tragedy, the possibility at last for gay men to speak for themselves as individuals — not as stereotypes or representatives of a group. The voice-over concludes optimistically:

It was no longer unusual to see openly gay people on television and the wonder was that even under such stress they no longer looked like Dirk Bogarde in Victim. There was no longer one face to find your identity in but hundreds of faces, thousands. […] And what I begin to see on television and to read about in some of the national newspapers and magazines are gay people talking about much more than AIDS, talking through AIDS, fighting off the silence with more and more stories, of their lives, our lives…

  • 32 There was an outcry from gay and lesbian communities against mainstream Hollywood films suc (...)
  • 33 Ron Peck made Nighthawks through a collective organisation called Four Corner Film (...)
  • 34 Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 — or Clause 28 as it became to be known — was a (...)

18While Strip Jack Naked adopts a very intimate tone to inscribe a personal quest for self-construction within a larger counter history of male homosexuals in the UK, the ending calls for other testimonies, other voices to be heard. Peck imagines the case of a 14-year-old boy who would now go through the same experience as he did and confidently asserts there has been a change, that the young boy today “would know there is a world he could enter without shame,” a world that would acknowledge his own history and culture. Thus, Peck’s filmic confession ends humbly with an appeal to pass on the baton. One might regret, though, that Ron Peck did not further investigate the changes in the politics of representation throughout the 1980s, when the depiction of homosexuals as perverts and criminals in mainstream movies was still a sensitive issue,32 or retrace the evolution in the institutional spaces of cultural production that would allow independent film-making in the UK,33 after the backlash of the Thatcher years and the introduction of the notorious Clause 28.34 Still, making Strip Jack Naked constitutes in itself an oppositional response to Clause 28, contesting its injunction for gays to be silent and invisible.

  • 35 Peck decided to publish a call for extras in the magazine Gay News which read: “Director (...)
  • 36 S. Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” op. cit., 236.

19Throughout Strip Jack Naked Ron Peck emphasises how his own sexual identity was first shaped by the films he watched, then by becoming a filmmaker: only thanks to the medium of film did Peck eventually succeed in “coming out.”35 As Stuart Hall aptly notes, because identity is constituted, not outside, but within representation, cinema should not be regarded “as a second-order mirror held up to reflect what already exists, but as that form of representation which is able to constitute us as a new kind of subjects, and thereby enables us to discover places from which to speak.”36

20In a very personal tone, Strip Jack Naked fully demonstrates that cinema not only can assign a documentary role of historical evidence to any footage but also that film itself is part of a history of the gaze raising questions of desire, identification, fantasy, representation, cultural appropriation — all those cultural forms that contribute to shape one’s identity and one’s history within History.

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Bibliographie

Works Cited

BARTHES Roland, Image/Music/Text trans. Stephen Heath, New York: The Noonday Press, 1977.

BERGALA Alain, Rossellini, le cinéma révélé, Paris: Flammarion, 1988.

DYER Richard, The Matter of Images: Essay on Representation, London: Routledge, 2nd edition, 2002.

DYER Richard (ed.), The Culture of Queers, New York/London: Routledge, 2002.

FARGE Arlette, Le Goût de l’archive, Paris: Seuil, 1989.

GRIFFITHS Robin (ed.), British Queer Cinema, London: Routledge, 2006.

HALL Stuart, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Patrick WILLIAMS & Laura CHRISMAN (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993, 392-403.

HANSON Ellis (ed.), Outtakes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film, Durham (NC): Duke University Press Books, 1999.

HOLMLUND Chris & Cynthia FUCHS (eds.), Between the Sheets, In the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

JAGOSE Annamarie, Queer Theory: An Introduction, New York: New York University Press, 1996.

LIONNET Françoise, Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988.

LUCAS Matt, “My favourite Londoner,” Time Out, November 23-30, 2005.

NICHOLS Bill, Introduction to Documentary, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2nd edition, 2010

RABINOWITZ Paula, They Must be Represented: the Politics of Documentary, London: Verso, 1994.

ROSENTHAL Alan (ed.), New Challenges for Documentary, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

WALDMAN Diane & Janet WALKER (eds.), Feminism and Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

WAUGH Thomas (ed.), ‘Show us Life’: Towards a History and Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary, New York: Scarecrow Press, 1984.

Filmography

Nighthawks (UK, 1978), Dir.: Ron PECK & Paul HALLAM; Prod.: Nashburgh Limited and Four Corners Films; colour; 113 min.

Strip Jack Naked (UK, 1991): Dir.: Ron PECK; Prod.: BFI Production Board and Channel Four; colour; 91 min.

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Notes

1 To quote but a few: Thomas Waugh (ed.), ‘Show us Life’: Towards a History and Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary, New York: Scarecrow Press, 1984; Alan Rosenthal (ed.) New Challenges for Documentary, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988; Paula Rabinowitz They Must be Represented: the Politics of Documentary, London: Verso, 1994; Chris Holmlund & Cynthia Fuchs (eds.), Between the Sheets, In the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997; Diane Waldman & Janet Walker (eds.), Feminism and Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

2 Julianne Burton quoted in T. Waugh, op. cit., 376.

3 Françoise Lionnet in writing about women’s autobiographical novels notes that women are “consumed by the need to find their past, to trace lineages that will empower them to live in the present, to rediscover histories occluded by HISTORY.” Françoise Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988, 25-26.

4 This would correspond in Bill Nichols’s classification of documentary to the “performative mode” which offers its viewer neither the objective summation of events promised by the expository mode nor the lived immediacy of the observational form. Instead the performative mode “emphasizes the expressive quality of the filmmaker’s engagement with the film’s subject; addresses the audience in a vivid way.” Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2nd edition, 2010, 152.

5 Michael Renov, “New Subjectivities: Documentary and Self-Representation in the Post-Vérité Age,” in D. Waldman & J. Walker (eds.), op. cit., 88.

6 I prefer the term “gay” to “queer” which was claimed by North American theorists in the 1990s and applies to rethinking gender and sexuality in terms of fundamental instability and fluidity. “Gay” does not pretend to such conceptualisation of a poststructuralist identity “as a constellation of multiple and unstable positions” (Annamarie Jagose, Queer Theory: An Introduction, New York: New York University Press, 1996, 3), but on the contrary seeks to assert a legitimate and positive image within the dominant heteronormative culture.

7 Pioneering British researchers like Richard Dyer have mainly studied Hollywood cinema (Gays and Film, New York: Zoetrope, 1977, Now You See It: Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film, London: Routledge, 1990). According to Robin Griffiths, the first study to explore lesbian and gay representation and authorship in British cinema was Stephen Bourne’s Brief Encounters: Lesbians and Gays in British Cinema, 1930-1971, London: Cassell, 1997. (Robin Griffiths (ed.), British Queer Cinema, London: Routledge, 2006).

8 The responses to the film ranged from celebration to total condemnation on the part of the popular press. One tabloid ran as its headline: “Child-porn Row Looms on Gay Film.” Controversy was renewed in 1984 when the film was broadcast on Channel 4 alongside Sebastiane as part of a series of films programmed by the critic David Robinson. Once again, the tabloids had a field day “More Channel 4 Shockers” and Ron Peck remembers that that night he received threatening and obscene phone calls.

9 It took four years for Ron Peck and Paul Hallam to complete Nighthawks: conceived as early as 1974, it was released only in August 1978. The film’s application for financing was turned down twice (by the BFI in April 1976, then by the National Film Finance Corporation in September 1976). Shooting was interrupted in December 1976 due to lack of funds and after finance was secured by German television in September 1977, the film crew found it impossible to find a school that would allow them to shoot classroom sequences.

10 In his short filmic essay What to Do with a Male Nude? (1985), Ron Peck humorously revisits the history of the representation of the male body — from Greek statues to contemporary porn —, the male body as object of the gaze, triggering admiration, fascination or desire. As the voice-over assumes little by little its status of desiring subject, the camera becomes more and more preoccupied with what is left unshown, what remains taboo — namely male genitalia. The forbidden representation is ultimately revealed in a final flash which also freezes the shot as in a hiatus.

11 « C’est en ce sens qu’elle force la lecture, ‘captive’ le lecteur, produit sur lui la sensation d’enfin appréhender le réel. Et non plus de l’examiner à travers le récit sur, le discours de. Ainsi naît le sentiment naïf, mais profond, de déchirer un voile, de traverser l’opacité du savoir et d’accéder, comme après un long voyage incertain, à l’essentiel des êtres et des choses. L’archive agit comme une mise à nu ; ployés en quelques lignes, apparaissent non seulement l’inaccessible mais le vivant ». Arlette Farge, Le Goût de l’archive, Paris: Seuil, 1989, 14.

12 Richard Dyer & Derek Cohen, “The Politics of Gay Culture,” in Richard Dyer (ed.), The Culture of Queers, New York/London: Routledge, 2002, 22.

13 Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Patrick Williams & Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993, 225.

14 “I made Nighthawks with Paul Hallam in 1978, 12 years ago. I’m 42 now, I was 29 then. But somehow that project began back in 1962 when I was 14.”

15 Richard Dyer has consistently studied the impact of mainstream representation on minority groups such as gays and lesbians: “Negative designations of a group have negative consequences for the lives of members of that grouping, and identifying with that grouping, however much it doesn’t ‘get’ all of what one is personally or all of what everyone in that grouping is, none the less enables one to try to change the circumstances of that socially constructed grouping.” Richard Dyer, The Matter of Images: Essay on Representation, London: Routledge, 2nd edition 2002, 3.

16 Ron Peck explains: “Just as we are told today there are no homosexuals in China, I thought there were no homosexuals at my school, none at university; I didn’t even count myself as one.”

17 Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago. Ron Peck made a documentary about Edward Hopper in 1981 in which he explains: “Nighthawks was the first picture by Hopper I ever saw. A picture in a colour magazine which I put on the wall. It felt like all the bars I’ve ever been in to spend all night in — somewhere to go in all that blackness — a bolt hole. I spent a lot of time there.”

18 Victim, directed by Basil Dearden in 1961, was a landmark “social problem” film in so far as it was the first to attempt to tackle the difficulties homosexuals lived through, exposing the repressive law of its time. Dirk Bogarde plays a closeted gay lawyer who is victim of blackmail.

19 Paul Morrissey’s Flesh (US, 1968) opened in London at the Open Space on January 15th, 1970. On February 3rd, the venue was raided by the police and the print confiscated after the complaint of an audience member. By the end of the week, however, the Director of Public Prosecutions declared he would not pursue the case as an obscenity case and the police changed their investigation to “fire code violations”. It nonetheless led the University of Edinburgh to cancel their showing of the film. See <http://www.warholstars.org/filmch/flesh.html>, accessed June 3rd, 2011.

20 The film details a series of inserts of book covers tracing back the history of gay rights movements, showing titles such as The Early Homosexual Rights Movements 1864-1935 (John Lauritsen & David Thorstad, first published in 1974), Coming Out. Homosexual Politics in Britain, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (Jeffrey Weeks, first published in 1977).

21 Ken Robertson who played Jim was the only professional actor and he was cast long after the script was completed.

22 In a climactic scene towards the end of the film, Jim is confronted by his pupils and questioned about his sexual orientation (“Sir is it true that you’re bent?”). As the camera focuses on the class of taunting children, placing the viewer in the position of the accused, the whole scene conveys a genuine sense of happening, of spontaneous tension and potential violence.

23 Peck’s voice-over states: “Behind closed doors we exchanged the stories of our lives. But when we walked out in the morning to our separate jobs and occupations we left our homosexuality behind us. [...] It was a common experience — the double life, half of it open, the other half secret, furtive at night. It led to lies and deceits, looking and not looking.”

24 Matt Lucas, “My favourite Londoner,” Time Out, November 23-30, 2005, 194.

25 Ellis Hanson (ed.), Outtakes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film, Durham (NC): Duke University Press Books, 1999, 18.

26 “When we were editing there was a lot of argument about Colm’s character, whether he should stay in the film or not. Some people felt it gave the wrong impression of being gay, it was too alternative, too political, the whole set up was altogether too weird [...] but there were others who argued just as forcefully that he should stay in, its difference was its strength.” Ron Peck recalls his friend as “a fighter”, “in many ways a braver man than I was because he was out on the streets and he was insisting on his right to be gay. He wasn’t going to be discreet about it, he wasn’t going to take the abuse, the violence.” Press cuttings are inserted to testify to his dismissal from work in July 1977 as Clifford was dismissed for “wearing provocative badges on his uniform”, the badge in question being a GLF (Gay Liberation Front) badge. “He was out marching with a banner long before I ever thought of Nighthawks. Whatever confidence I have in being gay now, I owe partly to people like him and so did Jim the school teacher in the film.”

27 This question of responsibility and legitimacy is a common feature of documentaries dealing with ethnographic subjects, as well as minorities that have little or no access to means of production and distribution in the media. For the case of British Black cinema for example, see: Isaac Julien & Kobena Mercer, “Introduction: De Margin and De Centre,” Screen 4:29, 1988: 2-12.

28 James Leggott, “Nighthawks and 1970s British realist cinema,” essay included in the illustrated booklet of the British Film Institute DVD, 2.

29 Roland Barthes, Image/Music/Text, trans. Stephen Heath, New York: The Noonday Press, 1977, 44.

30 This idea, which was celebrated by modernist filmmakers, is summed up by Alain Bergala about Rossellini: « Rossellini a sans doute été le premier cinéaste persuadé que de toutes façons, quoi qu’on fasse, quelle que soit la volonté d’inventer une fiction, un film est toujours le documentaire de son propre tournage ». Alain Bergala, Rossellini, le cinéma révélé, Paris: Flammarion, 1988, 26.

31 The expression comes from Patricia Erens’s article “Women’s Documentary Filmmaking: the Personal is Political,” in A. Rosenthal (ed.), op. cit., 554-65.

32 There was an outcry from gay and lesbian communities against mainstream Hollywood films such as Cruising (1980) or the Silence of the Lambs (1991) which all equated homosexuality with perversion and violence.

33 Ron Peck made Nighthawks through a collective organisation called Four Corner Films (1972-1985) which was founded by Ron Peck himself along with three other students he met at the London Film School (Mary Pat Leece, Joanna Davis, Wilfried Thust) and which was committed to promote independent filmmaking.

34 Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 — or Clause 28 as it became to be known — was a controversial amendment to the United Kingdom’s Local Government Act 1986, enacted on May 24th, 1988 and repealed on June 21st, 2000 in Scotland and on November 18th, 2003 in the rest of the UK by section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003. The amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” See <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28>, accessed January 3rd, 2014.

35 Peck decided to publish a call for extras in the magazine Gay News which read: “Director needs gays for first ‘real’ gay film.”

36 S. Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” op. cit., 236.

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Nicole Cloarec, « Ron Peck’s Strip Jack Naked (UK, 1991): Portrait of the Artist as a Young Gay Man », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n° 1 | 2014, mis en ligne le 27 février 2014, consulté le 24 septembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/5662 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.5662

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Nicole Cloarec

Nicole Cloarec is a Senior Lecturer in English at Rennes 1 University. She is the author of a doctoral thesis on Peter Greenaway’s films and of a number of articles on British and American cinema in collective works published by Ellipses , La Licorne and CinémAction. She has edited two volumes resulting from the 2005 SERCIA conference: Le Cinéma en toutes lettres: jeux d’écritures à l’écran (Michel Houdiard Editeur, 2007) and Lettres de cinéma: de la missive au film-lettre (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007).

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