Profile - Ron Peck
Born 15 May, 1948, South London
Background Even in his bookish, middle-class youth the now-sexagenarian Peck was determined to become a filmmaker. ‘It was three strands that made cinema very vital and alive for me,’ he says, citing as major inspiration the often socially-conscious oeuvre of Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray and Ida Lupino (particularly The Bigamist), the street-wise New York of Paul Morrissey’s films and Antonioni. He subsequently formed Four Corner Films with fellow film school graduates. Three years in the making, and co-authored with assistant director Paul Hallam, Nighthawks was the feature length debut in what Peck describes as ‘my all-too-thin filmography.’ As the UK’s first major gay movie it remains a seminal work.
On Nighthawks ‘It does seem a long time ago, finally. There were many years when I thought I’d never get past it. I think it still feels truthful, which was the essential purpose, and that’s partly because the actors improvised using their own language. What interests me is how much identification non-gay audiences seem to find in it, as if the situation of the schoolteacher transcended a gay context.’
On lead Ken Robertson ‘He did a fantastic job for us, and was excellent playing Chaplin in a stage show he did immediately after Nighthawks. But Ken didn’t have the chances he should have had as an actor. I don’t know why.’ (Geeks take note: according to imdb.com Robertson was a cast as Hrchek Kal Fas in the original black and white footage of the cantina scenes of Star Wars.)
What’s Peck up to now? ‘I’ve shot a film called Cross Channel, a speculative mystery about two East London brothers who take a ferry from England to France. Like Nighthawks it was largely improvised with non-professionals. I’m currently editing.’
Interesting fact Nighthawks camera operator Joanna Davis was in her seventh month of pregnancy during the shoot. ‘I’ve always loved the image of a large pregnant woman with an Arriflex strapped above the bump,’ she says, ‘being pushed in a wheelchair around the set of a gay club by a six-foot straight bloke.’
Nighthawks/Strip Jack Naked (BFI), out now on DVD and Blu-ray. See review next issue.