List Film

Ron Peck on Thatcher-era thriller Empire State

Director of Nighthawks discusses overdue DVD and Blu Ray release

Clubbed to Death

Empire State

It’s mad to think that Ron Peck’s Thatcherite era thriller Empire State has lain dormant for so long. Set in and around the gay clubbing scene, which at the time was exploding in vast warehouse clubs in the UK, the film easily still stands next to The Long Good Friday, Angel and Mona Lisa as a largely successful attempt to essay what Thatcher’s free market economy policies did to the dispossessed, the greedy and the terminally psychotic.

One of the reasons the film may have slipped through the net is one of perception. Peck who had previously made the celebrated queer cinema milestone Nighthawks in 1978, and along with Derek Jarman, he was viewed as one of the key proponents of this cinematic strata.

‘It’s so strange because I don’t really see myself in those terms.’ Peck muses down the phone from his London home. ‘My commitment to Nighthawks was total, but after it people started asking me: “Are you a filmmaker or a gay filmmaker?” With Empire State Peck wanted to go another way: ‘I wanted the sexually ambiguous characters to be meshed into the story and not be part of some separate world. That was what was happening in society at the time, these huge mega gay clubs with American names had exploded and totally lost their stigma for straights. There was this recognition everywhere that gays had money.’

On DVD and Blu-ray, Empire State arrives with a ton of extra features, including one clip of Peck on Right to Reply (the film was released sequentially on the cinema and on Channel 4) defending the violence and language in the film. ‘It was a violent time, by releasing the constraints on money, Thatcher had encouraged everyone to be aggressive.’ Peck explains.

With two new features about to be released, Peck wonders how a younger generation of viewers will take to the resurrection of Empire State. ‘It’s lurid melodrama is a little high coloured now.’ He sighs. ‘But the feedback has been very positive so far.’

Empire State, out Mon 14 Mar (Network).

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