LGBT Movies: Nighthawks (1978)

“If the world would not accommodate homosexuals we would create our own world.” ~ Filmmaker Ron Peck

Nighthawks traps a school teacher in a cycle of day time classrooms and night time gay bars. The dull first hour feels like Groundhog Day without the laughs. When he decides to take a risk and change his routine the film becomes something special. A story of the gay liberation movement in miniature. It’s unlike any LGBT+ film I’ve seen this year.

Want to learn more? Then here’s my spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Stuck in a Rut

1 Cruising
Jim’s getting desperate.

Scene One: London. A Gay Disco.
(Synthesized music plays. Shaggy-haired, jean-clad men dance. Other men lean against the wall and cruise.)
STRANGER: I moved to London when I read about the gay pride movement. Now I’m rooming with three straight guys who only talk about sports and birds. They think I’m with my “girlfriend” right now.
JIM (A Geography Teacher): Shall we go to bed?

Scene Two: High School
STUDENTS: We’re bored.
JUDY (A Teacher): I’m new. Give me a tour?
JIM: This is the green staircase. There’s also a red and blue staircase.
JUDY: You’re cute.
JIM: If you want the projector you need to check it out a week in advance.

JIM: Now that we’ve established my routine it repeats. I pick up a stranger. I teach a class. I pick up a new stranger. I teach a class. Finally:

Scene Three: After School
JUDY: You’re a stronger actor than anyone else here.
JIM: Well I’ve a theater background. The rest of the cast are friends of the director or strangers recruited through classified ads.
JUDY: Since I got married I’ve lost touch with my friends. Have you ever lived with anybody?
JIM: I lived with one man for three months. But my flat is small and he was always underfoot. Eventually I kicked him out. The man I was seeing before him moved to Australia.
JUDY: (He’s gay? Keep it together Judy. You got this.) I knew someone from Australia. (Crushed it.)

Act Two: Making Friends

2 Judys Heart
Judy’s heart is breaking.

Scene Four: Gay Disco
JIM: I just came out! That ought to shake things up.
ANOTHER STRANGER: Small talk. Sex. Goodbye.
JIM: We’re midway through the film. Surely something new will…
JIM: No.
YET ANOTHER STRANGER: Dinner and a show? Here’s my number.
JIM: No.
CURLY HAIRED GUY: Hi Jim! We met at a party. Can I buy you a drink?
JIM: NO! (Storms off.)
CURLY HAIRED GUY: Was it something I said?

Scene Five: School Dance
(Synthesized Music Plays)
JIM: That’s the same music from the gay disco! I’m in hell! (Storms out.)
JUDY: Dance with me! Pleeeaaassseee! (Hugs him.)
JUDY: Now you sound like my husband. What’s wrong?
JIM: I wasn’t honest about my ex. He cheated on me, then vanished. I went to the discos to look for him. Then picked up a stranger. It felt liberating. So I kept going to the discos. When I finally found my ex we’d nothing to say to each other.
JUDY: Aren’t discos for teenagers?
JIM: Gays are late bloomers.

Act Three: Making Changes

3 Class b
Jim’s terrifying students.

Scene Six: Art Gallery Opening
CURLY HAIRED GUY: I’m glad you could join me.
JIM: Well I’m trying to break a time loop.
JIM: Want to hear about my ex? I couldn’t stand living with someone.
CURLY HAIRED GUY: I’m the opposite. I can’t stand living alone. (Sad trombone.)

Scene Seven: High School


STUDENT: There’s been a rumor going around the school that you’re queer.
JIM: Yes, it’s true.
STUDENTS: Do you dress up in ladies clothes? Have you touched  a student? Weren’t you were dating Ms. Judy? Do your parents know? Do you go to discos? Are you a werewolf? What do you do in bed? Are you ashamed?
JIM: No. No. No. No. Yes. What? A lot of things. No. One question at a time.
(The students grow louder. Cut to:)
JIM: They were asking ignorant questions because no one has taught them any better.
PRINCIPAL: If this happens again you’ll be sacked.

Scene Eight: Gay Disco
CURLY HAIRED GUY: Is this another film saying gay life is miserable?
JIM: It’s saying that coming out is risky but important. And that hook-up culture is a transitional phase that one needs to experience and move past.
JIM: I’ve spent more time with you than any other man in this film. That’s a start. Want to dance?
(Jim and the Curly Haired Guy disappear into the throng of dancers. Another man takes Jim’s place at the cruising wall. The camera slowly pans across the wall of men searching for love.)



Nighthawks 2: Strip Jack Naked

5 Curly b
Jim’s curly haired love interest seems nice enough.

“The most positive signal this film could send was that this man was prepared to stand up for himself and come out and begin to make an issue of it.” ~ Filmmaker Ron Peck

The 1991 documentary Strip Jack Naked outlines the 5 years it took Ron Peck to fund-raise, film and secure distribution for Nighthawks. Critics dismissed the amateur film-making while conservatives rung their hands over the “depravity.” Club culture was growing and Jim’s dingy little disco felt depressing compared to the pillars of the scene. But Britain’s gay community was about to be undercut by Thatcherism and the AIDS crisis. Gay teachers came under fire and Jim’s comparative freedom soon felt like Paradise Lost.

The documentary features deleted scenes for Judy, the Curly Haired Guy and a group of gay rights activists. They’re interesting but Peck only got the film under 2 hours by focusing ruthlessly on Jim’s point of view.  He’s bored with club life but thinks it’s the only place he can be gay. Coming out allows him to explore new avenues.

A recent study by the Human Rights Campaign reported that large numbers of LGBT+ employees still face discrimination in the workplace. Many chose to stay in the closet. Does Jim keeping his job after the classroom outing feel realistic to you or a fantasy?

For more reviews of LGBT+ media click here.

I’m taking a break for the holiday. On September 9 I’ll look at a collection of lesbian romantic comedies.