Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II Review

Since the advent of DVD the ‘making of’ documentary has achieved a remarkable ubiquity. As a result even those pieces which could be described as classics of the genre (if it can be categorised as such) have appeared on disc with little or no fanfare – consider Chris Marker’s A.K., which featured as a “mere” extra on DVDs of Ran. Occasionally, however, one or two titles are allowed to slip through the net and merit a release in their own right, the latest being Strip Jack Naked, Ron Peck’s sequel-cum-retrospective of his 1978 feature Nighthawks. Yet as this very film was itself accompanied by two short subjects on its own disc, is there really a need for this piece – or indeed an incentive to buy?

The answer is a resounding yes for Strip Jack Naked moves beyond the remit of simple EPK-style fluff and becomes a work of art in its own right, one which encompasses in equal measure the experimental and the autobiographical. Not once do we step on the toes of those pieces which sat alongside Nighthawks, rather we are afforded a more personal reflection told solely in Peck’s own voice.

Indeed, it is this latter element which makes Strip Jack Naked such an accessible work. Though framed through video footage which suggests we are witnessing some kind of dream/nightmare dichotomy as well as intermittent eroticised moments of naked and near-naked male models in an editing suite (rather blatantly symbolising “gay cinema”), for the most part Peck keeps things simple. His voice-over is the one constant which serves to ground the film and is illustrated, in a conventional manner, through photographs, film excerpts and other archive footage. Moreover, he speaks to us in such a direct and personal manner that even with such, for want of a better word, basic devices he is able to utterly command our attention.

Furthermore, this approach also allows Strip Jack Naked to become more than just a film about Nighthawks and its production. Indeed, it is a full hour until we even hear it gain a proper mention as, in order to provide the context, Peck must first relate his own story. As such we learn of his life from 1962, when, at the age of 14, he first discovered his homosexuality, through to Nighthawks and beyond. And it’s a story which also, therefore, serves as a history of gay culture through the sixties and seventies as told through Dick Bogarde in Victim; Physique magazine; decriminalisation in 1967; Joe Dallesandro in Flesh and the seizing of a print at a London theatre; the “general dissent” of the 1970s; the case of John Warburton, the teacher who would inspire Nighthawks’ conception; and much more besides. Of course, being a personal history it cannot be regarded as a definitive reflection of its time, but then this also makes it no less valid.

Which also happens to be the argument in defence of Nighthawks itself. Being the first major gay film to come from the UK it was understandably met with some criticism as it didn’t fulfil everyone’s expectations as to what it should encompass or represent. Retrospectively such considerations are of course diminished as gay cinema now encompasses whole bodies of work rather than the intermittent feature. Indeed, it is now a film which stands out for its honesty and the way in which it reflects the society of its time. In this respect Strip Jack Naked also proves the perfect companion/sequel as it too has equal command of these qualities; as though to heighten this connection Peck illustrates his own story with various outtakes and unseen footage which never made it into Nighthawks’ final cut. On the one level these prove fascinating in their own right as we are able to experience new directions which the film could have taken (as a side note it would be fascinating to see Peck’s initial three hour-plus work print), but they also serve to enforce the fact that, as Peck himself puts it, “there was no distinction between my personal life and the film”.

Interestingly, it is now just as easy to take the same stance with Strip Jack Naked as we do with Nighthawks. Just as 1978 seems a long way away, so too does 1991. Video as a tool for the experimental filmmaker has now been superseded by newer, more user friendly methods, whilst elements such as putting the boot into Thatcher and the looming spectre of Aids similarly date it – perhaps unsurprisingly the film opens with the story of Colm Clifford, a man who was integral to Nighthawks’ production and who died of the disease in the late eighties – not that either are any less valid to this day. Indeed, we are now at a point where the distance between today and Strip Jack Naked is roughly that which separated its own production from that of Nighthawks’. Should we, therefore, keep our fingers crossed for a third instalment?

The Disc

As with Nighthawks, Second Run’s DVD of Strip Jack Naked comes with a director approved presentation. As such we are likely to be getting the film in as fine a condition as possible – certainly, there are no technical flaws to speak of. The image is in its original Academy ratio, whilst the newly shot video footage and scratchy 16mm Nighthawks outtakes look as good as could be expected considering the methods in which they were captured. Moreover, the soundtrack is similarly impressive with a DD2.0 mix which handles Peck’s voice-over and the film’s sound design without a single problem. Of course, the outtake footage doesn’t come with the greatest audibility, but then this is to be expected and can hardly be blamed on the disc itself.

Strip Jack Naked also comes accompanied by three short films, each of which has been produced especially for this DVD release. Titled Soho, King’s Cross and 149 respectively, these newer pieces allow us catch up with Peck, his co-writer Paul Hallam and their current preoccupations. Soho, which the pair co-directed, sees Hallam reading out, presumably, a screenplay about the titular London district which comes across as a kind of Beat Girl via Kenneth Anger and Hubert Selby, Jr. Accompanying his voice we have digitally captured shots from a flat window above a Soho street as it seeks out passers-by and the neon of various takeaways and sex shops. Indeed, what we have is a merging of the two in an attempt to create corresponding elements – seediness, sexuality and the like. That said, it is also a conspicuously, and therefore perhaps intentionally, amateurish piece. The impression given is that we are viewing a test piece, a means of simply investigating the material rather than a finished article in its own right.

King’s Cross, directed by Hallam and Kate Boyd, is a similar digital video exercise, though here there is a far greater sense of being for a wider audience. Indeed, where Soho was loose and played on associations, King’s Cross is more direct as Hallam talks of his current fascination with prostitution and takes us through the literature and press clippings he has amounted in the aim of producing a work (perhaps literature, perhaps film – it is never made clear) on the subject.

Finally, 149, shot by Peck, is much more of a home movie (the end credits even state as much) in which the director takes us back to the house in which he grew up to document its change. Told with only natural sound for the most part, it understandably holds less importance to anyone other than Peck and his family. Indeed, it does appear as though this is going to be a rather dull affair until some of the soundtrack from Strip Jack Naked comes in and the resonances of the piece no longer escape the general viewer. As with the other pieces, it is admittedly rather minor in comparison to either Nighthawks or Strip Jack Naked, but then all three prove welcome nonetheless.

As with the main feature, each of the shorts come without optional subtitles, English or otherwise.

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