The British Film Institute looks after one of the largest archive collections of films in the world, with footage dating back to the first moving images in the 1890s. Within its vaults are countless classic queer films, a couple of which are included in the BFI Flare Festival each year. This year’s favourites include Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II an iconic documentary produced by Channel 4 in 1990 to document the work of queer filmmaker Ron Peck, as well as Le Bleu Mec a recently re-discovered lost hard-core porn documentary masterpiece on hustler/performer Karl Forest.
Ron Peck’s 1979 feature film Nighthawks told the story of a gay school teacher and his relentless search for a partner. 12 years later, Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II documented the life of Ron Peck using footage and outtakes from the first film. The original film featured over 200 shaggy-haired members of London’s gay scene from the mid-1970s, including members of the iconic queer activist group The Brixton Faeries as well as fellow filmmaker Derek Jarman. The film was shot in iconic gay squats and venues such as the Catacombs Club in Earls Court. However, by the time the film came out in 1979, the queer scene had moved on and flashy gay discos such as Heaven had opened, and many London queers had sampled New York’s legendary queer hotspots such as Paradise Garage and Studio 54. This meant that people found the footage of the rather small, dark and underground mid 70’s gay scene hard to connect to. Nevertheless, Ron’s original film is an invaluable record of mid-1970s queer London.
Ron narrates us through his life, growing up as a young gay man in the 1960s and 70’s, the gay scene of 1970’s London, the fledgling Gay Liberation Movement, and his issues in producing, funding and releasing a queer film in a very homophobic Britain. He also discusses the period after the film’s release, from 1979 to 1990, and the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. He poignantly notes the shift in British attitudes from the ‘Make Love, Not War’ mantra of the mid 1970s to the early 1980’s ‘Make War, not Love’ cries of Thatcherism and the Falklands War. A truly fascinating and unique documentary time capsule. 9/10
Le Bleu Mec was also released in 1979. It’s a unique film. Directed by Rudolf Nureyev’s boyfriend Wallace Potts, it tells the erotic ‘noir’ life story of Karl Forest, a handsome French army commander, who leaves the army and moves to Paris and becomes a hustler and then an erotic cabaret performer. What’s unique about this film is that it’s narrated by Karl himself and accompanied by many clips of Karl having hardcore sex with friends, clients and men he has picked up on the streets of Paris. There’s a lot of sex in this film. All accompanied by a fantastic 70’s French soundtrack and great vintage footage of Parisian street life.
Le Bleu Mec is also an insightful study of Karl’s mind. He’s very open about his thoughts on sex and life. As a young man, he enjoyed playing with real guns and fighting. He happily admits to only being interested in men he wants to have sex with, and no one else. He has about ten regular fuck buddies, and a lot of friends but few really close friends. He’s relaxed with his hustling work – we see him chain-smoking through sex with a client and thinking about the fifty franc notes he’s earning. At night he always dreams about being at war. An intelligent 27-year-old lone wolf. A very sexy one at that. A one-off film, thankfully now digitally restored. Highly recommended. 9/10
Queerguru’s Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah
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BFI FLARE Film Fest began on 3/15 and will end on 3/26. To see the whole program and book tickets check out https://www.bfi.org.uk/