Lloyd Reckord’s ground-breaking underground short on gay love in the 1960s.
By Connie Hatt: Political Columnist
Last week, the 35th BFI Flare, London’s LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, drew to a close. Last year, its absence was keenly felt, highlighting the importance of such programmes in platforming and celebrating marginalised stories.
Before BFI Flare’s conception in 1986, bold filmmakers had to break the ground to make possible the rich and wide-ranging LGBTIQ+ cinema that we enjoy today. Film buffs might remember Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) – the first British film depicting of homosexual desire – or John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), which sensitively portrays an intimate homosexual kiss and lovemaking scene.
However, one early endeavour, Lloyd Reckord’s Dream A40, has been largely overlooked. It was deemed too radical for a 1960s audience and was not widely shown until it was added to the BFI collection ‘Brief Encounters’ and BFI Player a few years ago.
Yet, through Dream A40, Reckord carefully tackles themes that his filmmaking contemporaries had only brushed the surface of. In particular, he explores the guilt levied on homosexual men by British mainstream society and the restriction of intimacy between two men, to private spheres.
The 16-minute short follows a homosexual couple as they embark on a road trip, then, triggered by a child spotting them holding hands, a ‘dream’ – well, nightmare – ensues. A policeman escorts the couple to a warehouse full of anxious gay men and a noose looms in the background – a manifestation of the fear and guilt suffered by gay men in the 1960s.
Russell T. Davies’ recent series, It’s A Sin, set two decades later in the AIDS epidemic, makes a similar observation about the guilt imposed on gay men by society.
In its final episode, Jill lays blames for the wards ‘full of men who think they deserve it’, at the doors of people who taught gay men to be ashamed of their sexuality.
For Reckord, a black filmmaker taking his first steps in a directing role in the context of 1965 Britain, the task of depicting this was all the more challenging.
[Society + Film]
Dream A40 was shot on a shoestring budget comprised of Reckord’s earnings as an actor and piecemeal donations, and was dependent on favours from friends in the industry that were willing to act and film-edit for free. Reckord achieved what 1960s filmmakers with more experience, powerful industry connections, and resources, could not: an honest and challenging account of what it meant to be in a gay relationship before law reform and ‘Pride’.
Reckord’s pioneering efforts extend well beyond Dream A40 – as an actor he performed the first interracial kisses on stage and on television though parts in the play Hot Summer Night (1959) and on the show You in Your Small Corner (1962). Critically, he observed directors’ tendency to cast him as ‘a nice young West Indian in love with an English girl’, and became ‘rather suspicious and tired of the stereotyped role’.
Reckord clearly had an innate understanding of the cinematic language used to depict non-mainstream love. His sharp and sensitive eye is equally palpable in Dream A40, which stands out from other 1960s cinematic explorations of homosexual guilt. Filmmakers tended to portray homosexuals as pitiable, drawing on limiting and problematic cinematic typecasts of the ‘sad gay man’ or the wretched freak of nature. Instead, Reckord depicts private interactions between the Dream A40 couple as affectionate, loving and natural. Guilt and fear only materialize when outside scrutiny triggers the potential of being exposed and of facing legal and social consequences.
Indeed, this predated the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts in private. In 1965, advocates for law reform centred their campaign on the privacy of sexual preference. By bravely grappling with homosexual affection in public, Reckord was well ahead of his time; spotlighting the same issues that the Gay Liberation Front would campaign on, five years later, in 1970.
Similarly radical for the time, Reckord initially sought out black actors to play the homosexual leads, six years before the first black actor would play a queer leading role in Girl Stroke Boy (1971). After approaching several candidates, he recognised that black actors ‘would have had a more difficult time afterwards than white actors for playing gays’ and instead cast Michael Billington and Nicholas Wright.
Truly, Dream A40 embodies Reckord’s pioneering approach. Retrospectively, Reckord said of the film, ‘I was being defiant’. It is thanks to filmmakers like him, who pushed boundaries and dared to produce genuinely thought-provoking pieces that BFI Flare exists to give LGBTIQ+ stories space today.