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Remembering our Roots– Barbara Hammer and LGBT history

August 7, 2009

Nitrate Kisses by Barbara Hammer from barbara hammer on Vimeo.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Barbara Hammer and watching a handful of her short films last year, and fearing that not enough people know about this extremely talented and influential lesbian filmmaker, I thought I’d write a little post…Barbara Hammer is the grandmother of queer filmaking, and really queer art-making more generally.  Born in Hollywood in 1939, Hammer claims not to have heard the word lesbian until she was 30, at which point she promptly came out.  Since then she’s been making groundbreaking films that are alternatingly hilarious and beautiful: Dyketactics, Hammer’s first film, is a perfect example.  She calls it at once a “lesbian commercial” (and with a soundtrack by Alix Dobkin* it’s hard for it not to feel that way) and a response to the fact that “We do not celebrate kinesthetics. We do not celebrate the body in cinema. We do not celebrate the lesbian body.”  Hammer’s films boldly and unapologetically set forward a queer aesthetic– the way her camera follows, loves, and emboldens the female form is still shocking 30 years after the making of her first films.

The film clip above is from Nitrate Kisses, a 1992 experimental documentary about the erasure of lesbian and gay representations from post-war cultural history.  Let the clip remind you the importance of documentation and public exposure…and consider splurging on one of Hammer’s incredible $30 DVDs.

HAMMER! Making Films out of Sex and Life is forthcoming from the Feminist Press in March 2010.

* Lyric’s for Alix Dobkin’s (Lavendar Jane) View from Gay Head, 1973.  As silly as it may seem, this song literally changed the life of scores and scores of women.  Wanna know how women’s lib happened?  People wrote songs like this…

I heard Cheryl and Mary say
There are two kinds of people in the world today
One or the other a person must be
The men are them, the women are we
And they agree it’s a pleasure to be
A lesbian, lesbian
Let’s be in no man’s land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

Carol is tired of being nice
A sweet smile, a pretty face, submissive device
To pacify the people for they won’t defend
A woman who’s indifferent to men
She’s my friend, she’s a lesbian

And Liza wishes the library
Had men and women placed separately
Ah, but theirs is the kingdom
She knows who she’ll find
In the HIStory of MANkind
But then she’s inclined to be ahead of her time
She’s a lesbian, lesbian
Let’s be in no man’s land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

And women’s anger Louise explains
On a million second places in the master’s games
It’s real as a mountain, it’s strong as the sea
Besides, an angry woman is a beauty
She’s chosen to be a dyke like me
She’s a lesbian, lesbian
Let’s be in no man’s land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

So the sexes do battle, they batter about
The men’s are the sexes I will do without
I’ll return to the bosom where my journey ends
Where there’s no penis between us friends
Will I see you again
When you’re a lesbian, lesbian
Let’s be in no man’s land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be lesbian
Every woman can be a lesbian

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 8, 2009 1:35 am

    My relationship with the Hammer films is almost sexual. Sex Films


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