Over a career spanning 50 years and more than 80 moving-image works, American filmmaker and visual artist Barbara Hammer (1939–2019) initiated a new kind of cinema made from a distinctively female and lesbian perspective, challenging the assumptions of mainstream culture and opening a discourse for marginalised groups in society.
Her personal and experimental films sought to inspire social change and make largely invisible bodies, images and histories seen. After coming out as lesbian in the 1970s, Hammer took off on a motorcycle with a Super 8 camera and created the groundbreaking Dyketactics, one of the first films to show uncompromising lesbian sexuality. Hammer proceeded to experiment with a variety of avant-garde media and multimodal styles to deconstruct heteronormative cinema and create unique works on a variety of topics that are unapologetically honest, undeniably political and beautifully life-affirming. As So Mayer claims, “Hammer defined lesbian cinema almost single-handed…. Her generosity of spirit, intellect and embodiment lives on in the films she made that changed the landscape not only of cinema, but of our queer lives and histories.”
This tribute includes a broad range of Hammer’s eclectic shorts and features from across her career dealing with diverse themes including the lesbian experience (Dyketactics, Superdyke, Women I Love), lesbian histories (Nitrate Kisses, The Female Closet, History Lessons, Audience), concepts of time and space (Bent Time, Maya Deren’s Sink), endangered species and artistic forms (Endangered), and ageing and death (A Horse is Not a Metaphor).
7:00pm NITRATE KISSES
Barbara Hammer (1992) 64 mins – R 18+
Hammer’s first feature recontextualises material from the 1933 landmark queer film Lot in Sodom within an optically manipulated fretwork of associative montage, while also appropriating excerpts from 1930s German fiction films and footage of three couples making love. This palimpsest of representations of homosexual life found in the margins and outtakes of cinema history powerfully confronts heteronormative images of sexual and erotic love.
Barbara Hammer (1988) 18 mins – Unclassified 15+.
A materialist reflection on the threatened tradition of experimental filmmaking.
Prints of both films courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
Looking for LGBT+ History: Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses (1992)
by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster
8:35pm SUPERDYKES! THE EARLY FILMS OF BARBARA HAMMER
Barbara Hammer (1974–1976) 45 mins – Unclassified 15+
This collection of three short works made by Hammer in the mid-1970s centres on the form and experiences of the female body, notably addressing topics like queer sexuality and material identity. Drawing on an avant-garde film process, Hammer gives expression to a lesbian aesthetic and defines not just her own career, but a movement. These works, including Superdyke (1975) and Women I Love (1976), explore hidden lesbian histories, the politics of being gay and the experience of being a woman.
Print of Dyketactics courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
9:30pm HISTORY LESSONS
Barbara Hammer (2000) 66 mins – Unclassified 15+
Hammer’s final instalment in the “Queer History Trilogy” (Nitrate Kisses was the first) surveys and disputes the negative historical depiction of lesbians by the medical, educational, religious and legal establishments, alongside pornography and the media. The juxtaposition of archival documentary footage with early lesbian cinema and cabaret songs provides an audacious reaffirmation of queer subversion and appropriation.
Print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
7:00pm PROJECTING LIGHT AND BENDING TIME: BARBARA HAMMER IN THE 1980s
Barbara Hammer (1982–1983) 55 mins – Unclassified 15+
This program of two of Hammer’s most celebrated and searching films of the 1980s includes: Audience (1982), a diary of audience reactions to retrospectives of Hammer’s work in San Francisco, London, Toronto and Montreal; and Bent Time (1983), a work inspired by the scientific theory that time can bend like light curving at the universe’s outer edges. Hammer uses an extreme wide-angle lens and “one frame of film per foot of physical space” to capture high-energy, mystical and scientific sites across the United States.
8:05pm THE FEMALE CLOSET
Barbara Hammer (1998) 59 mins – Unclassified 15+
Hammer’s fascinating collage of archival photographs, home movies and interviews explores the lesbian histories of women artists across the 20th century: American photographer Alice Austen, German Dada collagist Hannah Höch, and contemporary painter Nicole Eisenman. A careful examination of the museum as “closet”, and a thoughtful lesson on the importance of creating and archiving feminist artwork.
Maya Deren’s Sink (2011) & A Horse is Not a Metaphor (2008)
Two late Hammer films that reflect on and revise concepts around death and cultural history and were both recipients of the Teddy Award for best short LGBTQI+ film at the Berlinale.