Somewhere Else
March 2021
By Caroline Veunac

Somewhere Else and Dulac Cinémas join forces to offer you a weekly selection of films, accompanied by animations to feed your screening. This week on Somewhere Else, we’re going to meet the filmmaker Barbara Hammer, who is the subject of two short films to be seen at the moment on the MUBI platform, Vever (for Barbara) and A Month of Single Frames.

She’s not Lillian Gish’s granddaughter
Don’t be fooled by her Wikipedia page: Barbara Hammer is not the direct descendant of the silent movie star. His maternal grandmother was actually the cook for the director of Birth of a Nation.DW Griffith, which allowed little Barbara, born in Hollywood in 1939, to once cross the path of the muse of the filmmaker, Lillian Gish. Having become a director herself in the 1970s, Barbara Hammer has often claimed the influence of her grandmother – who was not only a cordon bleu, but also a self-taught painter – on her artistic vocation. Perhaps the fairy Gish also transmitted to her a little of her pioneering spirit, she whose delicate face embodied the dawn of cinema, but who did not stop at inspiring male directors, since she was also director and screenwriter. In 1920, at the age of 27, the beautiful actress directed her own film, Remodeling Your Husband., a comedy about a woman struggling with an unfaithful husband. Barbara Hammer had two more when she shot her first short, White Cassandra , in 1968, an assemblage of aerial shots of Los Angeles rooftops and a hippie ranch in the countryside, synthesizing her childhood legacy. Hollywood woman and her aspiration for an alternative lifestyle.

She is a pioneer of female gaze
In 1975, the film theorist Laura Mulvey theorized the concept of male gaze , to characterize the way in which the staging of the vast majority of films, governed by the male norm, objectifies the body of women. At the same time, Barbara Hammer breaks the prevailing rule by making short films in which she naturally adopts what we would now call a female gaze  : a way of filming that seeks to restore the female experience in its subjectivity. At the time when the young Californian multi-graduate (of psychology, literature and cinema) launches out in the direction, she has just left her husband (”  an extraordinary type ») To assert his homosexuality: this double movement of liberation is the very source of his cinema, which will not cease, in 80 films, to seek to represent the different facets of a lesbian life until then taboo.

Riding her motorbike, with a super-8 camera as her only baggage, Barbara Hammer combines the heritage of Kerouac and the beat generation in a feminine way , drawing a new silhouette as an independent director. But her daring does not lie only in her attitude, it is also manifested in her subjects: in 1974, she changes history with Dyketactics, considered the first lesbian film, which stages sexuality between women with solar sensuality. The innovation is also formal: influenced by Maya Deren, a great figure of surrealist cinema of the 1940s, Barbara Hammer multiplies visual experiments, overprints, overexposure, collages, coloring, alterations of the film … These effects combine to create a universe of new sensations and joyful exultations, experienced and represented by a woman.

She is an archivist of the LGBT cause
Barbara Hammer’s commitment is not only artistic: it is also historical and militant. With them, the three are inseparable. In 1992, the now fifty-year-old filmmaker directed Nitrate Kisses , her first feature film, a documentary on the repression of the LGBTQ community since the First World War. This film, which retains the experimental form specific to the artist’s work, is the first part of a trilogy on the invisibility of gays and lesbians through time. In the second, Tender Fictions(1995), she tries her hand at the register of autobiography, combining family films, photos and interviews to reconstruct snippets of childhood and key moments in her adult life, like the first time that she heard the word “lesbian”, and understood that it applied to her. Then comes History Lessons (2000), where the director tells the queer story by diverting various archival images, ranging from Hollywood melodies to pornographic films, including educational, advertising and medical spots. This Invisible Histories Trilogy, which testifies to a systemic oppression while freeing the spirits by its creativity, shows the at the same time disruptive and inclusive side of the work of Barbara Hammer, which will inspire all the generation of New Queer Cinema in the 90s, from Todd Haynes to Lisa Chodolenko.

She prepared her artistic testament
The cancer that struck Barbara Hammer in 2006 would mark her work as an artist during the last years of her life, until her death in 2019, at the age of 79. Invested in the fight for the right to die with dignity, the filmmaker, supported by her partner Florrie Burke, makes illness a new opportunity to explore her sensitive experience of the world in a female body, even if it is to badly. In 2008, in A Horse Is Not A Metaphor, it compares the fight against cancer and the energizing beauty of nature. Ten years later, seeing the end coming, Barbara Hammer confides in her friend, director Lynne Sachs, 16mm images and newspaper fragments brought back from an artist residency she had spent on Cape Cod ten years. earlier, and asks him to make a movie of it: it will be A Month Of Single Frames (to be discovered now on MUBI), a sensory short film which links creativity to the feeling of loneliness and to the intensity of the relationship with the elements – landscape, sky, sea, wind – in which Barbara Hammer will soon recast. The following year, it was another director friend, Deborah Stratman, who, at her request, edited rushes shot during a trip to Guatemala in 1975, associated with quotes from Maya Deren, giving birth to another short film. Vever (for Barbara)(also on MUBI). This sororal work of continuation of her work extends beyond her death, through the Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant, a grant created by her in 2017 to promote the work of young lesbian directors, which has already rewarded the Miatta artists. Kawinzi in 2018 and Alli Logout in 2019.