This month’s Across the Page features influential filmmaker Barbara Hammer’s first book, Hammer! Making Movies Out Of Sex and Life, Jill Malone’s new novel, A Field Guide to Deception, and queer poet Ana Bozičević’s first collection of poetry, Stars of the Night Commute.
Hammer! Making Movies Out Of Sex and Life by Barbara Hammer (Feminist Press)
In the introduction to Hammer! Making Movies Out Of Sex and Life, Barbara Hammer provides a brief overview of her life, revealing how she developed from a child of the Depression to one of the world’s most influential lesbian filmmakers.
One of the more significant transitions in Hammer’s growth as an artist began when she decided to stop studying painting and instead focus on filmmaking: “I liked the fact that the audience could not walk as quickly by my films as they could a painting.”
In the book, which is beautifully constructed and includes photographs and notes from Hammer’s life and stills from her films, Hammer captures her artistic autobiography by looking at the challenges and rewards of being a feminist avant-garde filmmaker.
“I had never seen a film of any sort by an identified lesbian,” she recalls. “I began to look at the significance of a woman artist, a lesbian artist, who makes art, yet who has possibly never seen lesbian art before.”
Hammer’s first film, Dyketactics, which is often referred to as a “lesbian commercial,” was made while she was still a student and it is considered the first “lesbian-lovemaking film to be made by a lesbian.” The film takes an hour’s worth of footage of Hammer and another woman touching and condenses it into four minutes.
“I wanted an intimate cinema,” Hammer writes, “not a cinema of distance that invited voyeurs.” When the film received praise after its debut at her university’s film finals, Hammer was surprised, but “knew I was on to something big.”
Hammer delves into her process and progress as a filmmaker, feminist and teacher through the decades: the seventies (“The 70s were a glorious time of feminist ideals and lesbian bed-hopping”), the eighties (“Ever since I became an artist, I had wanted to move to New York City”), and the nineties (“By the end of the 80s, I was fed up with compromising my filmmaking”).
Through a thoughtful and engaging lens, Hammer shows how she was both influenced by and helped to influence these complicated times of political and cultural change. In her analysis, she draws on other women artists, from her students to Gertrude Stein.
Some of the more interesting sections of the book discuss moments when Hammer traveled with her films and shared them with audiences of women around the world. In the discussions that followed, Hammer began to fully understand her role as a filmmaker trying to capture images and voices of the unseen and the unheard.
In the end, Hammer maintains her belief in the importance of that role — one that is as much a responsibility as it is a privilege: “Woman must write woman. Woman must film woman. Any censorship, any confusion of sexuality and pornography, any fear to treat the taboo topic, to not claim our bodies ourselves, will further the silence of one half of the peoples of the world, will inhibit, and worse, prohibit our species’ liberation.”
Hammer! Making Movies Out Of Sex and Life comes out in March 2010. Highly recommended.
(In the Fall of 2010, the Museum of Modern Art is scheduling a retrospective screening of Hammer’s work.)
A Field Guide to Deception by Jill Malone (Bywater)
Jill Malone’s new novel, A Field Guide to Deception, is a gripping story about two women who must learn to deal with the past before moving into a future with any hope of love and commitment.
Claire is a mother to a bright but solitary toddler named Simon. The two had been living with Claire’s aunt for years and the aunt’s recent death has shaken Claire’s sense of family and her own place in this world. Though considered an assistant, Claire was actually writing the brilliant field guides that carried her aunt’s name and she now struggles to maintain the secret alongside her grief.
Liv is a carpenter working on Claire’s home. While Claire manages her grief by immersing herself in Simon and finishing the last field guide, Liv battles her own demons by picking up one-night stands that more often than not heighten her loneliness.
The two women circle each other for the first part of the book until they finally manage to connect. Malone maintains the narrative tension by giving each character a compelling and complicated past that is deftly woven into the relationship. There is a strong sense throughout the novel that something is about to break or turn or explode — whether it’s Liv’s prowling or Claire’s mounting pile of secrets.
Similar to Malone’s celebrated debut novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, her new novel is an engaging exploration of a fairly straightforward but compelling premise: who and how we love is often connected to what we need. Liv and Claire’s relationship is as inevitable as it is doomed and its final test comes after a tragic accident that challenges Liv’s capacity for empathy.
Or maybe it’s not the final test, Malone teases. Maybe it’s just the beginning.