An interview with Barbara Hammer

AE: That was such a great story. I think every mom probably thinks if they just met the right person they could be something, that they will be discovered. What do you think she thought would happen? That she would you were just so adorable and you were made for pictures or something?
BH: That’s exactly it. And I used to talk to strangers all the time. I guess she figured, “She’s not afraid, might as well put her out there.”

AE: You were just made to make your own stuff instead of being in other people’s, I guess.
BH: Yeah.

AE: So, one of the things I thought was interesting was that Dyketactics came out in 1974.
BH: That’s year it came out so we shot it in ’73.

AE: I was noticing that Chantal Akerman is touted as having the first lesbian sex scene and that also came out in ’74, so what was it about that mid-70s period that inspired people to finally put lesbian sex out there in film?
BH: You’re talking about Je tu il elle?

AE: Yeah.
BH: I never realized that was ’74 too. That’s very interesting, because we’ve gone such different routes, but there was very explicit sex in both of those films. It must have been the fact that the women’s movement hit in ’69, at least we first heard about the word feminism in ’68, I would say. As soon as I heard was feminism was, I declared myself a feminist, and by ’70 when I heard what a lesbian was, I declared myself a lesbian. Three years later, I guess you take a breather and think, “What was it that made me choose this new culture?” because it is a culture more than sexuality, I think.

I think it was in the air, because for the first time there was language, and the words pronounced, and women looking at women for the first time. We had to make films about this profound sexuality that certainly changed my life. I don’t know Chantal’s history, but I had been living as heterosexual so this was really different. It was just, touching another body similar to my own increased my sense of touch. It gave my cinema a tactility, which became one of my purposes when I discovered it. You don’t always say, “OK, let’s make a tactile film.” [laughs] You make it because your life has become more tactile.

Then you look at the screen and people are telling you they feel in their bodies what they’re looking at. And you realize, “Oh, yes, my life has changed.” My skin, corpuscles, and all the cellular knowledge of touch increased. I was touching a body like my own, reinforcing my own body shape, so of course I had to bring that onto the screen.

Hers is a different cinema. It’s more distant. She’s in her film, which is fantastic. I mean, I got in my film, but her scene is not close up. It’s certainly not hiding anything, and it’s not voyeur, you’re not in the doorway looking at it, like in Donna Deitch’s film Desert Hearts, where the woman is looking in on the sex scene, but she’s standing in the door, so you identify with her and you’re put in the place of a voyeur. I wanted you in the place of the participant.

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