An interview with Barbara Hammer


AE: I’ve also found that lesbians are a hard crowd to please. I don’t know if that’s the same for you in filmmaking.
BH: Yes, they are. [laughs] It’s crazy because, for the most part, way back when, they all wanted their nice sweet film: Show a nice happy couple without a murder at the end, making babies, and voting democratically, and making a better world. I don’t like to see those heterosexually either, let alone homosexually. To me, those are like the feel-good films that somebody is going to make money on, but they’re not a challenge and they’re not about my life. I just can’t do that.

We’re diverse, the lesbian audience. We’re diverse people. We’re not homogenous. I’m talking about a particular group at a particular time, but I imagine that continues. Otherwise, why did we have The L Word for so many years? But that’s now gone another way too, or gone away, I should say. I only watched one episode and I haven’t been able to talk about it. Oh, man. Those were long-haired, lipstick, long fingernail girls, not lesbians. [laughs] If you say they were, then OK but — any group is probably a tough group, but maybe a repressed group is a harder group to please.

You can look at the problems Obama is having right now. You can say that Democrats coming out of eight years of Republican rule have been repressed, and now you have so many desires and demands on one person who’s stuck in the system and can’t make changes. But hey! It looks like Don’t Kiss Don’t Tell is on the way out, and that will just precede other types of advances that we will have.

There’s nothing definitive on this. You just have to be flexible like a willow tree. Flow with the breeze but have that strong inner core, that trunk that’s holding you up.

AE: Why do you think that so many lesbian films and filmmakers get a bad rap as being cheesy or poor quality or not good writing? It seems like so many lesbian films get lumped into a group of not being quality.
BH: That’s a good point, and you can say, "Why is that? Is that true?" Then you go to queer film festivals and you see a lot more gay films that are good, that are well-written, and good acting, good directing. The reason for that is because money for men has been way over the top compared to women. It’s been that way, it continues that way. The festivals, not many of them are 50/50 percent, even in their programming. Girls are having a harder time, still. Things haven’t changed in terms of directors in Hollywood.

So many lesbians want to be filmmakers, maybe they think, "We don’t have enough lesbian films so I can just jump in and do something." A lot of them can. You grow from your mistakes. Seeing Sarah Jacobson’s Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore last night, this feminist, heterosexual, DIY, punk film that just had so much courage in it that you forgave that the lighting wasn’t good, that the acting was so-so, or that she didn’t use close-ups and all the things we expect. But then you go back to Lizzie Borden‘s Born in Flames in 1983, and it’s incredibly courageous and wild and out there, and both lesbian, queer, and straight, black and white and Asian, and the world is revolutionized in a film that is revolutionary in its own content. That is exciting cinema. That doesn’t mean she continued in that vein, because she didn’t. She did Working Girls, didn’t she? And then we haven’t heard from her.

That would be interesting, to go back to some of those films that were hits in the ’70s and early ’80s and find what’s become of the filmmakers that didn’t continue, who just did one or two films, like She Must Be Seeing Things, and why. Then you’d have the answer to your question.

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