If Themyscria is a supposed feminine ideal and a place of paradise for Amazonian Women in Wonder Woman then Barbara Hammer’s movies seek out to create Themyscria for lesbians within her cinema. SuperDyke specifically works as a document to a very specific time in queer rights where the mainstream was just starting to get wind of queerness and a post-Stonewall, Second Wave centrism on lesbian feminist identity was becoming more pronounced. The idea of SuperDyke extends beyond the political though as Hammer’s lens once again finds its greatest meaning in the personal, quieter moments of sexuality instead of the more on the nose examples of women kissing in front of a bus with words like “Lesbian Express” scrawled across the front. Those moments, however, are not brought down by the superiority of Hammer’s more sensual, individual eye as they remain fun, tongue in cheek and at the time radical because of their intention of taking the queer space and extending it into the public eye. Another fun moment which calls back to it’s comic book title is a scene where two women kiss in a phone booth, don vibrant yellow tank tops which say “SuperDyke”, and step out into the open. The image is both interesting for it’s cute call-back to the Amazon signs at the beginning of the picture to represent a Wonder Woman, as well as being a lesbian version of Clark Kent to Superman, and the political context of it meaning a coming out of the closet.
Hammer keeps the filmmaking interesting as well, and it’d have been easy for her to go back to the quick cutting and dissolve heavy imagery of her previous shorts Dyketactics and Menses, but here she goes for home video, with fleeting moments of interaction between her lesbian superwomen to create a portrait of life, love, happiness, and rightful personhood. The film is structured into a few sections, “On the Street”, “In the Home”, “In the Court”, “At Macy’s”. Each representing a facet of life as seen through the eyes of her filmic figures. In the House is the most impressive as Hammer focuses on the foreplay of two women in a way that calls back to the way she shot sex in Dyketactics, but without the aggressive abstraction of constant dissolves. Here, she focuses on the smaller moments of sex, like the rubbing of shoulders, the look in another woman’s eye when being in a complete state of effervescence, and the thrill of existing within one another. In that moment queer cinema never feels more present and alive. Away from the tragedy of Hollywood martrydom, and fetishization of the unknown, queer cinema lives and breathes in Barbara Hammer’s worldview, and it’s beautiful.
There’s this Heavens to Betsy song that surfaced out of the riot grrrl movement entitled My Red Self , it’s an angry anthem about how menstruation is treated as something to cover up and hide by society at large. In that song Corin Tucker would sing “So you make me hide the truth from you” and it’s a direct attack on how a normal bodily function is treated as something to shield away and how unfair that is to those who menstruate. That song was recorded in 1993, nearly twenty years after Barbara Hammer made a short film with the same intentions. It’s embarrassing that nothing had changed in nearly twenty years. Second wave feminism led into third wave feminism, and today things are very much still the same. Only a few days ago Canada lifted their taxes on menstruation hygiene products, much to the chagrin of men who felt the tax should have stayed in place, even though the taxing of such products is ridiculous when if anything it should be a human right to have those products. Even then it’s been 41 years and nearly nothing has happened to de-shame menstruation cycles so Barbara Hammer’s, Menses still feels very relevant.
In style Menses feels connected to her previous feature Dyketactics, but her intentions are much more blunt this time, and instead of creating something sensuous and graceful in motion Menses prods at viewers aggressively. She still uses the dissolve technique and the nudity of women is present in almost every frame, but otherwise the sunny, warm textures of Dyketactics are replaced with dark reds that fill up the frame and in one case, at the close completely fill up the frame in a mural of women connected through a menstrual cycle. Menses is at its strongest when dissecting the notions of period blood as horror and turning it into a badge. In one frame a woman exists as a sanitary napkin completely covered with blood gushing out of her and staining the napkin before she rolls down a hill, and in another a woman stands before a white towel before droplets begin to form underneath her. She then takes the towel and drapes it around herself. This is a part of her, and not something she should be ashamed of, and that’s the general message of Menses whether it be conveyed through the dismantling of a Kotex box or through a blood mural in the final frames.
Barbara Hammer week at Curtsies and Hand Grenades continues tomorrow with Superdyke.
Dyketactics: tactile cinema by way of lesbian expression and complete reclamation of the body in the face of a longstanding history of male gaze upon women’s bodies and the fetishization of queer women’s sexuality. Notice how Hammer subverts the idea of nudity in imagery throughout art in her insistence to show the vagina in extreme close up instead of the more male associated fixation on breasts. As Hammer would recall in this interview with BOMB magazine, at one screening for Dyketactics in the 70s a man screamed at the close of the movie upon being shown a vagina to which the women in the audience replied “Haven’t you seen one before?”. One can infer that he had not been this close and personal before seeing Hammer’s short, and there in lies the power of the image. The meaning of saying “This is my body, and it is not for your consumption or your sexualization, but instead it is my reality”. This also supports the theory that this is not cinema made for men, but with it’s everflowing love towards lesbian sexuality and the female body it would reject all things male, and it does. The recurring image of the camera in the hands of women taking pictures of their own bodies is another example of the control in which women have here, and the lens being shown focused specifically on genitals and breasts shows a specificity towards taking control of parts of women’s bodies that men otherwise seek to control (breasts through the male gaze, and genitals through reproductive lawmaking).
Dissolves are the most consistent cinematic technique on display here with images surging in and out of one another with an ease and grace that is only empowered by the insistence upon showing fleeting moments of touch. A foot glides up against a calf, a hand runs through a blade of grass, a mouth clasps over areola, and everyone is nude or in an embrace through all of this. Hammer drops all semblance of the dissolve in the final minute and instead shows two women in the process of having sex. Her camera glides through the sweeping curves of their bodies and slides around limbs and crevices of flesh. Closing on an image of two women wrapped up together as close as they can possibly be, symbiotic, as one.
Barbara Hammer week at Curtsies and Hand Grenades will continue tomorrow with a look at Menses.
You can watch Dyketactics on Vimeo here