In Memory of Barbara Hammer


USA / 1990 / English / Color, B&W / 16mm / 19 min

Director, Script, Photography, Editing, Producer: Barbara Hammer
Music: Neil Rolnick
Source: Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)

This film re-photographs the x-rays of Dr. James Sibley Watson used in his 1929 film of The Fall of the House of Usher. The skeleton that shelters the organs moves amid the visible and invisible, shifts, multiplies and gains color and light. The comedy of life and death in the body is shown here in a mysterious, contemplative treatment.

Nitrate Kisses

USA / 1992 / English / B&W / 16mm / 67 min

Director, Script, Photography, Editing, Sound, Producer: Barbara Hammer
Music: Stash Records
Source: Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)

This essay documentary explores eroded emulsions and images for lost vestiges of lesbian and gay culture. The first feature by Barbara Hammer, a pioneer of lesbian cinema, weaves striking images of four gay and lesbian couples with footage of an unearthed forbidden and invisible history. Archival footage from the first gay film in the U.S., Lot in Sodom (1933) is interwoven in this haunting documentary.

Barbara Hammer, who passed away in March of this year, was for many years the only out lesbian filmmaker. Barbara began making cutting-edge short films in 1968, going on to garner praise from critics across the world for her full-length Nitrate Kisses (1992). Her chairing of the YIDFF International Competition jury in 1995 was a significant event in the history of the festival, and Nitrate Kisses was also naturally shown at YIDFF that year. In 1996, the film was released in Japan by Image Forum paired with another short of hers entitled Sanctus, going on to screen at the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and be released on VHS.

Barbara participated in YIDFF ’97 when she entered her film Tender Fictions—I subtitled it and interpreted for her, and it still brings a smile to my lips to recall the 58 or 59-year-old director with her spikey hair, leather jacket, and blue jeans being chased around by all the local women who seemed to be around her age. Barbara wished to screen the film in Tokyo, so I put together a group of volunteers that included a professional projectionist, and we got permission from YIDFF and Image Forum. We held a charity screening after the festival at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum theater in support of Loud, a space for lesbian and bisexual women in the Nakano area of the city. It was the kind of event that was unprecedented for the lesbian community in Japan at that time.

In an era when there were few women living openly and vocally as lesbians, I was / we were deeply influenced by the fact that Barbara could pursue her own interests and assertions as a lesbian, and yet still receive high praise from heterosexual people—especially men—who hold the reigns of the society in which we live. Nitrate Kisses is a film which portrays in stylish black-and-white the hidden gay history of the twentieth century. Spanning eras and nations, it weaves an unfettered collage of recollections, texts by theorists and authors, footage from old films, archivists’ testimony, and the Hays Code. In addition to being a documentary, this multi-layered work also shuns any one “truth,” encouraging viewers to think and feel that they are the “subject.”

Barbara has passed away, but her work remains with us. I put down my pen with the wish that many more will have the chance to encounter it, both in Yamagata and around the globe.

Mizoguchi Akiko (Visual and Cultural Studies)

Barbara Hammer

Started making 8mm films in the late 1960s. Discovered lesbian feminism, and began making experimental films and works which convey her strong comments on society. With a career spanning fifty years, she is recognized as a pioneer of queer cinema. A visual artist working primarily in film and video, Hammer created a groundbreaking body of experimental work that illuminates lesbian histories, lives and representations. Her first feature documentary, Nitrate Kisses (1992) was acclaimed internationally. She led the International Competition Jury at YIDFF ’95, and Tender Fictions (1995) was selected for the International Competition at YIDFF ’97. She was born in 1939 in Hollywood, California and lived and worked in New York until her death in 2019.