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“A film rests in a can until it’s screened but a book can be opened at any time by anyone in any country.” Opening Barbara Hammer’s new book, Hammer! Making Movies Out of Sex and Life, is as delightful as viewing one of her more than eighty films. The book is ordered by decade beginning with the 1970s and continuing through the ‘00s. Hammer has packed a lot of living, creating, thinking, and reflecting into four decades. As a result, Hammer! is a magical book and, more than a discursive memoir of her life, Hammer! brings together personal writing, reflections on her oeuvre, a plethora of photographs reproduced beautifully, and even a mini flip movie from her iconic Dyketactics. In many ways, Hammer! is a document of the development and sustenance of an artist. This is a book to read and treasure.
Most readers will recognize the first section of the book, on the 1970s, as what we expect to encounter in a memoir: personal narrative. What distinguishes Hammer’s personal accounts of her life in the 1970s is the powerful and poetic prose, highly erotic and sexually charged. I confess, I put the book down many times while reading this section to savor it, yes, and to spend a little time alone. This is writing not to be missed.
As the book continues into the 1980s and 1990s, more of the chapters are reprints, taken from published reflections of Hammer on her work. These selections have been made and woven together artfully. Rather than reading as a collection of previously published work, they trace the life experiences and artistic trajectory of Hammer including thoughtful examinations of her influences. Hammer’s writing during this period is engaging and provocative. Many of these chapters provide excellent introduction to and analysis of her body of work, making this an indispensable book for those interested in not only Hammer’s work but experimental feminist, and lesbian-feminist, film-making more generally.
The final section of the book focused on the ‘00s, Hammer reflects on maturity and on the process of compiling an archive. As in the earlier chapters of the book, her theoretical engagements are trenchant but never pretentious. Rather she thinks through and with other people in ways that are accessible and compelling. The final chapter is a two-pages titled, “The Creative Process.” After reading the book, this list synthesizes much of the action of the book and of Hammer’s life generally; its clarity and simplicity is inspiring and belies the complexity and joy of a life lived well. “The Creative Process” is a testament to the achievements documented in the complete filmography that concludes the book.
One of my favorite chapters is “What I Want to be Famous For,” a list that Hammer composed in the early 1980s. This list articulates the energy and ambition of Hammer as a filmmaker. She writes,
I want to be famous. I want to walk into a room and be introduced as Barbara Hammer, the woman artist who has give us so much of herself; her produced, made and finished brilliant, inspiring works of art with her films and her writing; a creative genius; a woman of multi-talents, a woman who made herself by seeing and allowing herself to be the person she is within.
Hammer! is another achievement, fulfilling of her vision.
Making Movies Out of Sex and Life
By Barbara Hammer
The Feminist Press/CUNY
Paperback, $19.95, 282p