Generations: True Queer Love

Posted on October 22, 2011 by

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[Editor: this is a guest post by Sloan Lesbowitz, author of True Queer Love, a blog on queer identity and relationships. Republished with permission.]

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Generations

Generations. 2010. Barbara Hammer & Gina Carducci. Inspired by Shirley Clarke’s film Bridges Go Round (1953), Hammer and Carducci use two Bolex cameras to capture the final days of Coney Island’s Astroland amusement park.

“Generations” will be shown at the Silver Wave Film Festival in Fredericton, NB.

The first time I met Barbara Hammer was at CUNY’s 2009-2010 Kessler Lecture. Sarah Schulman was delivering a talk as the recipient of the Kessler award for making a substantial contribution to the field of queer studies. I was attending by myself, and apparently so was Barbara. When she came in, I recognized her and smiled, so she came over and sat with me despite the fact we had never met. The lecture was fabulous, a mind-blowing break from conventional thinking about homophobia that was disorienting in its radical reframing of the meaning of queer community.

The first time I met Gina Carducci was a few years earlier on March 21, 2007 at the Nobody Passes book launch event at Bluestockings, a feminist lefty book store/info shop in the Lower East Side. I was reading an excerpt from “The End of Genderqueer,” something I wrote about the tension between social and revolutionary purposes in identity poltics and queer community building. The reading was my big atheist religious moment, to stand and read in the same very same place where so many of my personal heroes have stood and read. Though I’ve been told no one could tell, my knees were shaking so hard I feared I might fall over. I met Kate Bornstein after the Q&A, and got to tell her how profoundly her writing had affected me. Later that night I met Gina through the good graces of Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.

A film maker looks at a film maker looking through a camera at a spectator/subject…

Generations is a film about making a film.  Two queer film makers collaborate to create an experimental film that shows the process of them shooting and working with the film itself.  We see each filmmaker with her Bolex, and we see the equipment used in developing and printing. We see them filming each other on the subway, at Coney Island, and in the film lab; some images are beautifully saturated with color and manipulated into abstraction, some are relatively straightforward and contemplative. But images are only the beginning of the elaborate parallel meanings and connections in Generations.When Barbara Hammer and Gina Carducci agreed to make a film together, they planned for a highly structured creative process. They decided on Astro Land at Coney Island as their location and shot the footage together, each with her own 16mm camera. Each artist started with the complete footage but edited privately, neither seeing the other’s work until it was complete. The two complete works were joined into a single film, one after the other, and premiered at the MoMA Barbara Hammer retrospective.  Each of these facts about the process has a bearing on the final film and its meaning, as does the fact that Hammer’s retrospective opened with a screening that featured four films made in the spirit of learning and collaborating with other women. Hammer lives her feminism, so clearly that even her retrospective, traditionally a celebration of an individual artist, began by sharing the spotlight with other women.

Coney Island is in a beautiful state of disrepair that recalls its history as one of this country’s original sites of recreation when recreation was a new concept. Coney Island always seems to be in jeopardy of either destruction or renovation, either of which would signify an ending to what the place is and has been. Film itself is a medium that is used less and less. Both the subject matter and the medium speak to mortality, the passage of things we hold dear, their beauty is in jeopardy of being lost.

Barbara Hammer is the creator of over 80 films.  Her work has taught queer audiences about experimental film and experimental film audience about the politics of queer sexuality.  Not only have Hammer’s films captured lesbian feminism and culture from the 1970s to the present, in a very real way her films have contributed to the creation of that culture.  Gina Carducci is a radical queer filmmaker who hadn’t made a film for five years when she met Barbara. Carducci works in a film lab but her own camera equipment was idly stored in various places at the time. Clearly this was not to be a collaboration of equals, but a mentor-student relationship. Mentoring is woefully absent in the queer community, perhaps because it is so perilous, perhaps because we have been too busy in the struggle to make its cultivation a priority. Mentoring between queer women needs to be handled carefully, since we sustain some wear and tear from constantly coming up against sexist and homophobic power dynamics. Our experiences with being excluded from power make it difficult for us to make the imbalance of a traditional mentor-student relationship work well. It is hard to receive guidance or worse yet, advice; it is also hard to take up our power and guide others without being stifled by self-doubt and second thoughts.

An innovative idea to undermine this traditional power dynamic was to shoot the film together and edit separately. This idea doesn’t make the teacher and student equal, nor does it seek to.  But it does undermine the possibility of Hammer exercising undue influence while also creating the opportunity for Carducci to get back into film making, get creative, and essentially go to town stylistically while knowing her work would be seen by an experimental film audience at MoMA. The rules of their process freed Carducci from the potential perception that being mentored by Hammer made her work derivative, while simultaneously allowing Hammer to mentor somebody less than half her age without overshadowing and thereby authentically pass along some of her wisdom. This working agreement was still to be a mentor-student relationship, but not fall prey to the inherent inequity in that dynamic. The collaborative process they came up with subverts the traditional mentor-student relationship without denying that it exists, but rather by taking it consciously and deliberately into account.

Carducci edited her film on a flatbed editor, a mechanical process involving literally cutting and splicing film. Hammer opted to scan the film then edit on a computer. Here the elder shows us the potential of the new, and the younger remains loyal to the structures and demands of the old. Each works with the footage alone, on her own terms, in her own style, and with her own priorities present. The individual pieces were joined together to form one continuous whole, with one showing after the other. It is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Gina told me up front that her film was first, but I’m pretty sure I would have been able to tell that from the formal structure of Gina’s work and the playful tone of Barbara’s. And with a nod to Bridges Go Round, the soundtrack is very different in each part of the film.

The early portion of the film has a visual pattern of numbers from the carousel and repeated safety instructions in the soundtrack. There is a level of abstraction that seduces the viewer into a fascination with details, with close shots of Barbara’s hands winding the Bolex or repetitive images of the old signs that linger around the changing Coney Island. In her portion of the film, Gina includes Barbara voicing the advice to shoot more from the “emotional body” and less from the “measuring mind,” and she begins and ends with images of Barbara.

The latter portion of the film exhibits some of my favorite elements of lesbian culture with footage of the two filmmakers beneath the boardwalk, each hiding behind columns trying to sneak footage of the other. There is simply no pretense of coolness. There is Barbara Hammer sticking two fingers up behind Gina’s head just to make some careless mischief. I admire her consistent lack of irony and utter refusal to be detached or distant from her subject matter. In fact, I had the pleasure of admiring her joyful presence in her films through out the screenings I attended at the MoMA retrospective. At one of the Q&A sessions Barbara mentioned that the editor pleasures herself in what she chooses to include in her film. In her half of the film, the editor is surely full of pleasure with her love of the beach, the camera, and Gina.

In the pleasure and admiration each film maker shows in her choice of images of the other, Generations touches on the radical potential of queer love.  On screen, the filmmakers present as artists at large in the world, but also in their own smaller world of queer friendship. In my imagination of our community, “queer friends” are the opposite of “just friends.” Queer friends are not necessarily lovers yet they retain all their love and sexuality in relationship to one another. In queer frendship there is a grounding recognition of all that we share. It is moving to see a queer friendship across ages documented here, especially at a time when the only queer relationships that seem to reach the public eye are those that aspire to heteronormativity.  (Generations comes chronologically on the heels of a particularly vile mainstream movie about wealthy white married lesbians and their sperm donor, from a lesbian director who is so deluded about the meaning of representation that she claims this portrayal is apolitical.)

And finally as the title suggests, Generations is about generating culture: how we make a culture for ourselves, how we create a legacy and how we express our values.  How do queer people pass along our culture when it is never along bloodlines? The film literally shows its own creation, the filming, the work in the lab, the friendship. The making of this film is a political action in that it is preserving queer culture, in particular, our fabulously different friendships. I totally enjoyed witnessing this difference, this homo/mentor/student/friend relationship full of creativity and love. It reminded me of how much I appreciate the precious utopian moments of interconnection in my own life, like back at that lecture and at the bookstore. The Hammer retrospective at MoMA was overflowing with such moments, with utopian imaginings and deep connections between art, community and the emotional body. Generations invites us to pause and actually feel the meaning of our relationships and legacies.

“Big Mom sat in her rocking chair, measuring time with her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth there on the Spokane Indian Reservation. She sang a protection song, so none of the Indians, not one, would forget who they are.”
— Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues

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