Tender Fictions

Director: Barbara Hammer

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Tender Fictions, the latest work from lesbian/feminist filmmaker Barbara Hammer, is both an autobiographical exploration of her own history and a personal portrayal of the gay community. Constantly juxtaposing her family’s middle-class ideals and aspirations with the forging of her own individuality, Hammer explores the challenge facing members of the gay community to carve their unique places against a background of American homogeneity.

Hammer conveys her memories as almost innocent musings, their serious implications allowed to surface on their own. Excerpts from her mother’s diary humorously reveal her family’s quest for middle-class perfection; on meeting her husband, Hammer’s mother writes, “Johnny Hammer . . . tall and dark and quite OK.” Hammer recalls her upbringing in Los Angeles as a granddaughter of a Ukrainian immigrant who worked as a cook for Lillian Gish in a surreal rendition of faded Hollywood glory. Enthralled by cultural icon of the day Shirley Temple, Hammer’s mother even tried to enter her daughter into the world of show business. “I studied tap dancing, modern dance, and elooo . . . cuuu . . . tion . . . ,” Hammer claims wryly. Everything is expressed in terms of a universal innocence and the pleasure of discovery. Upon learning the definition of the word “lesbian” at the age of thirty, Hammer responds, “I think it sounds real good.” As Hammer examines her own emergence as a lesbian and feminist, an artist and activist, her struggle becomes almost archetypal, symbolic of all those who have rejected the ideals by which they were raised.

Counterpointing Hammer’s personal narrative are quotations from various feminist and deconstructionist “authorities”—ranging from Helene Cixous and Roland Barthes to Zora Neale Hurston and Audre Lord. Incorporating the theoretical and the historical, as well as the personal, Tender Fictions is a moving and provocative look at the role of community in an artist’s life, and the role of an artist in her community.

— Lisanne Skyler

Screening Details

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