History Lessons

Director: Barbara Hammer

Institute History

  • 2001 Sundance Film Festival


Since society has dropped the ball in producing a pre-Stonewall lesbian history on film, veteran experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer has courageously and aggressively stepped in like a champion and given one to us by force. Gorgeous, shameless, and wonderfully playful, History Lessons is an irreverent reconstruction, a filmic lesbian history that dates back to the very dawn of cinema itself.

Experimenting with the form of the historical documentary, History Lessons is a decidedly entertaining pastiche of cultural celluloid artifacts, appropriated historical footage, and dramatically composed skits focusing on lesbian life and revelry before 1969. Hammer has accumulated an extraordinary body of archival footage, some dating back to the 19th century, of sports films, military promotionals, vintage stag reels, and lesbian angst dramas. Some of this material she presents with unmediated glory; other clips, such as Eleanor Roosevelt's address to a ladies' roundtable, she hilariously bends to the will of her cause through audacious visual and audio juxtapositions. A deliciously frolicking tension develops between the original and manipulated clips until the viewer is gleefully convinced that every woman depicted on the screen is a lesbian and that an epic history of lesbians is something for everyone to be proud of.

The final installment of her History Trilogy that includes Nitrate Kisses and Tender Fictions, both of which screened previously at the Sundance Film Festival, History Lessons is yet another testament to Hammer's generous artistic spirit, prolific creativity, and challenging vision. It is a real treat this time to also get a taste of her delightfully devilish humor!

— Shari Frilot

Screening Details

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