History Lessons | Chicago Reader

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The final installment of a trilogy that began with Nitrate Kisses (1992) and Tender Fictions (1995), this 2000 experimental feature by Barbara Hammer completes a well-researched, loosely chronological study of how lesbianism has been codified by the mainstream and embraced by the fringe. The images and sounds excavated, most of them pre-1960s, are impressively vast and obscure (found footage, vintage photos, educational shorts, tabloid headlines, pulp fiction covers), and Hammer juxtaposes them with technical finesse and subversive humor, often noting their homoerotic subtext (clips from a 50s bra commercial are intercut with women disrobing for sex, newsreel footage of army training is inserted into a montage with porn loops, a speech by Eleanor Roosevelt is tweaked into an endorsement of lesbian love). Devoid of voice-over commentary but still remarkably lucid, her gleeful reconstruction of the past also serves to celebrate the more progressive climate today. 66 min.

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