Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 22, 1996. Running time: 58 MIN.
Considering the rich, interesting life she has lived, Barbara Hammer’s new, highly personal documentary, “Tender Fictions,” is a frustrating experience, a densely textured film that doesn’t especially illuminate the artist or the woman. This one-hour collage of sounds, images and quotations is best suited for gay and lesbian festivals.
A subjective memoir about what it has meant to be a lesbian-feminist filmmaker in the U.S. over the past three decades, docu juxtaposes autobiographical material about Hammer’s conservative, middle-class background with observations on the emergence of a candidly politicized artist.
Born into a Jewish Ukrainian family, the loquacious Hammer was almost predetermined to pursue a showbiz career, encouraged by her mother to take dance and elocution lessons during the Depression, and introduced by her grandmother, who worked as a cook for Lillian Gish in Hollywood, to D.W. Griffith.
The sequence detailing her marriage and subsequent coming out in the ’70s is interesting, capturing the fermenting political milieu that fostered anti-establishment protests by, among others, feminist and gay liberation movements.
But there is too much narration, which is not always revelatory, and quotes from intellectuals on the order of Roland Barthes and Audre Lordes are often interwoven into the personal narrative in a rather arbitrary manner, giving the work a disjointed feel. Stylistically, the film relies heavily on montage of brief images and sounds that creates a busily thick texture but undercuts its emotional resonance. Pic isn’t boring, but is exhausting and not much fun to watch.