History Lessons
dir. Barbara Hammer
Opens Fri Nov 23
Clinton St. Theater

It hasn't been diagnosed, but I definitely have ADD. Because of this affliction, I've always rather enjoyed watching spliced-up films. You see a little piece of something--an old commercial, a poignant speech, a hot sex scene--you derive some emotion from it--and then you're onto something else.

Sadly, however, History Lessons--a history of lesbian oppression and stereotypes from 1896-1969, directed by Barbara Hammer--defies the splicing medium, because it never makes a solid point. The pieces that are chosen are completely benign. It seems like if you're going to use a 20-second section of a larger film, those 20 seconds better make a point. Instead, in History Lessons, you find yourself asking, "What did that mean? Why did they put that in there? How is that related to lesbianism at all?" One frequent clip is of a person's hand fingering some video reels. Another is of a New Form slip commercial about gauzy, well-fitting slips; the words "Sex Variant" are occasionally splashed across a black screen. There are scenes of women in the army--eating lunch or flying planes. There is a scene of five women who put money into a revolutionary new parking meter, and then don't make it back in time and get a ticket. What's so dykey about that?

In contrast to the random pointless clips, there are scenes of women using vibrators on themselves, munching rug, or, playing with each other's boobs. Maybe those also scenes are supposed to be stereotypes, maybe they're supposed to be erotic. In the larger context, I can't tell.

It's disappointing, because the history (or herstory) of lesbianism and oppression is--I'm positive--filled with far more interesting and relevant footage. I mean, show some Stonewall riots, show an interview clip with Adrienne Rich, show a butch lesbian getting dressed up to go out--or at the very least, show something that makes some friggin' sense.