Fireworks / Seascape / At Least You Know You Exist / Nitrate Kisses

Friday, Mar 11, 2022 - 7:30pm to 9:30pm
Still black and white image from Fireworks

UCLA Film & Television Archive presents free screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum.

Please review our required COVID-19 precautions and updated admission policies.

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In-person: filmmaker Zackary Drucker; Florrie Burke, widow of Barbara Hammer.
 

Preservation funded by The Film Foundation

Fireworks

1947

Starting with the title in bold font underscored by roaring thunder, Kenneth Anger ceremoniously anoints Fireworks as a torch of salvation from the isolation of social norms. “Arguably,” suggests scholar Ara Osterweil, “the most political wet dream ever filmed,” Fireworks operates in a register reminiscent of classical Hollywood melodrama, utilizing highly orchestrated music to amplify themes of heroism and salvation. Taking viewers on a graphicly disembodied journey away from his bedroom through dimly-lit public spaces of urinals and bars, Fireworks seems to recall the isolation of gay cruising in the post-WWII era. Of the title, we may see its evocation of patriotic American iconography function in service of masochistic sexual fantasies—rites of passage for gay men whose rituals of socialization were relegated underground.

Born in Santa Monica in 1927 and raised in Beverly Hills, Anger shot this short at the age of 17 over the course of a weekend in his parents’ home on a Bell and Howard camera, supposedly on film stolen from the U.S. Navy. One shot in which Anger appears nude on a public urinal floor was shot in a public restroom in Olive Park in Burbank.

Screened privately several times before its public premiere, Fireworks first screened publicly in 1947 at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles, after which its owner was arrested on obscenity charges. Anger later submitted it to the Festival du Film Maudit in 1949, where Jean Cocteau and fellow jury members awarded it the Poetic Film Prize.

Anger is central to the development of the underground tradition of queer cinema; his concerns with personal identity, self-disclosure, and subversive desire seem to predate contemporary gay filmmakers that represent gay youth anomie through a direct critical gay voice, especially Gregg Araki and Sadie Benning. If Anger’s film is less explicit in its sexual politics than his contemporaries today, the underground distribution and reception of Fireworks speaks to the notoriety that can be achieved by young queer filmmakers through defiant and deviant approaches to production and distribution.

John Trenz

35mm, color, 13 min. Director: Kenneth Anger. With: Kenneth Anger, Gordon Gray, Bill Seltzer. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Seascape

1984

Mike Kuchar (b. 1942) and twin George (1942-2011), teen townies with an 8mm camera, were kicked out of a Catholic photography club and goofed their way into New York’s most crucial 1960s experimental film screenings, abutting the work of Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage, even lauded by Jonas Mekas in The Village Voice. But boys just want to have fun, and John Waters calls their Sirkian melodramas, such as Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof (1961) and The Wet Destruction of the Atlantic Empire (1954), “my first inspiration … the pivotal films of my youth, bigger influences than … even The Wizard of Oz”. Mike Kuchar concedes, "My pictures are considered somewhat camp." When the Kuchars graduated to 16mm, Andy Warhol advised, "It's too good … go back to 8mm."

But Mike honored his high-minded mentors through experimental and landscape film, including this gorgeous work of ancient and echoing meanings. With images rolling in like gentle waves, in sunburned impressions around the lithe body of a young man alone at some aeternal juncture of sand, sky and surf, the tracks of time and man are read in etched shapes. Curving sand and skin run ruddy against a wash of sea and sky. Powerful forces caress each other while wind stirs dark hair, and pink sand turns black around new flesh. Does contrast create us? In the book of the beach, we write and are written upon.

In these deep waters, the erotic regard for this muscled young soul suggests that sexuality is humanity. Mike calls it "making love to somebody you can't have […] with the camera. […] It’s an expression of love.” Waters again: “He makes movies and falls in love with the people. […] It brings him melodrama.” Indeed; for Kuchar, life imitates art.

Nathan Rulf

Digital, color, 10 min. Director: Mike Kuchar.

At Least Your Know You Exist

2011

Born in 1983 and raised in Syracuse, New York, Zackary Drucker is a Los Angeles-based trans woman artist, LGBTQ+ activist, performer and television producer. Her efforts have been instrumental in the creation of the Emmy Award and Golden Globe-winning Amazon show, Transparent, a paramount contribution to the visibility of trans lives and experiences, and This is Me, a docu-series for which Drucker received an Emmy nomination.

Her independent artistic output has been exhibited and performed internationally in museums, galleries and film festivals, including the 2014 Whitney Biennial, wherein Drucker and then-partner Rhys Ernst co-exhibited Relationship, a photographic record of Ernst and Drucker as both were in the process of transitioning. Both saw the project as a contribution not just to the Biennial but to the broader public record of transgender life—a record which both felt did not exist previously.

The sole work in the Pioneers program from the 21st century, At Least You Know You Exist is one of Drucker’s early moving image works. A collaboration between Drucker and LGBTQ elder and activist Flawless Sabrina (1939-2017), the film is shot in warm, intimate 16mm. Her camera explores ornate headdresses, personal photo collages, and makeup stashes from various corners of an interior as we listen to Flawless, in voiceover, read from an essay on the false promises of capitalism and consumption. Drucker then alternates between photographing Flawless and turning the camera on herself, the tone evolving both playfully and hauntingly as echoes of the previous voiceover intentionally resonate over the images of the two performing joyous stripteases, exuberant singsongs and direct-to-camera, non-verbal confrontations. As the two finally converge, together at last on screen and aurally on the soundtrack, we read their confrontation as an evocation of the film’s repeating refrain: “God knows if we’re going forward or back”—a poignant paradox of the trans experience both then and now.

K.J. Relth-Miller

Digital, color, 16 min. Director: Zackary Drucker. With: Flawless Sabrina. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Nitrate Kisses

1992

This debut feature from lesbian feminist filmmaker and artist Barbara Hammer (1939-2019) is an archeological dig of unexplored queer histories, and a commemoration of shared experience across various LGBTQ+ communities. Hammer and her camera spend time with a mixed-race gay male couple; a younger pair who are both women of color; folks from the S&M community; and an older lesbian couple.

By the very nature of her multifaceted identity, which was reinvigorated when she came out at the age of 30 after divorcing her husband, Hammer maintained a formal fluidity in her half-century-long practice. From her first Super 8 experiment, Schizy (1968), Hammer gave herself permission to follow her instincts. Through her explicit and politically-charged work of the 1970s (Dyketactics, 1974; Superdyke, 1975; Multiple Orgasm, 1976) to her material interactions and printing exercises of the 1980s (Pools, 1981; Bent Time, 1984; No No Nooky T.V., 1987) and continuing with her seamless adoption of analog and digital video (Superdyke Meets Madame X, 1976), Hammer’s visual sensuality dances invariably within each of her over 80 moving image works in a conscious, active (re)writing and (re)defining of a singular cinematic language.

Capturing subjects considered verboten—joyous lesbian sensuality, female sexual pleasure, aging, death and dying, menstruation—Hammer boldly confronted normative representations of women and characterizations of gender expression, commanding and claiming space for a new lesbian aesthetic and sensibility in experimental film that has and continues to inspire generations of artists across myriad layers of identification. Her inclusion of queer women in works both traditionally documentative and those more performative allowed for not just increased visibility of lesbian culture in their day, but also an invaluable archive of the ever-evolving political and social objectives of communities often rendered invisible.

After living with endometrioid ovarian cancer for over a decade, Hammer passed on March 16, 2019 at the age of 79. She would have been 80 that May.

K.J. Relth-Miller

16mm, color, 67 min. Distribution: Strand Releasing. Director: Barbara Hammer. With: Jerre, Maria, Ruth, Sandy Binford, Peter Cramer. New print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.

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