Colorado Conference---catharsis/divorce/sex

A.M. Nornes amnornes
Thu Nov 2 19:36:57 EST 2000

One of the hightlights of the Colorado conference---aside from my hikes
among the sex crazed elk---was the presence of some interesting filmmakers.

Barbara Hammer showed her new documentary on Ogawa Productions, Devotion,
which was very well received. She gave a presentation that discussed her
experiences in shooting and editing the film, quoting many passages from the
diary she kept at the time (something that one of her interviewees does in
the most rivetting of sequences). They were very frank about the
difficulties she faced, the passions that still run high among members, and
the way it was a growing experience for her in terms of learning the
cross-cultural communication ropes along the way....inflaming the passions
in some cases. At the end, she admitted this presentation was, perhaps,
mostly cathartic and that she probably would never expose her own diaries
like that in public again.

Another filmmaker that visited the conference was Kawase Naomi, fresh from
her festival win with Hotaru. Boulder had shown one of her films in their
series before the festival. Kawase gave the "keynote" address. A few minutes
beforehand, I asked her if she was prepared and she admitted she hadn't
really thought about it. (Anyone who knows her is probably chuckling at this
point...) Kawase stood up and gave what is basically a canned speech about
how she got into film. I've heard this at least once before, and read it in
various interviews as well. It weaves her approach to film with her
biography. Nothing really new there, but the Q & A provided a nice surprise.
Barbara Hammer, providing a beautiful example of good ol' 'merikan no
beating around the bushes directness, asked, "Well, since you've opened
yourself up to questions about the relationship of art and the personal, how
did marrying your producer affect your filmmaking?" There was an audible
gasp in various regions of the auditorium space. Kawase grinned, turning
red, and managed to get out: "Well, actually, I divorced him." Hammer,
equally embarrassed, responded after a beat: "Ah, I see,
well....congratulations!" There was more awkward silence, punctuated by
Kawase's occassional attempts to mumble an incoherent response---apparently
on the verge of tears---until one of the Japanese participants saved her
with an absolutely unrelated question about film style.

Finally, the third filmmaker to grace the stage was Hamano Satchi, director
of some 300 pink eiga, who started her career in Wakamatsu Pro. She had
shown her new documentary on Osaki Midori the night before the conference,
and everyone who went was very excited about it (there were also a few
interesting papers on her as well). Hamano was very articulate and fun to
listen to as she basically did the same thing Kawase did, with emphasis on
her new documentary. I thought there were a number of missed opportunities
for interesting discussion in the wake of her talk, most notably around the
issue of resistance to the primary function of the form: jacking off
(mentally or literally). First of all, our own Roland gave a great
industrial history of the pink eiga, and along the way he noted that despite
Hamano's assertion that she's bringing a female sensibility and politics to
the production of pink eiga, he actually found her films raunchier and more
disgusting than the ones directed by men (another collective
gasp/embarrassed laugh). No one followed this up in the Q & A, and
considering that Hamano did not respond it could be that her translator
skipped that tidbit. I attempted to nudge the discussion in that direction
with a question, wary because I didn't want to insult her (and it's easy to
simply be labled a prude because of the subject matter....well, maybe I'm
politically prude...but then we all have our favorite genres....).

Hamano asserted a number of times that over the course of her 30 years and
300 films she helped renovate the space of production, moving it from a
space of exploitation to liberation. The women that worked in the films at
the beginning of her career didn't necessarily want to be there, but now
they had achieved a kind of professionalism; this in turn was a kind of
sexual=political liberation as well (anyone who has a different take correct
me if I'm wrong). She was also trying to translate this politics onto the
screen as well, although what exactly she meant was never really discussed.
It did come up in Kimura Saeko's paper on another female pink eiga director,
the name of whom escapes me at the moment. At the same time, Hamano also
spoke of her frustration with the way that, no matter her intentions in the
production context, her films were ultimately used for jacking off in the
theaters. She wanted to make films for women, but only men go to pink eiga
theaters, something that hasn't changed in three decades. I asked her, in
probably too obscure a manner, why---granted that her efforts over the last
30 years have amounted to a lot of spilt whatever---why she continued. If
she was serious about those politics and affecting change, which were
presented to us very much in the mode of the liberation politics of her
generation, why she didn't search for a different mode of production, a
different form of art, or whatever? Her response was basically to become
defensive and emphasize her achievement, while not really dealing with the
reception context.

My question, and this would be an interesting thing to discuss on KineJapan,
has to do with the way that discussions of the wonders of Nikkatsu Roman
Porno and pink eiga never---a word I take seriously---consider the
filmmaking in tandem with the reception context. When people point out how,
with the disintegration of the studio system, the pink film becomes the
training ground for moves into the mainstream (and the survival of countless
directors, technicians and cameramen who otherwise wouldn't be able to work
in film), it makes sense to me. However, when discussions turn to the
progressive politics of the films, or their worthiness as art, what does it
mean to ignore what's going on on ground level, in the theaters? How is this
not a looping between the production and reception contexts, one big
self-love fest?

To bring my point home, after the Hamano discussion (which went nowhere in
the end and probably only proved my prudishness, politically and otherwise),
I asked Barbara Hammer a question.

(For those of you unfamiliar with her work, she is an
experimental/documentary filmmaker who often works with issues of sexuality.
Her first ex[-experimental films were, as a lesbian friend of mine puts it,
"Porno for dykes," and in her more recent works like Nitrate Kisses she has
some very stunningly beautiful same-sex sex scenes...and between different
races and even elderly people; a kind of sexual politics that makes what's
going on in the majority of pink eiga and roman porno misogynistic and/or

I asked Barbara, if you were a filmmaker working under the spirit,
assumptions, and intentions of Hamano _and_ your best intentions were
completely ignored by your audience and turned to quite opposite ends, would
you continue doing making films like that for 30 years? Hammer's answer was,
"No, what I'd do is get a Super 8 camera like Kawase did, make the movies I
wanted, and gather the audiences I knew would engage my films on my terms."


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