Frameline 32: Anti-pity party

Pub date June 17, 2008
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Films about people dealing with serious diseases are often hard to watch and frequently difficult to criticize. They make for rough viewing because of the empathy a viewer has for the suffering subject. Perhaps due to this same sense of compassion, admitting that such movies are cheesy — as they sometimes are — is sort of taboo.

Feminist and experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer bypasses such niceties and constraints with A Horse Is Not a Metaphor. The title of Hammer’s movie might have ties to Susan Sontag’s writings on illness, but it also connects to the dreamlike imagery of horses that she mixes with footage of her stay in a hospital. Structurally, A Horse Is Not a Metaphor‘s chapters correspond to the stages of ovarian cancer treatment. Hammer reinforces all these elements with the magnificently strange music of Meredith Monk to create a very personal retelling of her experience. Her movie is a highly relatable testimony of feelings that rage from sheer darkness to happiness and hope.

Horse‘s visceral quality makes it a different and almost cathartic response to the subject of disease. Each ingredient conveys a desire to connect with the physical and emotional world on a basic sensory level. In doing so, Hammer and her movie relinquish pity and fear.


June 27, 7 p.m.