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Film Directors  
 
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Many of the more famous films generally associated with Warhol from the late 1960s onwards, were actually primarily the work of his protégé Paul Morrissey (b. 1939). His influence as an assistant is apparent in the more developed narrative structure of the lengthy Chelsea Girls (1968). Morrissey went on to direct such underground classics as Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), Heat (1972), and Blood of Dracula (1974).

The contemporary heir to the Warhol/Morrissey tradition is John Waters (b. 1946), the Baltimore-based director sometimes referred to as the "Pope of Trash and The Sultan of Sleaze." Beginning with innovative shorts after dropping out of film school in the mid-1960s, Waters became a cult figure as a result of a major triumph, the trailer trash epic Pink Flamingos (1972), an exploration of the very queer underside of lower suburbia starring such Waters stalwarts as Mink Stole and outrageous drag performer Divine.

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Waters, who frequently writes, edits and acts in his own films, continued his assault on family values in such works as Desperate Living (1977) and the hilarious take on 1960s teen conformity, Hairspray (1988), which featured Divine as the young Ricki Lake's mother. Recent films include Serial Mom (1994), Cecil B Demented (2000), and A Dirty Shame (2004).

Feminism and the Rise of Lesbian Experimental Film

Spurred on by the rise of the Women's Liberation movement, with its critique of the structure of patriarchy, lesbian filmmakers came to the fore in the 1970s. They found their central challenge in the conceptualization modes of visual representation that captured the eroticism of lesbian sexuality without objectifying the female body as spectacle or replicating patriarchal conventions.

Foremost amongst lesbian feminist filmmakers is the extraordinarily prolific Barbara Hammer (b. 1939). She employed an aesthetic of abstraction in a series of short films to shatter taboos associated with the representation of female bodies. Among this series are Dyketactics (1974), Menses (1974), and Multiple Orgasm (1976).

Hammer also explored themes of women's spirituality, whether located in primitive rites--Stone Circles (1983)--in myth--Sappho (1978)--or in nature--Pearl Diver (1984). In her first feature length film, the partial documentary Nitrate Kiss (1985), Hammer addressed themes of eroticism and aging. Her work in the 1990s included a series of acclaimed documentaries, most notably the study of hidden lesbian histories, The Female Closet (1998).

Hammer's early propensities towards abstraction and essentialist symbolism were not always shared by her feminist contemporaries. Jan Oxenberg's influential satirical short, Home Movie (1972), juxtaposes original home movie footage of the filmmaker's own adolescence (most notably, her activities as a school cheerleader) with an interrogative voice-over and additional footage of contemporary lesbian feminist cultural events, to question normative heterosexual socialization.

In subsequent shorts, I'm Not One of Them (1974) and A Comedy in Six Unnatural Acts (1975), Oxenberg skillfully deploys comedy to explore, challenge, and in some instances rather controversially celebrate lesbian stereotypes. More recently Oxenberg has moved into a successful television career, working on shows such as Chicago Hope.

Lesbian filmmakers building on the work of Hammer and Oxenberg have been united in their aim, in Andrea Weiss' phrase, "to control and define lesbian representation in terms other than those offered by the dominant media."

In the domain of documentary Weiss (b. 1956) and Greta Schiller (b. 1947) have, via their company Jezebel Productions, contributed numerous innovative documentaries that have uncovered hidden aspects of gay and lesbian history, including Before Stonewall (1984), Paris Was a Woman (1995), and Escape to Life (2000).

Su Friedrich (b. 1954) and Janet Baus co-directed the documentary film The Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire Too (1993), which provides entertaining insights on the performative strategies of this radical arm of 1990s lesbian political culture.

Friedrich as a solo director of short films has, since the late 1970s, extended Hammer's techniques of fragmentation, juxtaposition, and abstraction to evoke facets of lesbian identity and desire. Her most acclaimed film, Damned if You Don't (1987), uses four contrasting fictional mini-narratives about nuns to explore the conflict between lesbian desire, the gaze, and religious ideology.

Sheila McLaughlin's 1987 interracial romance She Must Be Seeing Things also attempts to subvert conventions of spectatorship in depicting lesbian desire.

Lizzie Borden (b. 1958), in such experimental filmic narratives as Born in Flames (1983) and Working Girls (1986), addresses social issues such as lesbian identity, racial difference, and the plight of sex workers.

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