Optic Nerve


Optic Nerve (1985) is a "powerful personal reflection on family and ageing" (Optical Nerves, 1989). Hammer uses the process of optical printing and re-scanned images to influence the viewer's visual and intellectual trips. This is Barbara Hammer's interpretation of her visit with her grandmother in the nursing home. She conveys to the viewer an institutionalized environment. With extreme color, light, motion and sound she reflects her grandmother's loss of touch with reality.

With the use of imaging overlays and dissolves, she lets you see what is happening in her grandmother's mind. Hammer used the Optical Printer to create many effects in Optic Nerve as well as many other films she has created. This printer can create, manipulate, take out or add frames and images from different films onto one master film. The Optical Printer consists of a camera and projector that is controlled by hand adjustments. Regular speed film can be converted into slow motion film as seen when Hammer's grandmother is wheeled into the nursing home and when she is wheeled through the nursing home hallways. Even though the Optical Printer is an old tool, Barbara Hammer has used this method successfully to create many films.

At the beginning of the film you see an image of the throat that appears for several seconds. The viewer is unaware that it is a picture of a grandmother until it is zoomed out to gain more information about the character. Hammer is known for creating scenes that disguise the object. She reveals the image by focusing the camera or by zooming in or out to reveal as much information as needed.

The next image we see is the grandmother being wheeled into the nursing home. This is where the viewer is made aware of the grandmother's earlier years. This is done through the use of photographs. The viewer notices that the grandmother makes a comparison with the hallway she is being wheeled down to her room and the grocery store aisles.

As the grandmother continues down the hallway it could represent her getting closer to the end of her life. This is also reveled when we see the grandmother in the hospital bed and she lets go of the person's hands. This could be explained by the grandmother feeling like she is being held back if she takes the person's hand.

I thought the film was very interesting, because Hammer talks about a realistic topic that everyone can understand. When I first saw the film I assumed it was portrayed though the grandmother?s eyes. However, this is incorrect because this film is about the granddaughter's interpretation of her visit with her grandmother in the nursing home.

--Helene Dacey, 2000

Barbara Hammer Work