Media Show Strikes at Culture Bias Whitney Museum's Exhibit Treats Cinema as Idea Laboratory

Article excerpt

WHEN we think of movies, most of us think first of Hollywood films or their various offspring, from TV shows to imitative "art films" from abroad.

But this is a limited view, overlooking a great range of moving images with quite different priorities. The conventional idea that a movie must tell a story and move in a straight line - beginning, middle, end - sets up a definition of cinema that "stands in sharp contrast to the real mutability of our world," as media expert John G. Hanhardt puts it. Films made by this definition "contribute to the dominance of an established mode of thought," writes Mr. Hanhardt, favoring the demands of consumerism over the needs of growth, diversification, and understanding.

One solution to this problem, says Hanhardt, who is curator of film and video at the Whitney Museum of American Art here, is for today's museums to become "postmodern," transforming their resources into "laboratories of ideas" that break down arbitrary divisions among cultures and disciplines. In such circumstances, Hanhardt states in notes to the Whitney's latest media exhibition, an artist isn't just a star or personality, but a sort of creative go-between who serves as a "conduit of many different cultural and social stimuli."

Putting his ideas into practice, Hanhardt has organized an ambitious show called "Re-Mapping Culture(s)" in conjunction with Janet Sternburg, the Rockfeller Foundation's senior program advisor in media.

Works on view range from narrative films and classic documentaries to avant-garde collages and critiques of conventional media practices. What connects them is their effort to reveal what Ms. Sternburg calls "a world of inter: a set of relationships between past and present, between film and video, between gender and national or ethnic identities...."

One of the exhibition's most impressive aspects is its combining of what appear to be dissimilar works, so they can shed light on one another in back-to-back screenings. A splendid example is the pairing of "The Man With the Movie Camera," the 1929 classic that established Dziga Vertov as the reigning monarch of Soviet avant-garde documentary, and "Friendly Witness," made 60 years later by American filmmaker Warren Sonbert, who uses strategies of editing and photography that extend some of Vertov's concerns into brilliant modern-day terms. …