A wonderful exhibit currently at the Hirshhorn: The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image. It runs until September 7 and is, of course, free. I particularly enjoyed Christian Jankowski's 2003 film "This I Played Tomorrow," which is scripted from a series of interviews the filmmaker conducted. The interviews play on monitors on the side of the room while you watch the final product, which is brilliantly staged and acted. The interview snippets become an engaging commentary and meditation on the power (or lack thereof) of art, inviting the viewer to ponder the ability of art, particularly cinema, to provide salvation, truth, or transcendence. One character, a mother grieving the recent death of her adult son, tells the other characters about his musical talents and declares, "I can sing too." She begins to sing for the people gathered and reflects on the comfort of heaven and the afterlife. Another character bluntly declares that cinema cannot express truth - only emotions. "I want to express astonishment at human beings," he says.
The other piece that struck me was "Mother+Father," an installation by Candace Breitz that spans two rooms and twelve monitors. Breitz took six mothers and six fathers from popular Hollywood movies, placed them in front of plain black backgrounds, and used portions of their dialogue to create conversations about motherhood and fatherhood. The five mothers discuss femininity, their own mothers, and mother/daughter relationships among themselves. The five fathers discuss masculinity, divorce, and the difficulty of watching their daughters become grown women. The conversations - carefully arranged by the artist - are often absurd, occasionally hilarious, and sometimes very sad. You can watch them at the artist's website, but if you can make it to the Hirshhorn to see the full installation, it's definitely worth your time.