A TRUE CROSS SECTION
random play DVD, black and white, sound, duration indefinite, 2008
The footage of A True Cross Section comes from the National Archives of the United States. The original film is a March of Time newsreel entitled Science in Business. The U. S. government bought this film in 1944 and circulated it for the purpose of educating soldiers returning to the workplace after World War II.
Science in Business, produced by RKO in 1939, consists of footage shot between 1936 and the year of its first release. In the first half of the film, a narrator recounts a story of “the union between business and science.” The latest technological breakthroughs are featured in sections entitled “Science in Power,” “Science in Metals,” etc. The visual materials, gathered with the vast resources of a Hollywood studio, are diverse, and at times stunningly beautiful.
The second half of Science in Business takes as its topic “the study of the people” through consumer surveys and political polls. Various prominent men, including Dean of Harvard Business School Wallace B. Dunham, Chairman of General Motors Henry Weaver, and pollsters Elmo Roper and George Gallup, appear in sequences that explain how it has become possible to understand what the narrator calls “the state of the public mind.” A representative sampling of the U. S. population is chosen by the true cross section method. In interviews, these “representative” subjects express preferences and opinions. This information then guides manufacturers and political analysts. Science in Business reveals the beginnings of techniques that are still in use today, and have played an important role in shaping the politics of consumer societies.
A True Cross Section takes this historical material and randomizes it. The original 16 minute movie has been divided into 97 segments. Each segment of A True Cross Section begins with a fade in from black and ends with a fade out to black. The length of segments varies widely, from 2 seconds to over one minute. Some segments have voice-over narration; others have synchronous dialogue (which is delightfully stilted); others have music; still others are silent.
The random order of A True Cross Section proposes a kind of montage that opens up the original material to a host of new meanings. It makes connections and allows associations that are not obvious when the original film is projected in a linear fashion. As it is embodied in the DVD, the original linear or sequential version of Science in Business is the one variation that becomes virtually impossible to see. A True Cross Section is intended as an installation that cannot be adequately presented as a theatrical projection. Its length is truly variable. A spectator can experience A True Cross Section for 16 seconds, 16 minutes, or 16 hours, and on every occasion it is a different movie.