Long-lashed Lillian Gish clinging to life, D.W. Griffith shouting through a megaphone and spiffy Billy Bitzer rolling the camera all float down a cardboard river, full of tension on separate ice floes. They're shooting the harrowing rescue scene from Griffith's 1920 silent "Way Down East," in a Vermont blizzard. As three-dimensional painted cut-outs in "The Maquette for Way Down East," they form the centerpiece of the Hirshhorn Museum's Red Grooms exhibit.
Artist, filmmaker and producer of '60s "happenings," Grooms has a pop-cartoon style that defies classification. Hype plays a large role in his art; the word "ruckus," in his film company title and the name of an environmental sculpture, has become his trademark.
Besides worshipping Hollywood, the sculptures, paintings and collage pay tribute to everyday sightings: a bus stop in one awkward painting, a purple umbrella in another. A painted wood, plastic and electric lightbulb sculpture called "Tootsie" features a '40s-style blond in plaid two-piece bathing suit sitting on a lawnchair. "Loft on 26th Street," one of the museum's most popular pieces, is a painstaking tableau of life in Grooms' West Side studio loft, chronicled before the building was razed. Portraits of friends and every item on the bookshelves and walls are complete to the last detail. Red-headed Grooms is on the far right slicing bread, a piece of which has slipped to the floor.
Several film programs are scheduled in conjunction with the exhibit. "Ruckus Manhattan" (1976), a feature-length documentary on the creation of Grooms' city sculpture, (on view at New York's Burlington House), will be shown this weekend: Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 1. An hour-long collection of film shorts by Grooms will be shown at 1 on March 4 and March 6, with "The Target Discount Store" documentary added to the March 6 program. "Way Down East," on which Grooms based his Griffith monument, will be screened at 8 p.m. on March 6. All films are free in the Museum's auditorium.
"RED GROOMS FROM THE MUSEUM'S COLLECTION" -- At the Hirshhorn, Independence Avenue at Eighth Street SW, daily 10 to 5:30, through May 3.