ABSTRACT

Andrea Witcomb observes that the association of museums in the popular imagination is often with the exotic – as dark, musty places full of strange objects. She thinks that ‘a history of the way museums have been represented in film would . . . reveal how museums are often thought of as spaces for illicit behaviour rather than the space of conformity normally accorded to them within academic analysis’.1 It is important to imagine the museum as a mediator outside its association with stasis – a condition often expressed through analogy with a mausoleum. Sentient Relics is not a history of museums in films, but does acknowledge the discrepancy Witcomb highlights. As fictional sites – not only in mainstream feature films, but also in arthouse cinema and fictodocumentary – encounters with artefacts and galleries will often disrupt the notion that museums are sites of cultural conformity. Lapses in socially acceptable behaviour or breaches in the rational order of things, disrupt cultural norms and the certitude of empirical ways of knowing the world. The mischief may be light-hearted or intense, either way it threatens institutional authority. Whatever the gravity of the mischief, the status quo frequently finds itself in grave trouble in the cinematic museum.