video trailer

Alcazar, 2004

Shahram Entekhabi with Mieke Bal
PAL video, 09:06 min, color, sound
Cameras: Mieke Bal, Heather Fagan, Chelsea Meyers, and Ben Kinsley

- Is this your idea of a birthday?

In the other films of this small series, small acts continue to cut into this sad resignation to history's belatedness, through a meditation on media and their power to transform lives, real or imagined. In Alcazar, the figure attempts to share his status of history's leftover with the elderly permanent residents of a slightly decrepit, quaintly Hispanic hotel, sticking out like a sore thumb in Cleveland, Ohio, as the residents stick out as in transit forever, and the man who enters the lobby is out of place in his quaint business suit, blue suitcase, whitened face, and clumsy behavior. These residents, themselves forgotten by the generations that rule, end up looking at him from a distance. No one joins the party he is putting up.

From the suitcase that previously contained the tape of his short-lived spatial power, now decorations, plastic spoons, and lemonade cups emerge. He tosses these on the coffee table, after positing a cardboard box there, which, it turns out, has a birthday cake inside. Again, his face and body postures are unreadable, although tainted like an old mirror by reminiscences to the early comedians of Hollywood, and the cultural of migrancy across space, time, and class they engraved upon the retina of Western cultural memory. Buster Keaton's unsmooth movements and sad face, Charley Chaplin's incomprehension in the face of the industry that rejected him as redundant, fit this strange man to a T.

But the jerky movements of his shuttling back and forth between the two sides of the sitting area in the Alcazar's lobby to put on a CD with nostalgic songs by "Nat King Cole", switch on the cozy shaded lamps, and put up, tear down, then rearrange guirlandes that mix happy birthday, Halloween, and Christmas, are poignant in a weirdly contemporary way, precisely because they are so historically out of joint with the present. Another man, seen from the back and unseen by our figure, stands, apparently looking on. Whether he represents a threat or a help remains unclear, until he bows down and begins to clear up the mess and help the stranger.

When all is set, he sits down on his suitcase, folds his hands as if in prayer, and waits for his imaginary guests. He just sits there. But again, whether dejected, patient, resigned, angry, or frustrated, we cannot know. These images do not offer the solace of psychological understanding and the identificatory sympathy that usually follow in its wake. His sitting is just an image, perhaps a painting, perhaps an ad, perhaps an old photograph.

In the dark images that evoke the chiaroscuro of baroque painting as well as the melancholy of old pictures, an elderly woman shyly comes into the scene, invited by a gesture to sit down. Then, the second act begins. The man invites her to dance. The woman teaches him the elements of ballroom dancing, the pleasure of her own long-gone time of glory. Then, quite unbelievably, she begins a rock-and-roll movement, then a twist. The man follows her initiatives, granting her the moment of visual glory. In a series of close-ups, we see him cut a piece of cake, cutting right through the sugar rose.

At an indeterminate point in time, he stands up, takes the suitcase on which he had been sitting, and leaves. He walks out of the hotel just as he came in, without reason, without purpose. Outside, he looks in both directions, takes a left, and disappears. Only to reappear as the loop goes on, irreducibly repetitive, erasing the illusion of a beginning and ending that the act itself might have suggested. Between the medium that continues, the evoked paintings that, like time itself, stand still, and the stagnation of life this hotel embodies, the act of coming and going leaves a gap that only the silliest of acts can pretend to fill. Thanks to:
Heather Fagan, Jessica Langley, Chelsea Meyers, and John Orlock
and Hotel Alcazar, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA
Baker Nord Center for the Humanities, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

"Alcazar" appeared at the following exhibitions and festivals, among others:
2009: How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin?, curated by Christopher Marinos. "Heaven", 2nd Athens Biennal, Greece
2009: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, Finland
2008: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Fremantle Fibonacci Centre, Fremantle, Australia