i?

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i?, 2004, Video, PAL, 04:17 min, color, sound

A man in a gray suit and white shirt stands somewhat remotely at the edge of a weekly market and allows the crowd to push by him. His attention is drawn to one of the passers-by, who bears a surprising resemblance to him. In a hectic, tense fashion, he begins to pursue the man, which leads him through streets, tunnels, house entranceways - until he arrives at his own doorstep. Has he followed himself?
The video i? is a work in ten episodes which depicts the everyday life of the protagonist “O”, played by Entekabi himself. A game of perception and observations of the self. The plot of the video by Shahram Entekhabi is not only reminiscent of the film classic Film by Samuel Beckett with Buster Keaton - it can also be understood as a reference to the subject of interpretation from the viewpoint of an immigrant.

Shahram Entekhabi was more interested in the conceptual nature of FILM that in any of its more modernist features. This concept includes the enlisting of a Hollywood star, of course, thus making a pre-post-modernist claim for the abolition of that boundary between popular and high culture. But the primary element of that concept is the unlikely combination of going around in the public space of the city while never revealing the face. For today, it is of crucial importance to reflect on the relationship between the individual subject whose life the constitution demands we respect, and the larger communities whose members the Western World denies that individuality. For, as “i?” in its intertextual relationship to FILM seeks to explore, it is not productive to remain obsessed with the individual face as long as a true Levinasian face-to-face cannot occur.

The mechanics of a conceptual exploration, abolioshing the heroizing individualism that subtends Hollywood stardom along with elite nations of artistic genius, offer an opportunity to do research on identity without sentimentalizing that concept, reclaiming it from abuse in identity politics and its backlash. In this sense, “i?” reclaims the complex meanings of, and intricate relationships among, post-structuralism (the concept), postmodernism (the philosophy of the subject) and postcolonialism (the reclaimed, literally re-incorporated search for identity in a culturally hybrid world).

This intertextual relationship to both Beckett and Keaton, two stars of modernist as it tips over into postmodernism, is at the heart of a “new historicism” that is not an attempt to reclaim history as if poststructuralism had never happened, but instead claims a historical position for the acknowledgement of the contemporary in all historical relationships to the past. This pre-posterous historicity anchors the present in a firm bound to the past of the American West woven into Beckett’s FILM by means of Keaton’s particular acting style and his by 1965 pre-posterous movements, to the past the migrant carries on his back, from the western-exploited middle East and the traces of its own popular culture in small tokens we see here and there, shimmering through their insignificance.

“i?” is not a remake of FILM. The differences between FILM and “i?” are important. Beckett filmed in black and white, Entekhabi in color. In spite of the passers-by in the frame, the figure in Beckett’s film is primarily alone with his identity crisis; his running, climbing and scuttling around appears to merge from an inner need. Entekhabi is examining identity in the midst of the turmoil of the multicultural city. To Beckett’s twenty-two minutes, he substitutes a 4.17 minute’s film on a loop, increasing narrative pace while slowing down diegetic pace. The explanatory ending is gone, and replaced by a circular structure. The beginning, when the figure looks into the mirror while shaving, is buckled up to the ending, which is double. First, he enters his home through the door, then arrives there and cannot open the door. Looking into the mirror is completely different after having been a mirror to others all day long.

Those differences turn the later film into a critical commentary on the earlier one, in true postmodernist fashion. But it is also clear that this is a dialogue, not a rejection, of everything that Beckett’s film contains but keeps implicit: most importantly, the rationale of the combination of going out in a public space while hiding of the face. The later film brings out these implicit elements, pre-posterously revising the earlier work instead of treating it like a corpse ready for dissecting. This is an approach to a cultural artifact that supplements, but also constitutes, academic scholarship – indeed, reavealing aspects of Beckett’s work that the written word would have a mighty hard time articulating.

Entekhabi’s project was also to foreground the crossing, in culture, of two systemic relationships: vertical so to speak, to other artworks from the past, here, Beckett’s and Keaton’s FILM, and a horizontal one, in the present, between art and the popular culture that populates the urban space and that none of us can esoterically ignore. Both relationships already cross when Keaton, belatedly by forty years, reenacts his past as a comic, a star of the silent film with its particular loaded movements, and his significance as the figure of the migrant going West.

Performers: Shahram Entekhabi and with: Lars Bauer, Shaheen Moradi, Mustafa Kandaz

Camera: Arne Hector

Sound: Rachel Hunter

Production Designer: Volker Rehm

Costumes: Baerbel kirchhof

Make-up: Viola fistler

Written, directed and edited by: Shahram Entekhabi

Produced by: Fine Arts Unternemen Film AG

Supported by: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, NEXT, Interkulturelle projekte, Zebef e.V. Ludwiglust