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Watch ‘Deadpan’ – an Early Short Work by Steve McQueen Inspired by Buster Keaton

Watch 'Deadpan' - an Early Short Work by Steve McQueen Inspired by Buster Keaton

In case you weren’t already aware, before wowing audiences with his filmed traditional narrative storytelling abilities, director Steve McQueen was impressing critics in the art world with his more experimental static and moving works, like this one, titled “Deadpan,” made in 1997, which was included as part of a collection of work by the artist, that was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize in 1999.

In the work, a re-enacting of a stunt from Buster Keaton’s film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1928), we see a younger McQueen, centered an event that happens from several different angles. He stands still in front of a simple wooden house, as the the front wall of the building falls forward, seemingly on the verge of landing on him, but he remains uninjured and unfazed – despite what initially looked like danger – because of a strategically placed open window. 

“Deadpan” abandons the original film’s narrative structure and the comedy, to present something that is almost oppressive in its repetition and silence.

The 16mm black-and-white film has no sound, and is 4 1/2 minutes long – although it’s original exhibition form was as a continuous projection, which is how most of his early work is intended to be viewed – in a museum setting; you won’t find much online (hat-tip The Film Stage):

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