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City Press reviews new web series Gaze

2017-02-26 06:00

Johannesburg - Blood rushes down his thighs, artworks are smashed, Jan van Riebeeck is invoked, the selling of black bodies is almost a throwaway line; all in muted Rembrandt tones unfolding with the feverishness of a telenovela overlaid with a hazy breathy soundtrack. This is Gaze, a new web series by MutiFilms that has just released its first episode.

Set in the art world of Cape Town, Gaze revolves around muse and gallerista Adrian Day (the rhythm and sound of the name alluding to Dorian Grey, I am told, is not entirely accidental), who is at the tail end of a break-up with a white artist and photographer who has abandoned him for Berlin. Gaze is about Adrian’s world and its uncertainties, its arguments with family, with gallery, with gay baiting and violence; a lifestyle where people question their racial identity and just want to be loved and look pretty.

Nothing like Gaze exists in the South African TV repertory, especially if it lives up to its promise to be an ongoing web series; too often projects of the web series nature start up and then peter out.

Even as a stand-alone short, Gaze is unique for its combination of political bluntness and heartsore yearning. It has its faults – some scenes are a bit less homage to a bad telenovela and more an actual bad telenovela – but it is the sum of its parts that demand it claim its place. The affecting affectedness of Jared Ethan Blake’s performance as Adrian, the allusions to American Psycho, the references to #FeesMustFall art burnings, the very quietness of it while it stares you in the face.

Most film makers with an eye on TV series have long given up on pitching to SABC or DStv. The web series seems to be our answer to Netflix, and perhaps it should operate as a pitching ground – were any of the channels smart, they would have picked up Gaze like they should have picked up Jozi Shore. The web series model is hard to maintain, mostly self-funded with no real way to recoup investment.

Speaking to Blake, however, you get the sense that Gaze might just be in it for the long run. “Naturally we considered all the traditional routes,” he says, “but perhaps with content that may seem charged or racy to some, I think this way was best for now. Also, allowing the story to be told without hassle was the most important thing.” But they do have “a plan in place”, continues the writer and lead actor.

Talking about the name of the exhibition opening in episode one, Die Nuwe Settelaar (The New Settler), and its decolonial allusions, Blake says, “In the first episode we see Adrian’s guilt over being in that picture.” But it’s more than just that to him; the portrayal of a racially normalised South Africa that has not yet arrived is a decolonial act.

“I get a clear sense that people have never seen this done here before, or never seen people like me being represented. It is important to be seen and share these stories of people who are not always highlighted ... from inception to the casting, to the mere nature that we had not seen people that look like us, that sound like us, portrayed in a way that’s revered and perhaps even provocative, without it being some ‘come up’ story.

Not formally trained, Blake has nevertheless been performing his whole life. Talking about techniques and character construction, is his creation very close to Blake? “I don’t know if I am anything like Adrian,” he replies, “but I do suppose everyone has a really dark side. We are all capable of doing things we may regret or that are not the best for us.”

Concerning production, Blake and MutiFilms have mapped out the whole of season one. With early production talk revolving around a serial killer, a story line of which there is very little evidence in the first two episodes, has this been dropped from the story arc? “I don’t know that it has,” muses Blake, “I don’t know. One thing I can say. There will be blood. We know how season one ends and it turns out to be quite the shocker. Drama!”

The series is directed by Guto Bussab and Jared Ethan Blake, written by Jared Ethan Blake and produced by Shanna Freedman.

Watch Gaze at

Watch the first episode here:

For updates, follow @GazeSeries on Twitter or the gazeseries page on Facebook

Read more on:    identity  |  race

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