To the would-be star, fame is heaven. Just as the Christian afterlife promises eternal easy street, fame rewards the struggling artist with their just desserts: a coronation and canonization two-scoop sundae. With her eye squarely on this prize, Ozara, played by James Franco, gazes into the lens of her DSLR, home of an imaginary audience with power to anoint her. “This project must take me, Ozara, the magnificent, the great, to the top, where I will sit and direct forever.” What’s obvious to us remains invisible to Ozara: her skills are tragically inferior to her ambitions. She aims for the top, but lands over it.
In twenty years of making art videos, Kalup Linzy has mastered the art of lacking mastery. His latest, Ozara and Katessa, stars Linzy as Katessa, a hapless starlet, and Ozara, the egomaniacal director who might lead them to heaven by making of a “video art piece” that will “cross over, push boundaries,” though neither quite knows what that means. Linzy’s lip-synced lo-fi worlds, often inspired by his deep allegiance to soap operas, wring comedy from tragedy via the love triangle every potential star faces: a heart desperately split between loved ones and the love of audience.
In a conversation at Recess in Brooklyn this spring, Linzy told me, “I’m most funny when I’m trying not to be funny. But I also know we’re all going through something bad. It’s cliché, but I think of that phrase, ‘Someday I’ll look back at the times I cried and laugh and look at the times I laughed and cry.’” For Linzy, this mix defines the melodrama. “You see somebody acting out and you think, ‘Come on, it cannot be that serious,’ but somewhere in their mind, it is.” In Episode 1: A Star is Reborn, when Ozara instructs Katessa to “Keep the audience engaged, mystified,” her gaze locks on the camera, her breath quickens, and moments later she births an asymmetrical star from between her legs. Really, really trying to be loved is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
Soap operas don’t make stars. By foregrounding family and romantic conflicts, the genre facilitates a screen time democracy, equal billing for the ingenue, bad boy, villainess, etc. Dialogue is soap’s meat and potatoes, leaving no room on the plate for A Star is Born-style breakout moments, like when, in that 1976 movie of the same name, Barbra Streisand sings an entire six and a half minute ballad in extreme close-up, a mise en scene signal that she’s achieved the mystification Katessa cannot. From Linzy’s Melody Set Me Free to As da Art World Might Turn, his narratives follow stars born to struggle, to step on their own toes, to doom themselves to bad romance. In one scene, Katessa rehearses a monologue, surrounded by incongruous props such as a Fender Strat autographed by U2, an anchor, and a giant pencil. She reads Ozara’s script aloud, “I am alone, singular. I don’t need anyone making me plural,” until her love interest Robbie, also played by Franco, enters and calls the script flat. “It’s not flat, Mr. Negative,” Katessa retorts, but it’s too late: dialogue has interrupted her monologue, and the audience laughs, or at least I did, partially at Katessa’s sincerity, and partially with her, a refraction of our own fear of being unloved and under-appreciated. Maybe Ozara and Katessa are not the only ones who desire too much.
Watch Episode 1 below. Linzy will release one new episode per week via his YouTube channel, for the next ten weeks.
We’ll return next month with a video premiere from Erica Magrey. Read our mission statement below.
Off Brand Video is interested in pieces that trouble, queer, and speak back to mainstream cultural production. OBV provides access to non-narrative video normally reserved for private collections, gallery spaces, one-off screenings, or personal Vimeo accounts. In a gallery or on YouTube, you may watch for a minute and move on. Off Brand Video is the place to take the time. Send recommendations for artists, videos, or archives to firstname.lastname@example.org.