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they’re trying to do too much in one episode and it shows. the problem with having audrina as a third main character and having lauren and heidi not talking and therefore not ever sharing any scenes is that three seperate story arcs have to be played out in every episode and two of the story arcs can’t share scenes at all and the end result is that there’s so much to do that things get rushed. in season two, you had two main characters (lauren and heidi) who shared the majority of their scenes, the result being that scenes could play out longer and slower and with more subtlety. it’s a shame that such an incredible performer as whitney gets a one line mention by l.c., instead of an actual appearance in the episode. i really thought this season was her opportunity to break out and i think she would have been a much better choice than audrina, but it doesn’t look like that’s how things are going to turn out. i hope she will at least appear in the next episode.

the show only really opened up (i.e. spent any significant amount of time in one scene) at the end, at the barbecue. there was some quality interaction between lauren and brody jenner and lauren and audrina. lauren continues to make interesting choices, like when she carries the motorcycle helmet back to audrina and she holds it behind her back and then yanks it out instead of just having it at her side the whole time. she also did a lot of interesting things with the inflection of her voice. a lot of pretty actresses will play ugly women or women who don’t dress well in movies and there’s always such a big deal made of it, but not a lot of women make their voices sound ugly (charlize theron notwithstanding). for me the sound of a woman’s voice is very important. this episode was also audrina’s best performance as of yet. when she wore the blue hood, it made me think of the virgin mary in old paintings. i bet there is some contemporary christian movie on PAX right now where a version of the virgin mary is a teenage girl wearing a blue hoodie. there was also a scene where heidi is sitting in the passenger seat of the suv that made me think of maria schneider in “the passenger,” but that’s a pretty big stretch.

there’s nothing worse than to see someone cry in real life and there’s nothing better than to see someone cry on television. when you see someone cry in real life, it means something important has happened and that important thing probably affects you and it’s probably bad. when you see someone crying on television, it means something important has happened and that’s good because that’s probably the reason you’re watching television, to see something important happen. some of the best scenes of the hills have featured lauren or heidi crying. in this episode, lauren and audrina both cried. lauren was better at crying than audrina, although whether this is a function of performance or editing (lauren was given more time to cry, more angles of her crying, different music while she was crying) or both, i’m not sure.

justinbobby was very good in this episode. the shtick he was doing with his sunglasses as he sat with audrina at the edge of the waves, sticking the glasses in the lobes of his ears, hanging them and letting them sway in the breeze, it was all very authentic, very natural

the scenes in denver felt bizarre. it’s because the hills is such a location specific show; i mean, it’s right there in the title: the locale (and what that locale means in socioeconomic and cultural and aesthetic terms) is what defines the show. during the denver scenes, it was like the whole landscape was a big trompe l’oeil behind them, a matte painting of an alien planet, the fields of grass blowing in the wind a sort of synthetic ocean.

p.s. what is that bizarre squealing synthesizer thing that they always use as the show goes to the first commercial break? it’s this really weird synth noise that rises in pitch and is sort of vibrato-ed until the first commercial comes up. it doesn’t fit the show at all. i don’t get it. although i am so used to it now i wonder if the absence of it would bother me.

in the player is a song i wrote called “won’t you be in a cage with me.” it is about reality television. i wrote it actually for a post i am going to write about ethics and the show “big brother 8,” although it really applies to any reality show and so here it is. my biggest weakness as a songwriter and producer is my endless fascination with overdubbing my voice en masse, as happens in the outro of this song. if i could harmonize in an interesting way, like for example my current favorite song “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig” by jens lekman, where this boyz II men style harmony gets looped and then overlayed with quasi-indie-funk production and these incredible lyrics (“i saw on tv ’bout this little kid, who had a pig for a pet. his mom had once been attacked by a dog, so a pig was the closest thing he could get”) then that would be fine, but mostly i just sing the root notes over acoustic guitar.

the hills aftershow

August 27, 2007

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during the second season of “the hills,” i watched an episode of the web-only aftershow and found it somewhat charming. mtv came up with a genius concept; instead of being shot in a studio, the show was filmed in the living rooms and the bedrooms of the girls who made up its audience. the host wasn’t that great and the girls weren’t TV ready, but there was an intimacy to it. the stars of “the hills” didn’t visit, they made a phone call and all the girls gathered around the speaker. it was nice, the warm and fuzzy flannel pajamas version of interaction between media and audience.

now the aftershow has gone primetime and everything that made it good is gone, has been steamrolled and glossed over. while the previous season, though hosted on mtv’s overdrive video site, was a close facsimile of actual youtube user-created content (a single camera, a postage stamp sized window, bad lighting, a homey location), this season is a big budget, high production behemoth. mtv tries to have their cake and eat it too vis-a-vis the whole youtube, user-created aesthetic, and that’s where things go down the toilet.

the show opens strong. what seems at first like it could be a normal highlight montage quickly becomes a video mashup, with a sample of whitney saying “red flag” being dropped in rhythmically to footage of audrina and justinbobby and eventually being looped, over and over, to another loop of justinbobby herking and jerking his hair around silently. it’s funny, it’s startling, it’s a great hard open.

(although, edit, i found out trawling youtube that this is not a new thing, that it’s called “the hills: video remix.” the absolute apex of the technique can be seen here:

it’s kind of the anti-emoticlip.)

then there’s the overview of what’s going to happen in the show, done in these solarized flipbooks with cartoon speech bubble captions . it kind of looks like old animated .gifs from 1993. it seems such an awkward attempt at playing with the texture of video; the open already set the viewer up for standard resolution video and then there’s this weird stylization for no apparent reason. the hills is about gorgeous images, beautifully rendered – this doctoring makes a mockery of them and doesn’t gain anything tangible for it. later, one of the hosts draws on the image in what i must see as an attempt at a perez hilton style sight gag, but instead it comes across way more monday night football and, trust me, that is not a nice accessory to be wearing, hills.

the bulk of the show takes place in a carefully dressed auditorium, in front of a live studio audience. the stage is done up as some sort of coldly hip simulacra of a living room, with three brightly patterned couches and a weird modular coffee table, like something out of a bauhaus ikea. the table is covered with brightly colored drinks in oversized martini glasses that nobody ever touches probably because they’re filled with toxic chemicals so they shine brighter.

there are two hosts, a fangirl and a fangay, the both of them awkward and slightly endearing with regards to their awkwardness, but kind of loud and annoying also. on the two other couches are a carefully selected group of nicely dressed, attractive girls and one metro guy. in theory it all fits perfectly, but in practice there’s no charm, no elegance to it.

what’s great about the hills is how to the point it is. it’s so condensed, content packed; there’s no time to meander, to screw around. this is the opposite of that. it’s bulky and awkward and and a half hour and what do you learn from it? the only informational tidbit that has stuck with me from the entire thing is that justinbobby plays drums for a band. great.

halfway through the show, there’s another little video piece, the scene with heidi and spencer cut together into a monster movie parody. it’s good for maybe half a chuckle, but again, it’s not user-created content, it’s a simulation of it, with all the interesting outsider art aspects that define it rounded out by some MTV intern on final cut pro. this is the having the cake and eating it too thing. either go whole hog one way and use actual user created content, like home videos of the show’s viewers or maybe those things on youtube where people put their favorite song behind a homemade montage of the show, or go whole hog and give us well made original content: deleted scenes, raw footage, backstage stuff (like those tours of their apartments that the girls gave online during the first season). this middle ground bears no fruit.

the one sign of life later in the show is the only moment where actual fans are allowed on by webcam, in a four way split screen. they’re yelling and excited and it’s unruly and it’s not really anything like the hills at all, it’s not subtle, but at least is something that feels like something that could be real, all these girls in their homemade tee-shirts, the older ones obviously drunk, the younger ones drunk on the excitement of being on TV.

in the player is my cover of “the modern age” by the strokes. i am going to continue to post strokes covers with some of my hills posts in order to make apparent their aesthetic resonances. for example, the lyrics to this song begin, “up on a hill.” how much more can these things have in common?

also, i just got a myspace and i have 0 friends. it’s sad. if you like the music, please add me.

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at first, i was really disappointed with this third episode of the season. the first scene with heidi and elodie was a clear example of why using dialogue for exposition is bad, especially when it’s rehashing what we’ve just seen thirty seconds prior in the scenes from last week. the scene was just this blah blah motormouth junk; weird cuts, overlapping voices, et cetera. not really appealing at all.

yet there was interest even in the junk, in one of those weird meta-reality moments that gently strokes the fourth wall of the show. like, during this rush of boring dialogue, heidi mentions in passing spencer’s hollywood sign and elodie says “you don’t know he spraypainted on the wall”. she doesn’t say, “didn’t i tell you that he spraypainted on the wall?”, she says “you don’t know?” as if elodie, instead of heidi’s friend, is someone who watches the hills and happened to miss the season premiere, and so has to be caught up.

but on the whole, the episode seemed so compressed and rushed. the form of the show is obvious if you pay attention – series of establishing shots, scene plays out, overlapping music that hints either lyrically or musically or both at the emotional core of either previous scene or next scene (technique taken from ‘real world’ 101 and refined to aesthetic perfection) over series of establishing shots of next scene, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat…closing shots of hollywood hills. usually the technique is so good that this form becomes near transparent, like shrink wrap around evian. but there were so many short scenes today that the music and arhythmic editing really became overwhelming. the editing didn’t feel like it was, for the most part, being done for continuity or for natural rhythm, but to try to force a quicker rhythm on the scenes than they could accommodate, resulting in things feeling choppy and disjointed.

besides being rushed, the episode focused on the machinations of a minor character (i like audrina, but she’s not there yet) and her boyfriend who nobody gives a shit about besides l.c.. if this was the attempt to set out audrina as a sort of third lead who can carry an episode, on the level of heidi or l.c., sorry, she’s not there yet. there were exactly two great parts to this episode that are things that are exemplary of the things that make the hills better than anything else.

1. two brief shots of lauren’s face at the dinner where justin-bobby is such an asshole. they happen right when he’s making his beery joke about how he really wants to date lauren and is just using audrina to get to her. there’s this pregnant pause and the camera cuts from a medium two shot of justin-bobby and audrina to a close-up of lauren. and her eyes kind of bop over from j.b. to audrina and then bounce back a little from the effort, as if to kind of say “what is this crap, audrina? i told you i was right about him, what an asshole, etc.” so then the camera cuts back to the couple and audrina bursts the bubble of the joke and says like “you’re such an asshole” and he does his “i am greasy but in a slightly attractive kind of way” laugh. the camera cuts back to lauren, same angle as before. and this time, her eyes hold for a second and then fall to the table, as if to say “could anyone seriously love me? what’s my problem?” it’s loneliness, it’s vulnerability, it’s worry about the future, and it’s all in this little movement of her eye.

2. the tiny, incredible scene with heidi painting over the hollywood mural in the apartment. this is the hills following the rules of drama to great effect; using action to define and advance character.

so, after the scene with audrina getting wooed by that incredible line by j.b. as he rocks back and forth on his bar stool like an over-caffeinated twelve year old (“i think truth and time tells all” he says, “so heres to truth and time”, audrina says, smile, cut), the opening notes of “the greatest” by cat power begin to play. the music increases in volume.

shots 1 and 2: cars driving on sunset in the dark, their headlights blowing out into the camera and making little colorful lens flares in the lower right part of the frame, christmas lights twinkling like the high notes on the piano in the song.

shot 3: obligatory opening shot with title card of heidi and spencer’s apartment.

shot 4: close-up of paint roller in tray. the camera tracks up gently, diagonally, along the roller. it feels strange, liquid, like floating, partly because of the music and partly because the camera in the hills is usually static or moving within very short ranges, but this is different, smooth, rising, until we see heidi’s profile. the song has overtaken the scene; we don’t hear the roller squeaking in the tray, we’re in heidi’s head, feeling her emotion via the song.

shot 5: static shot of heidi from the opposite direction, completely breaking the 180 degree rule but the scene benefits from the shock of it. her eyes are all quiet determination, but we’re not even watching her face, we’re seeing her arms move, we’re seeing physical strength, emotion through the movement of the body

shot 6: static shot of the hollywood mural, with the gelatin aquarium to the right

shot 7: the camera, again, floating upwards from heidi’s feet, quickly up to her waist level, then slowing down as it continues to track up to her head. she’s raising the roller up above her head, to its apex, as the song drops just to chan’s voice before the chorus

shot 8: the camera cuts to a wide shot of the wall exactly as the strings rise all around and the drums kick their way into the chorus and heidi, barely visible at the left edge, rolls a streak of triumphant white over the center of the mural.

shot 9: back to heidi’s upper body, where the camera ended up in shot 7, tracking slightly up and down to follow her as she moves the roller along the wall, the music at her back

shot 10: extreme close-up of the wall, white paint now covering the mural as the roller slides through the frame

shot 11: back to shot 7/9, heidi rolling along

shot 12: flipside of heidi, who continues to paint as spencer enters the aparment and ruptures the moment, saying “yo yo”. heidi says it back and smiles and the music has dropped out but it doesn’t matter because it’s inside her and she’s done what she has to do. as he approaches, he’s weak; she’s holding the foreground and he’s stuck in the back.

it’s like some virginia wolff rhapsodic rush thing but better because heidi actually does something instead of just fantasizing about it and then buying a duvet.

in the player is a cover of the song “12:51” by the strokes. i don’t know anything about playing keyboards and i think it shows. even though it’s not hip to like them after the third album, the strokes are still one of my favorite bands and very important to me personally. the music of the strokes is a perfect east coast parallel to the hills: they’re both cool, compressed, highly stylized representations of the decadence of the young privileged class. this is the kind of pop culture that i love, all beautiful surfaces, tiny problems and joys blown up like those brilliant silver balloons you see in old warhol footage. i tried a long time to find the equivalent of this kind of thing in literature, just filthy rich manhattanites blowing their trust funds on expensive thrills and having fun, weightless conversations and stolen scotch and every dated cliche that is so attractive to someone who is southern and middle class down to the underwear. i thought salinger would be it and there are flashes of what i want in “franny and zoey” but he’s way too emo. cheever does it for me sometimes, but he was too old even when he was young. mcinerney, no, bret east ellis i’ve never read but i heard so many bad things.
soon i hope to write about the hills aftershow, which was almost as interesting as the show itself.

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so, this whole britney spears magazine thing. as reported in page six:

“As Page Six reported more than a month ago, Spears walked out of a shoot for the perfume’s ads before decent shots were taken. But that hasn’t stopped Elizabeth Arden’s marketing campaign for the scent.

“She looked amazing, but she left the shoot three times in a state of distress before driving away for good,” our source said. “They had decent shots of her face, but not her body, so the art director made the stylist – a cute girl name Kylie Cavaco – get in Britney’s clothes and pose.

“They are superimposing Britney’s head on Kylie’s body. Kylie has the body Brit used to have, not the one she has now.”

and what’s the big deal? in movies this happens all the time, you know, body doubles. that’s not some industry secret, that’s public knowledge. i’m sure everyone remembers that classic episode of “friends” where joey gets hired to be al pacino’s butt double in a shower scene but gets fired from the job. in a movie this an accepted thing, you don’t even notice it. so why is it important now? because instead of just retouching, it’s a different person grafted on? whatever, elizabeth arden had to fit britney into an image like fitting a too big ass into a too tight pair of designer jeans. they did what they had to do and i respect them for it. no one wants to see ugly in a magazine ad.

every week there’s some feminist blah blah attack on how magazines retouch photos and how it’s evil and how these are not real women, they are fake (i had a long argument with a girl at a party about this once and she just kept drunkenly repeating the phrase “girls in magazines are not real”, which has a sort of beautiful weirdness to it, like, they’re not real, are they robots or something?) and really, come on, what person does not know and get all this by now? who has not internalized this knowledge? like, six year olds, maybe? it’s the same reason i think we should plug all the money that gets blown on d.a.r.e. and anti-smoking campaigns and programs into something important, like say, cancer research, because there’s not people in this country anymore who don’t get that smoking is bad for you, it’s just a known fact, and all the faux-hip “truth” ad campaigns aren’t going to change their minds.

people buy glossy magazines because they want to look at glossy people. i’m sorry, the cover of a magazine should not ever have an ugly person on it, unless they like, cured cancer or stopped the war in iraq, and even then, make-up, hair, wardrobe, fix them up as much as you can and then retouch the hell out of them. i love women and the way they look and they don’t have to look like a magazine cover to get me all hot and bothered, because they are three dimensional people with depth and souls and personalities and women in magazines are two dimensional images. of course they’re not “real”; they’re not, they’re representations of reality, and if i learned anything in four years of art history and literary theory it’s that a representation can’t equal the thing represented, it’s always a distortion.

so, to get back on topic, if i was ever on in the first place, i think it’s perfectly acceptable for britney to have a body double for magazine photos, and i think any other celebrity (male or female) who doesn’t feel they’re looking up to snuff, maybe haven’t been hitting the gym lately, that they should get a double too. this is how we can employ all the poor starving actors in los angeles, by allowing them to become simulations of slightly more succesful actors. maybe through the act of their bodies’ performance, their minds will learn too.

the song above is one i wrote today about the magic wonder of photo retouching. it was inspired by the britney thing, in an attempt to be hip and topical like that spank rock “lindsay lohan” song, except not as clever or good or hip or anything. but it is summery and breezy and smooth as sea foam and has a spoken word philosophy section at the end.

  • “the hills” – raymond carver
  • “weeds” – lorrie moore
  • “big love” – jeffrey eugenides
  • “rock of love with bret michaels” – norman mailer
  • “californication” – bukowski (phillip roth if you want to be generous)
  • “big brother” – walter benjamin
  • “the sopranos” – don delillo (leaning heavily on ‘libra’ with a dash of ‘underworld’)
  • “the flavor of love” – percival everett (circa ‘erasure’)
  • “flight of the conchords” – aimee bender
  • “hey paula” – joan didion
  • “entourage” – john cheever
  • “the office” – nicholson baker
  • “lost” – thomas pynchon

tonight was the season three premiere of the hills and it was even better than i could have imagined. how liz gateley et al constantly manage to top themselves is incredible and inspiring.

in the new york times today, virginia heffernan wrote that “‘the hills’…is more convincing than “friends” and just about any other comedy about female relationships…” which i, though holding onto my testicles at this very instant, completely agree with. now, this is not the point she was making with that quote, but i read the review before i saw the episode and then there’s an early scene where lauren is drunk at a club and flirting with an english boy and it’s just like incredible deja-vu, like, the crip, the cush of deja-vu. it’s what they teach you in writing classes about how the more specific you get the closer you come to representing the universal. lauren in that scene is like a million drunk girls i have met and will never meet and want to meet, but she’s just one person, just lauren, standing for all of them. as the mtv marketing machine tags, “i know you can relate.”

heffernan writes that “women’s friendships are commonly burnt down along rigid moral lines” and i think that’s true of the show, but what’s interesting and what’s great about the show is the way those moral lines are not actually rigid, but only appear to be.

why laguna beach season three failed and became unwatchable (see the post about the season two premiere a couple posts down) was, among many other things, setting up a clear moral binary; there are the good girls who are nice and the bad girls who are bitches. it gave tessa, the main character who provided all the voice-over narration, complete moral superiority, which is boring and uninteresting. the hills is so genius because it sets up a false image of that binary; the good girls, lauren and audrina and whitney; the bad people, heidi, spencer, jen bunny, et cetera. at the end of the second episode, with her mother, lauren says “i know the difference between good people who do bad things and bad people who do bad things”. but the image is an illusion, as is obvious at the end of the second episode: there are no clear cut moral judgements, there is no “good” and “bad”. “good” lauren is incredibly judgemental and has serious issues with anyone being in a romantic relationship and, as the previews for the rest of the season seem to hint, is ready to do with jason the same thing she cut off heidi for. “bad” spencer seems completely and totally in love with heidi. no one is simple, nothing is black and white. if lauren is our main character, unlike tessa, she has no moral superiority; she’s an unreliable narrator and so the tension between what she says and what she does and who she is ripples with cracks and fissures.

the performances are spot on. lauren was really overshadowed last season by heidi and whitney, but now, with this new aspect to her character, the mistrust taken to an almost absurd level, she’s really shining. audrina isn’t the standout surprise that heidi was last season, but she holds her own. whitney, as usual, continues to dazzle with faux-awkward facial expressions and wide-mouthed stares, use of hands on face, and use of the frame. she is the queen of fake authentic reality performance. if dreyer was alive today and filming a youtube version of “the passion of joan of arc”, he would surely cast her in the title role.

a thing i find really interesting about the hills, with regards to its status as an erstwhile “reality” show, is the use of dubbing. you hear it in the first scene of the season, when whitney asks lauren if she’s “talked to heidi lately”. this is the thing that’s been bubbling under the entire scene and finally it’s let out, and when it is, it’s a dubbed line, it’s life being molded to fit the script.

an even more interesting use of dubbing is in the club scene when heidi and lauren have a confrontation. the most frequent use of dubbing on the hills is during club scenes. and here, during the first moment of contact between heidi and lauren, during the most important moment of the first episode of the third season, when heidi says “here lauren, i wrote you a letter” the line is dubbed, it’s not the real audio, it’s not from the moment.

now of course, in dramatic cinema and television dubbing is a accepted and necessary practice. but this is “reality” we’re watching here. of course it’s no big deal for an actress in a hollywood movie to rerecord her dialogue during an emotional scene weeks or months later; even if she was “in the moment” then, she was just acting, just playing a role, and presumably she can bring that moment back and tell the lie again. but for this crucial moment on the hills, how can heidi, who is of course not a professional actress, replicate all her pent-up feeling about not seeing her ex-best friend for months in a recording studio booth before a microphone weeks later. even if that’s not how the dubbing’s done, even if the audio’s recorded in the bathroom later that night under the guise of a script supervisor’s clipboard and stopwatch, even then, it’s still not the real audio, it’s not what was said in the moment. if these girls aren’t actors, fine, what does that say about performance? what counts for authenticity these days?

it’s easy to forget about dubbing, though, when the dialogue is so good. when the lauren-heidi thing finally blows up to a knock down-drag out screaming match, the repetition and variation are revelatory (“do you know why i’m mad you? you know why i’m mad at you. you know what you did. you know what you did” although that’s nowhere near as strong on the page as on the screen and just one scene of many) i’ve said it before, if raymond carver’s formal aesthetic (which is the important stuff, forget your dirty realism, that’s just blah blah content) could be used as the basis for a television show, this would be it. fuck “short cuts”; there were some entertaining bits, but carver isn’t theatre in that big showy altman kind of way, it’s personal, it’s private, it’s the coal of youtube polished, comma by comma, cut by cut, into a diamond.

the cinematography is as stunning as it’s ever been. there’s a short montage set to rhianna’s “umbrella” where lauren and audrina are drinking and dancing and having fun at a club. wong kar wai and kieslowski would marvel at the colors and lighting, the rich reds, the flickering oranges, the play of shadow. and the improvised takes, the strung together jump cuts of lauren dancing, playing with her hair, making faces; they could be vintage godard, as breathless as breathless. antonioni would have had a field day with these girls, who talk well enough but say so much more with their bodies, with their eyes, with the myriad transcendent ways that they take up space.

today i was watching “live with regis and kelly” because i am a housewife. enrique iglesias was the guest host and revealed that he doesn’t pick up his own dogshit. if you think about it, this makes sense and almost seems blatantly obvious, but it served for an entertaining extended comedic riff. i enjoyed enrique iglesias, he seemed unpretentious and affable, likely because he was wearing a baseball cap that matched his shirt.

lauren conrad from the hills was also on the show. she seemed stiff and awkward. it makes sense that she is a bad interview because while the dialogue on the hills is very good, the focus is on the pregnant pause that means more, the intricacies of face and eye acting, of poses and subtle performance. a better showcase for her talents on talk shows would be a silent two to three minute static shot close-up shot of her face as she lays on a nice sofa in soft, warm light.

enrique iglesias didn’t say anything during the entire interview – he just clapped when the show went to break

a really interesting marketing gesture i think is the mtvthehills youtube group, which i came across looking for samples to use during the breakdown of my cover of the hills theme. it’s a viral marketing thing for the hills season two dvds which consists of “emoticlips”.

as you can see, these twenty to thirty second clips of the hills are framed by textual commentary which teases out the context of the scene and then generalizes it, in a sort of “oh, you know how it is, girlfriend” kind of way, with the ultimate tagline for all the emoticlips being “i know you can relate.” i think relate is interesting here, as during her kelly ripa interview, lauren conrad also mentioned a desire to be “relatable.” i think this is great because it really points at the constructedness of reality existence; aren’t human beings generally already “relatable” to other human beings? the term relatable is used to discuss fictions, to discuss forging the connection between a representation (the character, the aesthetic object) to the audience (real live human beings). and even if lauren conrad is a real live human being, LC is a representation, a character. and the tension between the two is, i think, one of the things that makes the show so compelling.

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this is a cover of the song “unwritten” by natasha bedingfield, which is the theme song to the television show the hills. i tried to sound like mark e. smith from the fall, but mostly i sound like i’m mumbling.

i am very excited about the hills season 3 premiere. i think that the hills is the best show on television. here is some writing from this time last year about the season 2 premiere.

-notes on the hills season 2 premiere

structurally, this show wasn’t as sound as normal, because it’s a bridge between two seasons and thus had to tie up the loose end of last season, Jason, with an awkward first scene before entering the actual narrative. however, thank goodness he’s gone, hopefully for good. i don’t know if I hate jason consciously because he’s a bad actor with no real command of the face or eye acting which are the basic skillset of fake-reality acting, or unconsciously, because, in the world of the narrative, he’s an asshole and he fucked with LC too much. probably both.

LC was very good as always, throughout. Whitney, though she didn’t have a lot to do in this episode, was disappointingly kind of lackluster (I’ve written around this before, but while I think that LC is the kind of workhorse of fake-reality acting, Whitney is the kind of idiot savant, who may not be as technically good or as consistent, but can sometimes out of the blue bust out scenes of incredible simulated naturalness, of fake awkard and goofy, with a randomnization that is unparalleled (as in the scene where the girls go to the sushi restaurant in the hills season 1)). lisa love showed some good force and power, a lot more talent, but, I think overplayed the “mother issues” aspect of her character’s relationship with lauren a little much.

in that lisa love scene, there’s a great, meta-line about how “lauren’s always going to be known as the girl who never went to paris,” which was just perfect. i would be interested in some more subtle, ambiguous scenes dealing with celebrity. as in, is this a fictional universe or the real world? if this is a “reality show,” which is what it’s “supposed” to be, why doesn’t fame and recognition become an issue as it does to everyone else in the world who’s been on a reality show?  how can you ignore it? although, for the sake of the narrative, and because I know this isn’t a reality show, I think you have to ignore these concerns in all but the most subtle ways or else it’s the death of the show (i think if I watch the hills aftershow, I may have more to say about this issue.)

speaking of laguna beach season three, i see one of some of the dangers that turned it so awful showing up again – namely, the tackling of a serious issue (pregnancy) and the setting up of binary oppositions (LC vs. Whitney, Heidi vs. Audrina). however, i am hopeful for the hills, partially because of the quality and experience of the lead actresses vs. the rookie cast of laguna beach season 3, and partially because the pregnancy doesn’t threaten the essence of the show.

what I mean by that is, the essence of what made laguna beach season 2 so great is that it was about rich, attractive, popular people who were completely unselfconscious and even unaware that they were rich, attractive, and popular. the death of season 3 was that it brought, with that ugly bitch who was the star, all those issues into consciousness and tried to incorporate them into the narrative (plus the cast was on the whole less talented and less attractive). while I think that the hills would be better off staying away from serious topics and remain a sort of ideal “show about nothing,” I don’t think this angle is really going to hurt things (plus I don’t think she’s really pregnant).

as much as I hate to look at someone who looks like that guy from blink 182 but with an even worse haircut all summer, i think spencer is a good character. his performance lacked a little subtlety (although it could be argued that’s kind of the point), but his lines and delivery were incredible – (“you got it, bro”, “this is life changing mexican food” “how do you not like you?” and my personal favorite, just soaking in dramatic irony in his date with audrina directly after his date with heidi, “i’ll be a team member, i got your back!”)

so the narrative center has shifted from LC to Heidi and all I can say is, she earned it. bitch must have studied with stanivlasky’s ghost over the summer because she owned every single shot she was in. she has mastered face and eye acting and is now doing some great stuff with her hands, arms, neck, and torso. so good.

and that last sequence was just fucking classic. first, we get an abrupt cut to a close-up of heidi driving alone, another signpost that this is her narrative now. then, in the store, her buying the test, which isn’t explicit at all but we just know it, because why else would she be in a convenience store alone, why would she ever be alone, she’s HEIDI, she’s the life of the party.

the visual control and economy are superb; I think the whole store sequence is done in two shots. the first shot is this kind of wide shot of her getting something we can’t see off a shelf; it’s at kind of awkward angle with some stuff in the foreground; it sets us off guard because we’re used to seeing her face, in close-up or a two shot or a careful sculpted wide, perfectly locking in to the light and the camera. It’s not like that here though. the second shot is from the front of the store; again, the camera usually puts us right there with Heidi, so close you could touch her, but now she’s being held away and it feels strange. and another great use of framing and composition, when she first walks into the apartment she immediately veers off frame to the left, when, again, she would usually step into the center.

and as she stands there, alone in the bathroom with the test, and her eyes take over, there’s a great use of an OC-ready slow piano ballad version of “girls just want to have fun,” a nice example of double-coding (or, if you want to side with David Foster Wallace, of the way that television has commodified irony, but I don’t want to side with him, so there); there is an irony to it that we’re aware of, and that recognition makes us almost half chuckle or something, but, also, it’s just kind of sad, and we give ourself over to that sadness as she closes the door. and that final shot, a slow, long tracking shot away from the hollywood sign, away from the “hills”, away from gloss and illusion but still of it, like, that is some “Chinatown” shit, that is some beautiful magic, that is why i love this show.

the mushroom lobbyists

August 8, 2007

Magic Mushrooms Face Ban in Netherlands


the mushroom lobbyists


in this sobering hour, where are the mushroom lobbyists? who are the mushroom lobbyists? do the mushroom lobbyists wear suits? do the mushroom lobbyists wear suits made of hemp? of vinyl? how many days a week do the mushroom lobbyists work? do the mushroom lobbyists have a generous pension plan?

where is the office of the mushroom lobbyists? is it in an office building? is it in a barn? is it a state of mind? what is the shape of the office of the mushroom lobbyists? is it tidy? are there finely varnished antique desks? are there rolodexes and bookshelves filled with handsome bound volumes of legal code? are there posters on the walls? are these posters depicting seventies rock bands and magic eye pictures composed of webs of blurry dots?

how do the mushroom lobbyists answer the phone in their office? are they timely or do they allow the phone to ring on, reveling in the tonalities? do they have good phone etiquette? do the mushroom lobbyists keep pictures of mushrooms in their office, the way that nature lobbyists keep pictures of yosemite and tobacco lobbyists keep posters of joe camel? do they keep pictures of people blissed out on mushrooms in their office, in the same way that nature lobbyists show young ethnically diverse children enjoying a hiking trail and tobacco lobbyists show adult males feeling rugged and manly and wearing cowboy hats and adult females looking thin and relaxed and thin?

do the mushroom lobbyists prefer paper clips or staples? what brand of pens do the mushroom lobbyists use?

do the mushroom lobbyists, on the weekends, spend time with the marijuana lobbyists, or are relations between the two offices a thing of necessity? are the mushroom lobbyists jealous of the marijuana lobbyists because of their fancier office and nicer suits and larger cars? do the mushroom lobbyists feel undercapitalized?

do the mushroom lobbyists go out to nice restaurants or do they prefer to cook at home with fine organic ingredients? do the mushroom lobbyists watch their weight? do they jog in the mornings before going to the office, do they ride bicycles, do they do pilates? do they sit at home and clean their endtables and do the crossword on sunday morning?

are the mushroom lobbyists ethical? do they try to bribe parliament members with free trips? are these free trips literal or metaphorical? do the mushroom lobbyists take the parliament members to nice golf courses and dose them with mushrooms in the lush but well-kept greenery? do the mushroom lobbyists dose themselves as well or remain sober? do the mushroom lobbyists doctor the score card, move balls, lie, to convince the high parliament members that they are playing the best golf of their lives? are the mushroom lobbyists good putters?

when the mushroom lobbyists find several doses of mushrooms inside a balled athletic sock in the top drawer of the bedroom of their son or daughter, how do they respond? do they ground the child? do they have, over hot chocolate, a serious discussion about the pros and cons of responsible drug use? or, do they grab the tiny plastic baggie and spirit it away into the secret pocket sewn into their jacket for later and, when their son or daughter return home, act none the wiser?


[splashcast VHRT8357HL ZSCD9724CA]

this song is what i think would happen if cole porter was allowed access to modern hardcore pornography. it’s called “let’s do the gang bang.” i put some treatment on it to make it sound like it’s old, like an old record, but it really just makes it sound kind of fuzzy. that’s what i get for trying to simulate authenticity, i guess. although that’s really all i do my whole life.