October 30, 2007
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- there are only and will only ever be two whitney stories and that’s horrible and depressing. because of the fact that she doesn’t want her personal life to be featured on the show, the two stories are “whitney does a good job at work” and “whitney does a bad job at work.” that’s it. sometimes there are interesting permutations, like the episode i love where she walks on GMA and trips, which is “whitney does a good job at work and then is rewarded for it” or this episode, which is “whitney appears to do a bad job at work but actually she does a good job.” but really it’s very limited.
- it’s a shame because she does such wonders with work, chained to her desk and computer screen, and i just feel like let me see her in the world, let me see how she lives. my favorite scene of the entire “hills” is when she’s eating sushi with lauren and heidi and she’s making a mess of it and it’s just like a hologram projecting out from the screen. what would a whitney date scene be like? what about a fight or a break-up? what is whitney like when she gets emotional – what is the tone of her voice, the pitch? when she’s mad, how does she signify it, what does she do with her eyes, how does she hold her arms, is her mouth open or closed? how does she flirt?
- in one way, she’s the one whose life is most mediated – we’re only allowed to see this little slice, the office and maybe a tiny fragment of a night out at les deux or a barbeque. in a narrative sense, nothing ever happens to her besides the aforementioned work stories; she’s just an echo-box for lauren’s monologues. she’s completely inessential to the plot and yet i cannot imagine watching the show without her. part of me thinks she’s essential to creating a veneer of authenticity. part of me thinks she gives the more reserved members of the audience a character to identify with who’s not as dramatic as heidi or lauren. part of me just likes something about her.
- i have been having trouble with my bloated, lengthy “kaya”/”sex and the city”/”the hills” three-way-cage-match post, but based on the title of this episode or the new york vistas (“stress and the city,” to wit, MTV), i had this blip:
- lauren – carrie. heidi – charlotte. audrina – samantha. whitney – miranda.
- i have made the carrie-lauren comparison multiple times this season, based on lauren’s increasing confidence and screen presence, but i had never thought to connect the dots to the other girls. this all totally obvious, but carrie-lauren is the narrator who once had an Important relationship and carries the louis vuitton baggage as she tries to find new men who can equal what it once was. heidi-charlotte wants to get married to a stable rich dude who she loves despite his personal issues (see the comparison of WASP-west hollywood in the previous post). audrina-samantha is sluttier than the rest of her friends and is attracted to more dangerous types. whitney-miranda is type A, awkward, and a workaholic, yet charming. [ed: i checked and realized this was already kind of done in a comment in that old gawker piece but it’s a necessary segue into my shallow personal recollections so i’m leaving it] at college we watched hours and hours of sex and the city and since this was a house of dudes, in order to justify our heterosexuality we would take turns saying “oh yeah, she’s hot” or “damn, she’s hot” or “she’s pretty hot, but not as hot in that last scene.” also, of course, fuck-marry-kill debates. i was never into carrie bradshaw because i’ve never been attracted to a woman with curly hair (i am still waiting). i would always say that i wanted to have sex with charlotte and in theory i am really attracted to that WASPy thing, but i am way too middle class for that shit to work in anything but a fantasy. really i would get along best with miranda if only she had better hairstyling/clothes. obviously i would kill samantha – that’s what we all always chose. you could probably read that as an unconscious male response to the threat of female sexual liberation, but really i read it as samantha was always the most campy and least real of the characters and then there was that awful cancer subplot in the later seasons which seemed soapy and just did nothing for me.
- brody jenner and frankie delgado were on “keeping up with the kardashians” this week. brody was pretty subpar but there was a fun scene where frankie delgado videotapes brody jenner’s little half sisters they gyrate around a stripper pole and pull up their shirts, faux-flashing him. from behind the lens, he tells them he’s going to “put it on youtube” and make them stars. writing it like that makes it sound all dirty, but really it was fairly adorable. i am no moralist but i do not think chris jenner seems like a very good role model.
- i like after lisa love tells the girls that they’re going to new york to meet amy astley, when they get back to their office they talk about what they’re going to wear. whitney says “as soon as she was like you’re going to new york, i just, like, my closet ran through my brain, i was like oh my god, what am i gonna wear” and lauren immediately echoes the sentiment, noting that she has a dress in her closet specially picked out already. it’s the kind of genuine detail that’s crucial; it has nothing to do with advancing the plot but has everything to do with establishing the girls as flesh and blood (and hair and make-up, of course)
- the spencer-frankie confrontation was a snooze-fest, as was the scene after with heidi and spencer. will this show go to a fourth season? if it does, will heidi and spencer remain or be forced out? this season, they’re integral, the show wouldn’t be near as popular without “team heidi” and “team lauren” but can they continue? how long can this tension be sustained without a resolution or without new plot twists? the obvious arc seems like the last episodes of this season plant some seeds of lauren and heidi coming together again and then the next season would follow that through its natural progression. but what if this doesn’t happen (in real life, i mean), what if they just can’t get it together, what if they hate each other that much? spin-off, i say. i am working on a post with a model of how “the hills” aftershow should be, but it could just as easily be how the heidi and spencer spin-off could be.
- the helicopter shots of the moving cab in new york were interesting. usually it feels obvious that the landscape shots are second unit stuff, that they’re shot separately and are separate from the action itself. they’re frames for the scenes, not part of them. here, by cutting between close-ups of lauren in the cab and the helicopter shots, the editing is implying that it’s lauren’s cab, which obviously it isn’t. this is another example of how something that’s incredibly common in film grammar feels foreign to the “hills” house style. (it doesn’t help that after the show comes back from break, there are a couple less than perfect lighting and color correction matches)
- one thing watching “kaya” has taught me is how movement through space is captured in “the hills”. in the first episode of “kaya” there’s a scene where kaya stomps across a parking garage, followed by her dad. kaya accomplishes this with dolly shots; the camera moves through space as kaya does. in this episode of “the hills”at the marc jacobs office, lauren and kate waters walk down a hallway. instead of a tracking shot, this is accomplished by cutting between two basically static cameras at the end of the hallway, a long shot and a medium shot.
- amy astley and co., unlike lisa love, understand how they are supposed to behave as magazine editors in this post “devil wears prada” world. love the reactions shots, great faces, perfectly shot, well cut. i wonder if these people look so annoyed because they are 1) hamming it up for the sake of the scene 2) hipper-than-thou and pissed that they have to be on this trendy television show 3) genuinely unimpressed with whitney’s plan for the event. or some combination of the above. the hundred wonderful ways that whitney has of saying “um…yeah…so”
- marc jacobs’ wireless mic pack sticking out over the top of the sweatpants in his scene. the extended shot of him walking away that ends the scene, who chose this? did he practice, did he rehearse, did he get walking tips like on “a model life”? were there multiple takes because watching playback he didn’t think his ass looked good in one of them?
- i liked the line in the church where lisa love talked about covering up the confessionals. she obviously feels the same way i do about talking heads. she also redeemed past woodenness with her winking delivery of the line “well, it was very dressy, wasn’t it?” followed by a shot of whitney openmouthed confused followed by a shot of lauren doing a minute sympathetic lipflip.
- the impeccably lit/composed wide shot of spencer when he calls brody. it feels like so much work for a tiny bit of plot connective tissue.
- i didn’t like the look of the last scene. i don’t know if it was the low light making the grain of the video a little more apparent or just lax color tuning, but it felt flat and gray where it should have been warm and rich. i liked the scene, though. when brody jenner said “i’ll always be there for you and you’ll always be there for me” and lauren nodded against his chest, it made me want to do a torch song cover of the “friends” theme. the last close-up of her is great, it really gets the texture of her hair. and then i like in the closing medium shot how after a minute her hand comes in from the right side of the frame holding the remote, changing the channel; they’re not looking off wistfully into the distance, they’re watching TV, just like us. of course, judging by the shots we’ve already seen, they are watching the TV between the bodies of the three cameramen who are trained on their every move, but still, it’s romantic.
- my favorite part of the preview for next week was when some guy who’s interested in audrina asks justinbobby “what’s your situation with audrina” and justinbobby says, subtitled, “she’s pretty good.” genius. subtitles are not used on “the hills” for clarity, i don’t think, because usually what’s being said is pretty clear (and if it’s not, they could just dub it anyway). instead, subtitles make the lines pop that little bit more; they’re the equivalent of pink highlighter on a three-hole-punched love note.
in the player is a song called “danny devito, let’s eat some doritos.” i basically had this vision where i was in a buddy comedy with danny devito and we were hungry. i thought for a second about it being “danny devito, let’s eat a burrito” but i thought doritos were a funnier image (imagine danny devito at blackjack table and he’s got that neon orange coating on his fingers and he’s trying to play but he’s getting the cards dirty and maybe the dealer thinks he’s marking them and throws him out and he sits outside on the curb licking his hands and wiping them on his hawaiian shirt). also i am in favor of product placement. i don’t really know a lot about danny devito besides the penguin and “it’s always sunny in philadephia,” but he seems affable. i also don’t know where the weird accent came from – maybe camera obscura, who i have been listening to while i jog. i wish i could hit the high notes in the chorus without getting screechy. i’m sure you do too.
October 30, 2007
if it’s real and not mtv mud slinging (i am too tired for research), this letter from gavin to the owner of a britney spears fansite is really endearing.
“June 8th, 2004, 07:34 PM
My name is Gavin. I don’t know if you remember me, but I sent you those pictures of Britney and Justin in Memphis 4 years ago, and I also met you at Jay Leno. I’ve gone to your web site probably over 1700 times in the past few years… and I’ve gone from this kid who had these dreams because of Britney (no joke) and I moved out to LA and they are coming true. It’s just so weird how one person can help shape your life in so many ways… Britney showed me that you can get out of the south and really go for things… and so I did… and now I’ve gotten to be on TV and stuff and it’s just been amazing… Britney helped me think outside the box and you gave me a way to really be a fan… a fan to the core with WoB. I’ve only been in LA for less than two years, and so far, I’ve done TV-commercials for American Eagle, Dunkin’ donuts, McDonalds, Old Navy, USPS, Kmart, Chevy, Nintendo and Target. I’ve done lots of modeling too. I also played Hilary Duff’s boyfriend in the ‘Come Clean’ music video (I was the one driving the car). I just wanted to share my story with you in hopes that it will inspire other fans in the same way that Britney and [World of Britney] inspired me. ””
he’s like a cuter version of chris crocker. i love the specificity of “probably over 1700 times,” his laundry list of jobs, and his passionate use of the ellipsis.
October 29, 2007
a socialite’s life picked up a national enquirer story about spencer pratt’s sex tape. no, not the mythical glimpse of lauren’s vjj: it’s spencer! apparently he tried to make a sex tape of “him and a few buddies exploring the, er… hills and valleys of some smokin’ hot Brazilian babes!” (see my previous coverage of gangbangs). isn’t that great? i mean, besides the fact that his celebrity sex tape was so bad that a hired gun video editor refused to work on it(!!!), but just the idea that he is trying to manufacture a sex tape controversy ala paris, to throw a twist into the plot in the hope of increasing his prominence in the narrative. was the lauren sex tape rumor not (or not only) an attempt to hurt her, but an attempt to create a controversy that would drive up the ratings of the television show in which he also stars?
lately i’ve been thinking of spencer as a west coast doppleganger of rory gilmore’s college boyfriend logan. i was watching a rerun of “gilmore girls” while working on a piece about “kaya” and the thought struck me. instead of the old money sophistication and WASPy charm of logan, he’s got the hustle and schmooze of hollywood. logan, like everyone in the sugar-coated world of “the gilmore girls” has a heart of gold (a criticism, sure, but who doesn’t like the taste of sugar), while spencer is a real person who sometimes does things that are not perfectly morally justifiable, like taping gangbangs with brazillian girls.
October 25, 2007
“More fakeness on The Hills: Lauren Conrad rolls her eyes when people try to talk to her and the cameras are off. Plus — she went on a date, and when she was reflecting on it “afterward” she’d changed her hair and nail polish. No one thinks it’s real, yet no one can stop watching. It’s like wrestling. (With cell phones and skinny jeans.)”
October 23, 2007
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it was like eating a cake made entirely of frosting.
frankie delgado figured into a couple of scenes this episode. i also saw him earlier this week in that “keeping up with the kardashians” show on E, which is decent if you were wondering. but anyway, it was weird because when you see actors in different fictional shows, it’s natural, whatever. but when you see people who you associate with one reality show and then they appear in another reality show (and it’s not part of the gimmick, like “amazing race: allstars”), it feels strange. because in reality programming, unlike in drama, the actor is not distinct from the character. so it feels like what it would feel like if carrie bradshaw (and not sarah jessica parker.) was suddenly a patient on “grey’s anatomy.” brody jenner was in the preview for the next episode, so i’m sure that will like totally blow my mind or something.
heidi pronunciation: “has it been a worldwind?” up there with “pitcher frames”
new girl at bolthouse was fairly blah. there was a great shot of heidi sizing her up and also raising her eyebrows while questioning her, like “so you’re the new girl, huh?” i guess maybe they’re trying to plant the seeds of some girl-girl drama. on one level, i think that’s stupid and unnecessary. the web of speidi has become complex enough (especially with the work tension ratcheting up) that extraneous things (even the heidi-lauren tension) don’t really seem that necessary. but why introduce a new character for no reason, so i’m sure there’ll be something.
the use of moving cameras was pretty striking in the photo-shoot scene. because the cameras so rarely are allowed to move, when they do, it’s powerful. in the scene of heidi painting the wall from earlier this season, the movement was used to impart a sense of gravity; here in the photo-shoot scene, it’s all levity. the camera is gliding along smoothly, playfully; a sort of echo of lauren’s mood. that first quick pan seemed like an echo of something – i haven’t seen any fosse movies but maybe like “all that jazz”? dunno. or maybe “blow-up” (which would make sense with the whole fashion shoot thing) but i haven’t seen that in forever.
lauren touches her nose more than anyone else on television. like, the first intimation that this guy has caught her eye is when we cut from him to her looking at him and then quickly looking down and rubbing her nose with her fingers. in a regular TV show, there would be some over the top moony smile (kind of like the sister character does on that show “chuck”). no one touches their nose, and thus, it seems totally natural and not at all cliché when lauren does it.
the moment when i knew the episode was going to be great was this one shot after dreamy guy has his shoot. he leaves the room and lauren signals to whitney like, mouths (i think) “i like him.” then there’s a cut to whitney, who’s bathed in this really wonderful warm light from the make-up mirror to the left of the frame. she mouths silently “oh my god” and the idea of a new lauren relationship is so much that she’s going to burst out laughing, so she bends over off the bottom of the frame, and the camera tracks her as she bends, trying to hold in her laughter. all you see is head and shoulders at the bottom of the frame. there’s this tai chi quality to it that i can’t explain. this is not how TV shows work, this is not standard coverage! it was like something out of rohmer.
and then the shot when he leaves, which is even better, also makes use of the moving camera. the shot starts in a close-up of him, his face in the foreground, as he says goodbye to lauren. he turns and walks out of the room, the camera panning to the left as he exits. when he goes off frame, the camera and the focus racks onto whitney, who’s standing their with her mouth open, her finger playing with her lip, as much an observer as we are. the camera doesn’t even have time to settle on her – she crosses the frame to the right and the camera pans with her. and then she puts her hair into her mouth in this completely weird and fantastic way as she finally walks off frame and we cut to lauren and they have this great girlish chemistry moment (“don’t,” lauren says, looking down – whitney, singsong “i’m not saying a word” but then stares at lauren with her fist over her mouth and a smile breaking out behind it, like the fist is all that is keeping her from saying something — “don’t,” lauren says, same tone of voice but this time she looks up and smiles — “okay, fine” whitney trills and skips off – lauren sits there, smiles after her, bats eyelashes). this is not how TV shows work.
you hear all the time about how scenes on “the hills” are reshot, are done in multiple takes to get coverage or get a better performance. but imagining also a modicum of reality, which i do, think about the scene where dreamy guy asks her out. what is like to ask someone out on a first date four or five times in a row, the same way with maybe some slight variation? what is like to get asked out like that? does it suck the magic out of things, does it snuff the sparks, or is it a gift, some magic teen movie scenario, like that movie “click” that made whitney cry, where you get to live life over and over again and get it exactly right?
on that note, the intimacy of a two shot. the first shot of lauren and dreamy guy together at the barbeque is a two shot of them sitting on a chair. are they that close together to be that close together or are they that close together to fit into the frame?
at the beginning of the barbeque, when whitney is talking about the photo-shoot separately from lauren and then lauren butts in and says “what, do you sit around and talk about me” and whitney comes back, deadpan under her sunglasses, “we’re living vicariously through you.” there is something to be said about this.
i’ve talked a lot about how the aesthetic of the show usually serves to put us inside lauren’s head. that was literalized in moonlight in the barbecue scene. lauren is sitting with dreamy guy off in the distance from the rest of the party. and he’s talking to her but she’s looking off frame at the party. and the camera cuts to what feels like a first person POV shot from her perspective, of the party people sitting around a table, and then, as she agrees to go on a date with dreamy guy, the POV shot cuts closer, to focus on brody. the camer cuts back to a close-up of lauren and dreamy guy: he’s looking at her, but she’s staring at brody. a cut back to the POV shot confirms; then a cut back to the close-up of the two of them, where lauren continues to stare and then finally turns her head back to the guy she is supposed to be interested in.
spencer is really improving because he’s not talking as much. oh snap. no, what i mean is that in his devious way, he’s come to understand how the aesthetic of the show works, which is on strong glances and looks, and he’s starting to take advantage of it. in his early appearances, he was the snake-oil salesman, the greasy huckster who talked so much shit (“life changing mexican food”) but in his scene with heidi at the condo, like in the recent blow-up at the mexican restaurant, instead of verbal retorts he just looks at her with different shades of pleading/annoyance/etc. he was also good at the scene at bolthouse. it’s great because in no other show besides maybe “curb your enthusiasm” do you see people just standing around waiting for shit.
the strength of lauren’s voice – in the nail painting scene with lo and audrina, the inflection she puts on the words “gavin’s coming,” the softness with overtones of crush. the nail painting thing makes me think of the scene in “junebug.” i think if they ever decide to do a hills movie and hisham abed, though a virtuoso, isn’t a name enough to get the job and godard doesn’t want to do it, they should totally get the guy who did “junebug.” just have some a swarm of producers to keep him from getting too many serious issues in there and i’m sure it would be good.
what a dipshit. why would he order the salmon? i think maybe that’s in an appendix of “the game,” like, “order food your date finds repulsive/is allergic to and it will make her, like, so hot for you.” the gross faces she does are hilarious.
on the date, when lauren is talking about that sean kingston “beautiful girl” song, she provides a possible new model of reality product placement. instead of the garish overt shit like that usually passes on “survivor,” it’s subtle, it’s targeted perfectly at the audience of the show, it feels like a friend making a recommendation and not someone who’s got an endorsement. which is what it is, i don’t think this is lauren shilling for sean kingston, but i’m saying that real product placement, if done properly, could carry the air of subtlety and specificity and friendliness evident here. it could be like that scene from “garden state” except not annoying.
in that last scene, the way she communicates her feelings towards brody, the visual signifiers, the things she does with her voice, i’m sorry, it’s just satisfying. maybe she’s incredibly aware of the parameters of performance and the reverberations of tiny adjustments or maybe she’s totally transparent and radiates aura better than other people. maybe probably both.
the parade of acoustic singer-songwriter covers closing shows (“girls just wanna have fun,” “umbrella”) continues in this episode with the nouvelle vague cover of “i’ll melt with you.” choice. maybe they’ll use their lovely cover of “heart of glass” if/when the relationship with brody goes sour.
in the player is an old bossa-y cover of “debaser” by the pixies that i found while straightening itunes. in the channel guide is a recent attempt at a rap song called “boo boo (we getting spooky up in here).” i am really bad at rapping. originally it was intended to be a novelty halloween song ala the tracy jordan “werewolf bar mitzvah” from 30 rock but then all that controversy happened and also i heard the incredible new jay. z song and the song sort of morphed from being about bite-sized kit kats (“bite-sized kit kat / you know i wanna hit that”) into this weird identity politics CIA halloween conspiracy narrative. i never liked eminem, partly because in high school I was mr. pc and anything with a whiff of racism or misogyny wasn’t kosher, but really i think it’s because his voice is so trebly and harsh that it hurts my ears to listen to. i prefer crooners.
October 21, 2007
i don’t like “pageant place” and it’s not because miss teen usa’s boyfriend is one of the ugliest people i’ve ever seen, that he looks like a wax figure of a backstreet boy that sat out in the sun too long and was decorated, snowman-like, by retarded children with tins of black shoe polish.
well, it’s not just that, anyway.
why don’t i think this video is hot? i’m a dude and these are girls i find attractive and have spent an inordinate amount of time watching and they don’t have many clothes on and there are close-ups of boobs. but i don’t find it hot, it feels like bad soft porn crossed with entertainment tonight. fair enough, it’s maxim, that’s exactly what it is, but still, it feels wrong.
and what feels more wrong, more pornographic than the fact that the girls are in lingerie writhing on a bed is that they’re looking directly at the camera. what feels wrong is when they say “hi, i’m lauren conrad and you’re watching my maxim photo shoot.” it’s the same reason that it feels so strange when they’re interviewed on “the hills aftershow” or on “regis and kelly,” because they’re looking back at me.
or maybe i just wanted to make a heavy-handed dramatic segue into some thoughts on self consciousness and “the hills.” (“we all self conscious / i’m just the first one to admit it” k.west, 2004)
(blah blah blah male gaze blah blah)
the quantum leap forward of the “laguna beach” aesthetic was the omission of talking head interviews, which are in like every other reality show on air. (save for a few exceptions: the warm, touching “rob and big” for one)
you can read this omission as an embrace of the cliché yet essential cornerstone of modern creative writing pedagogy, “show don’t tell.” talking head interviews are used by the producers of reality shows to explain away visual images. something will happen in a show, in scene, and then the producers will cut to a talking head, in which one of the subjects of the scene will explain or comment on what’s going on, for clarity. with this use of talking heads, there’s no chance for dramatic ambiguity; you know exactly what’s going on because you’re being told exactly what’s going on. if you want look at it in a sort of steven johnson kind of way (disclosure: i know jack about cognition), your brain isn’t having to do any heavy lifting about what the scene means or why a certain gesture or line of dialogue is important, it’s just following instructions
the producers of “laguna beach,” by getting rid of talking heads, instead relied on the strength of their cast, who, through their use of subtle performance communicated feeling and emotion, and on the strength of their crew, who through careful framing and cutting captured this performance in way that was communicative without being didactic. i’ve compared it to minimalist short fiction like raymond carver here before; because things aren’t explicitly stated, your eyes and your ears and your brain are working extra hard to tease out connections and read between lines, to catch the weight of gesture and the shade of vocal inflection.
what’s interesting about “laguna beach” is that the quantum leap forward of its aesthetic was, in a sense, a giant step backwards, away from the unconsciously brechtian gestures of reality television towards traditional cinematic illusionism, from dogme 95 style flat, square video to beautifully toned, letterboxed technicolor.
almost all reality shows before “laguna beach” relied on certain gestures which served to completely obliterate the fourth wall between show and audience. talking head interviews, with their direct address of the camera and audience, were the obvious culprit. the ugly video aesthetic, the bad lighting, the lack of focused, dynamic compositions: all of these things which added up to say “hey, you’re watching a TV show! but it’s like totally real!”
in terms of content, the subjects of these reality shows constantly referred to the fact that they were on a television show, talked about it with each other and with the hosts and with the cameras. they preened, discussed what they looked like on TV and how much screen time they were getting. if they were on a game or competition show they discussed “the game”, their strategies, how they were playing, who was “winning.” staring into the lenses, they cried, confessed, mused on how they were being perceived, wondered what friends and family and lovers might think of them, what “america” might think of them.
the aesthetic of “pageant place” is, compared to “the hills,” ridiculously overt and riddled with fourth wall-breaking gestures. consider just the first few seconds of the second episode:
- the first shot is a helicopter view of manhattan, the sort of establishing shot that you see on “the hills” every week. but where “the hills” would proceed through several more establishing shots of the same texture to organically build a sense of place, narrowing from general shots of los angeles to the specific location of the first scene…
- the second shot is stock footage of tara connor being crowned miss usa. this footage, though presumably shot in color, is tinted black and white and overlaid with a fake video grain effect, presumably to add to the “drama” of the image.
- then there’s a quick cut montage of tabloid covers featuring ms. connor, now in color, but still with the fake video effect.
- then there’s what looks like actual sampled video (seems that way from the shakiness/impurities/i don’t know the technical term) of more tabloid covers, probably from “larry king” or something.
- then there are two quick shots of tara walking the streets of manhattan, rendered in chunky slow motion.
in 8 seconds, that’s 5 different video textures. is this supposed to be brakhage 2.0 or a tv show about the daily lives of pageant queens?
over all this, there’s a voice-over narrator, a nondescript female voice belonging to someone who’s not a character in the show. the introduction of “the hills” also uses a voice-over narrator, but it’s lauren conrad, the star and narrative center of the show, so in that instance, the voice-over doesn’t feel distancing, it feels like we’re listening in on her internal monologue. it doesn’t remove us from the show, it brings us in closer.
after the introduction, the “pageant place” title sequence is pretty telling w/re:to the show’s overt artificiality. “the hills” opens with money shots of LA sunsets and images of the girls, all cut to a hooky sing-along pop song that matches the vibrancy of the images. it’s emotional; it makes you feel something, and it creates the strong sense of place, of the hills, that the show rests upon.
the title sequence of “pageant place” doesn’t ground the show in a real environment – literally. instead, the girls are chroma-keyed into a cell-shaded virtual manhattan, which, as the sequence goes on, is being penciled in around them with shaky line drawings. it’s really cool looking animation, but the show itself doesn’t take place in a virtual line-drawn manhattan, it takes place in the real world, where there’s like color and texture and stuff, so why this cute version of “the matrix”? the introduction should set the tone for the show, it should be a microcosm of what the show is (see “the hills” or the fantastic “sarah silverman” introductions for contemporary examples)
and the theme music. it isn’t a fun yet emotionally rich female-empowering pop song designed to pluck heartstrings and be sung into hairbrushes, it’s a nondescript rock instrumental overlaid with a voice-over of donald trump giving a bland pitch for the show’s concept. this may seem like a small thing, but i see it as a much bigger issue. during my senior year of college, we watched a lot of marathons of “entourage” on demand, and though i enjoyed the show, i grew to hate the theme song deeply. one day i was watching with one of my friend’s girlfriends and as the theme song started and i prepared to fast forward, she said “i just love this song,” and i said “really?” and she said, “yeah, it just makes me happy because i know ‘entourage’ is about to start.” and i think about it now and about the way i feel when i hear the theme to “friends” or “sex and the city” or even that ridiculous “seinfeld” synth bass; i think about the unconscious emotional reaction i have to these songs and the memories and feelings they dredge up in an instant. theme songs can become iconic; voice-overs can’t. i don’t know many girls with posters of donald trump on their bedroom walls.
the editing is tres overt. in the first episode, the girls, in a stagey meeting with donald trump, are being told that tara connor, ex ms. usa, is coming to live with them. this scene is intercut with shots of tara connor arriving at JFK, set to a crunchy nu-metal riff. this intercutting is over the top (like something of “miss congeniality”) and it breaks the unity of scene. because we’re everywhere (in that particular scene, four places: the trump boardroom, yet more shots of tabloid covers, the brilliant white world of the talking heads, tara connor at JFK) we’re nowhere.
the show is loaded with gaudy video effects. besides what i mentioned during the introduction, the big aesthetic motif of the show is crash zooms which land on the subject in soft focus and then slowly fix on them. there are animated split screens to highlight tension between characters. every talking head is accompanied by this ridiculous transition effect where the scene explodes into this white haze and then another explosion of white transitions back to the scene. the titles (announcing locations or the characters’ names) are huge and bold and accompanied by several animated pink bars. it’s all one star wipe away from cable access.
wikipedia kind of intimates (this is a blog, i don’t have to use real quotes) that freud describes mimesis as dreaming while awake. you can’t dream “pageant place” – there are always alarms waking you up.
“laguna beach” and “the hills” eschew all of the aforementioned self conscious gestures for a kind of mimesis. the cinematography, directing, and editing of “the hills” create an immaculate surface, without any distractions to allow viewers to distance themselves from the show (aside from the looping which i have discussed extensively before). there are no talking head interviews, there is no direct address of the camera at all, and the show NEVER deals with the fact that it’s about a group of girls who are on a television show.
think about that last thing for a second. everyone with the slightest interest in pop culture knows from the extensive rehab rolls in the tabloids and from loads of celebreality shows (“the osbournes” to “the surreal life” to “breaking bonaduce,” countless others) that being on a successful television show has an incredibly significant impact on a person’s day to day life. yet this is never an issue on “the hills,” ostensibly a show about the real lives of the girls it follows. have those two words, “the hills,” ever even been said on “the hills”? i don’t think so. the girls don’t mention it, their bosses and coworkers don’t mention it, the guys they meet in clubs or at the gym don’t mention it. it just doesn’t come up.
in a way, this careful omission is the biggest proof that “the hills” is completely and totally mediated; if it was “real,” the plot lines would revolve around the girls leveraging their fame into endorsements, dealing with paparazzi and obsessive fans, scheduling interviews with usweekly and intouch. in jennifer egan’s novel look at me, a homeless man is hired as the subject of a sort of proto-justin.tv reality website. the irony, he realizes, is that even as he’s making tons of money, he has to remain a homeless man because that’s what the audience is paying to see. that’s fiction, but how different is it than this? why is lauren, the star of a major television show in it’s third season, working a low level job at a teen fashion magazine? why is heidi working this absurd job at bolthouse that absolutely no one in their right mind believes is actually real instead of spending all her time being a celebutante and hanging out with her rich boyfriend? both heidi and lauren, we know, have budding careers (as singers, fashion designers, models, endorsers), so why do they continue working entry level jobs, other than to suit the narrative of the show? in magazine interviews, both say that their careers are the most important parts of their lives, yet in a show that’s supposedly about their everyday lives, we never see heidi at the recording studio and we never see lauren working on her line. it’s ridiculously fake.
but somehow that doesn’t matter. it doesn’t make the show any less captivating – if anything, it makes it more captivating. why is that?
the experience of watching “the hills” is not dissimilar to the experience of watching professional wrestling. if this were an academic essay, this is the point where i would do an applicable close reading of the “wrestling” chapter in mythologies. this is a blog, so instead i’m going to go on about how much i liked professional wrestling when I was 13 years old.
i liked professional wrestling a lot when i was 13 years old. between the ages of 13 and 15, i believed that the greatest book ever written was not ulysses or lolita but have a nice day, the autobiography of wrestler mick foley. i know, it is kind of surprising that i am now almost-quoting barthes instead of snapping into a slim jim.
my first significant experience with writing was co-running a fantasy professional wrestling league when i was 13 years old. we wrote play by play commentary and recaps for our fake TV shows and pay-per-view extravaganzas that totaled in the thousands of words every week. it seems silly, but the things that i find fascinating about “the hills”; the nature of performance, the questions of authenticity, the concept of kayfabe (which directly relates to the thing about the girls’ jobs i was just talking about): they were all there in the WWF. the strong visual aesthetic, too. my introduction to the power of montage was watching the bombastic highlight reels that opened the shows. the editors would compress interviews and press conferences and half-hour long matches into three minute epics, with slow motion and fast motion and jump cuts and stutters, tons of the overt video effects i was dissing earlier, all underscored by haunting female choirs and symphonic strings and big reverbed sound effects to emphasize particularly powerful piledrivers and bodyslams. for a thirteen year old boy, these sequences provided a sensual rush equaled only by stolen pornography and shotgunned mountain dew. they were my odessa steps.
while it’s popular to paint the audience for professional wrestling as unwashed proles whose idea of brain food is a beer bong of busch lite, the act of watching wrestling is a pretty sophisticated thing. very few fans of professional wrestling actually believe that what they are watching is real. the great majority know that the outcomes are planned, that spots in the matches are choreographed and staged, that the wrestlers are playing roles and, with few exceptions, do not really wish to hurt each other.
yet you’ve seen the fans. they pack arenas, painting their faces, dressing up, holding up signs that proclaim their support for their favorites, screaming until they’re hoarse. they’re as crazy and rabid as the fans at real football games. how is that so? how can they jump up and down and shout and get genuinely worked up about something that they know is fake? i feel that fans watching professional wrestling do so on one of two levels:
- though they understand that what they’re watching is fake, when they’re engrossed in the physicality and the excitement and the rush of the moment, in the heaven of the spectacle, they almost completely suspend disbelief and take in what they’re watching as real and true.
- they understand what they’re watching is fake, so while they may lapse at times into the trance state described above, a lot of what they’re doing is a kind of meta-watching, appreciating all the elements of the production and how they come together, trying to discern what is real and what is fake. the experience of the show becomes like a game.
these are the same ways that i think fans watch “the hills.” either they become so engrossed by the powerful aesthetic/great performances/addictive storyline that they watch the show in a sort of mimetic trance or, alternatively, they’re watching with a fervent skepticism, checking the evidence of the show against what they’ve read in cosmogirl or seen in an exclusive video on tmz or heard rumors of in “the virtual hills,” against what they’ve heard about how editing works and how it can change the context and the meaning of images. but then in the middle of this brainstorm maybe lauren will look at jason in this one way and the universality of it will pierce them, will melt their skepticism, and they will feel what it feels like when once they looked at someone like that or what they want it to feel like to look at someone like that or which someone they might want to look at like that. when the moment ruptures, if it ruptures, maybe they’ll return to their passionate detachment and then maybe later drift back to belief and so on and so forth. at least that’s how it works for me.
people who don’t like professional wrestling criticize it in two ways – by designating the moral content as stupid and/or offensive and by saying that they can’t understand how people could watch something so fake. people who criticize “the hills” say exactly the same things.
the audience for “the hills” isn’t wholly cynical, but we’re not rubes either, not that mythical lumiere crowd who thought that the film of a train was so real that a train was going to come out of the movie screen and run them over. we’re the generation that grew up with reality TV as a given and a constant. we’ve internalized its aesthetic; the moves that were innovative and stunning on “the real world” 15 years ago are old hat now. reality TV shows no longer need to constantly signify that yes, indeed, they are TV shows and, why, yes, they are representing reality; creating the illusion of authenticity is no longer a moral imperative but merely one aesthetic decision of many. it’s a choice. and the choice that the producers of the “the hills” make, to avoid constantly reminding their audience that they’re watching a reality television show, to create a world that is emotionally and sensually if not “really” true, is part of what makes it a great reality television show.
so, in closing, that’s why “pageant place” sucks. wow, that took awhile.
October 17, 2007
October 17, 2007
there’s an article in the times today about a new edition of raymond carver’s “what we talk about when we talk about love” that is being published by his wife to strip away the influence of the editor of the book, gordon lish. it’s total revisionist history bullshit. it’s awful the way the quotes work together to make gordon seem like some sort of villain, when without him i would bet anything we wouldn’t be talking about what we talk about when we talk about carver (sorry).
gordon lish is my favorite fiction editor. he’s also a pretty terrible writer. when i found out about him in college, it seemed completely perfect, like, i’d found this guy who was the link, the mid point, between my twin obsessions at the time, carver and don delillo. i’ve read profiles where people talk about how lish’s fiction is underappreciated, but really it’s not, because it’s not very good (at least what i’ve read). i read two of his story collections, “mourner at the door” and another i can’t remember the name of. there was all the technical precision and focus you see in the carver stories and some of the intellect and rauschenberg sentences you see in delillo, but none of the soul of those writers. the stories felt empty and cold in a way that most of carver’s fiction doesn’t and delillo’s rarely does and really all they made me feel was that i wanted to give gordon lish a hug.
the .pdf attached to the times article says that, “the ostensible transformation of Raymond Carver from minimalist to humanist was not a change of head or heart. It was a change of hands.” funny, this is the opposite of everything i’ve ever heard, that the shift into the optimism and heart of “cathedral” and “a small, good thing” was a shift of head and heart, that it was biographical, that he had finally kind of pulled his life together and quit drinking and learned to maybe believe that good things can happen. but the people who wrote this are scholars, so surely they don’t have agendas.
and all this about returning the stories to their “original” forms. anyone who has ever taken an entry level creative writing class knows that raymond carver is the king of revision, of five million different drafts of a two page short story. what is the original, which one of these unpublished drafts most completely represents his vision, how is tess gallagher qualified besides being his wife to make this decision? i don’t believe that storied story about carver and john gardner arguing for hours about the pros and cons of a certain comma but it’s touching nonetheless and a reminder that the scrupulous attention to text on the sentence level that gordon lish is being vilified for here was something that was already the phillip’s head screwdriver in carver’s toolbox.
it’s kind of like in those cinderella makeover movies where you’ve got the sad girl with a heart of gold and it’s obvious in real life that she’s a hot young starlet but in the life of the movie, her dirty matted hair and slightly out of date clothes and lack of money make her invisible to everyone in the world and heath ledger. and nobody ever knows or would know what a wonderful person she is without a musical montage where she gets a really great makeover and incredible clothes. a really great makeover and incredible clothes mean nothing in and of themselves, they’re empty, but when you pair them with a diamond in the rough, you get a diamond. both elements are important. without the clothes and the makeover and the spirit of the musical montage, the narrative of the cinderella movies would break down, cinderella would pine after her beau forever with no resolution and with really bad hair. without gordon lish (and also john gardner), carver might’ve just been a guy who wrote some stories about couples drinking and arguing. instead, thank God, we’ve got “why don’t you dance.”
i will write a post later about “the hills” later to negate this. it is like penance.
October 16, 2007
[splashcast FMMM2882VU RJBN7116CF]
- what was that thing whitney was wearing during her first scene with lauren? underneath it was like this white knit tanktop and over that was this weird three quarter sleeve thin purple bathrobe terry cloth i-don’t-even-know. dear teen vogue, is grandma couture the new “in” look?
- during the second season of the hills, lauren’s abilities at face and eye performance were completely overshadowed by heidi. she has matched and probably surpassed heidi now, but her saving grace as a performer then was the use of her voice. it’s still wonderfully expressive. that scene with audrina is superficially a conversation, but, like a lot of her scenes with whitney, it’s really just a chance for lauren to do a self-defining monologue. note how in the beginning she really doesn’t do anything with the tone of her voice and then slowly increases the amount of inflection (“i’m still really Broken”) culminating in this intense stress on her words when she was “i mean I made my roommate move OUT. like she couldn’t even LIVE with ME” all of this visually mirrored with the wild gesticulations of her hands. the look she gives audrina at the end, with the questioning eyes, is like the look a hopeful actress gives a casting director when she knows she’s done a good read. imagine someday young actresses preparing lauren conrad scenes as monologues to use for auditions.
- i was totally kreskin about lo’s character, as last episode i said “i see lo really coming into her type as that sort of ‘mom’ girl in the group,” and this week at the end of their scene lauren calls her “momma lo.”
- what’s weird in the lo scene is that lo is really acting as a sort of surrogate lauren. she’s giving the same kind of advice that lauren has given to audrina and heidi – stay away from this person, why are you meeting up with this person – and she’s doing it with the same level of emotional attachment and guilt that lauren uses, so much so that lauren seems to get slightly annoyed and goes on the defensive (see the way she cocks her head to the side and rolls her eyes as she says “i’m not throwing myself back in, i’m just going to lunch with her”).
- look at the calendar in brent bolthouse’s office. there’s like nothing on there, how is this business successful? i take this as proof to support my notion that is just a potemkin office, a set. heidi’s expressions are priceless in that scene. the way she furrows her brow and narrows her eyes, it’s like by talking about work he’s speaking a foreign language.
- loved the small moment at the beginning of the jen bunny scene with the cream spreading in the coffee. it’s something every sensual human being enjoys watching in real life and it’s really underutilized in representations, i think, except probably in a lot of shitty amateur photography. tangentially, the first shot of the episode, of the teen vogue office, was like paul strand shooting a company catalog.
- the jen/lauren scene was great. i loved the line about the friendship bracelet and the subsequent cutting/framing around the awkward pause.
- rare meta-reference when lauren says “truth and time tells all.” i want to talk about this in detail but i’ve been working on a long thing i’ll be putting up later this week about narrative self consciousness and “the hills.” it is kind of my unified field theory of “the hills” and it features lots of pictures of the girls in lingerie.
- purely for the plot, i hope that it was brody who started the rumors. i mean it’s way more logical that it was spencer, but we need soap style reversals here.
- the ends of the two spencer heidi scenes were both great. in the first one, spencer sums up the conversation they’ve been having by saying “lesson learned – you can’t depend on anybody.” the camera cuts from a close-up of him saying this to a medium shot. her mouth is wide open, because of the make-up partially but also because even she realizes that’s kind of an insane thing to say, like losing faith in elodie is losing faith in the entire human race (except spencer of course). then it cuts back to spencer who nods along in approval of his own point.
- the end of their second scene is even better. heidi says, as the closing music builds in the background, “i just think it’s so sad that they’re blaming you.” cut to spencer, who is looking down and rubbing his eyes and generally avoiding heidi’s gaze, which causes her to qualify what’s she saying with a questioning “right?” the camera stays on him as he continues to look away until heidi says “spencer” and he glances at her. cut on his look back to heidi, who’s staring at him imploringly. a split second before the next cut, her eyes squint a little, as if to say “hold on.” back to spencer, who has locked eyes with heidi. he does this devilish smile and this really slight little nod, as if to say “uh huh.” back to heidi, whose pupils spin around in her eye sockets as she deals with this information, then she shifts her body and drops her head, as if willfully, for her sanity, trying to block out this moment.
- justinbobby totally has the presence to anchor his own spinoff, but to have to deal with that would be like “staticky” and like not “happy and blissful and mellow” enough, so i doubt it’ll materialize. it’s interesting that i find myself judging the boyfriends’ morality by how much they want be on a TV show. like spencer really wants to be on TV = he is a bad person. brody jenner kind of wants to be on TV = he is kind of a bad person. justinbobby really doesn’t care about being on TV = he is a “real” person. yet it’s the goal of every decent american person to be on television and they can’t all be bad people – it’s entirely possible that the hypothetical perfect guy for lauren is a kind, decent person and also a total exhibitionist narcissist. and we’ll all say that he’s wrong for her, that he’s “just doing it to be on TV,” when really that’s only half of it.
- possible halloween costumes for hills’ cast: brent bolthouse – lurch. whitney – a ghost (traditional, a sheet). heidi and spencer – m & m’s (cliché but appropriately so). audrina – sluttier elvira. i don’t know about lauren, it seems like she’s beyond costumes. maybe a transformer. last year on halloween i went to a broken social scene concert and i wore black vinyl pants and a black vinyl jacket and a lou reed tee-shirt and a batman cape and mask. the rough concept was hipster batman but the execution was me sweating to death in sticky vinyl and feeling like i was going to die and having an awful headache from music that was way louder than necessary.
- this is getting harder.
in the player is a song called “all the ugly people in the world should be shot.” the original title was “disposable love” and that’s really what the song is about, but obviously “all the ugly people in the world should be shot” is a more attention grabbing title, so there. umberto eco has a new book about ugly people and why ugly people are more interesting than beautiful people. wait, i’ve heard this one, it’s cause they’ve got better personalities, right? no, eco says that ugliness is more interesting because there’s an infinite variation to ugliness while there’s an end limit to beauty (that golden section kind of bone structure, i guess?) ((and obviously the book is a load of complicated semiotics and shit but i am just going by the yahoo news interview here)). i disagree with eco, although i like his one-liner about how it’s less distracting to write about ugly people (“I was not disturbed by sexual desires.”). i do think that the sign of a truly progressive, radical cinema would involve all of the stars being really ugly, like not just quirky or strange or freaky but flat out mundane uggos like you see on line at the supermarket. i certainly wouldn’t want to watch that sort of thing (it makes my skin crawl just to think about it), but i would respect the statement.
(and really i’m just kidding, i love ugly people! at zoos, i wave and feed them pellets through the bars of their cages.)
October 15, 2007
is there really any commentary necessary? this is exactly the version of “the hills” i was talking about two weeks ago.
(last night i watched the fox reality channel “really” reality star awards. it was an incredible show. what pleasurable cognitive dissonance to see stars from all these separate shows united in one drunken mass, ron jeremy next to scott baio next to sanjaya next to bridgette. it kind of reminded me of the first chapter of underworld where jackie gleason and j. edgar hoover and sinatra and everybody in the country are watching this baseball game, except instead of some stupid baseball game, this was the award for best showmance.)