“the hills” parody with mila kunis and james franco

it’s cute and all, if too long, but parody is cheap and easy. the video is supposed to be about writers, but, to me, it’s about actors. i’d like to see the two of them play this scene straight and get anywhere near the subtlety or the fauxthenticity or the emotional impact of “the hills.” i don’t think they could.

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[splashcast MRIV5349SQ CBHW1868OA]

  • i will miss you, justinbobby.
  • to be honest, i never really cared all that much about audrina (some disagree). she was likeable, but both her facial control and vocal expression were limited and she didn’t have any interesting dialogue tics. overall, she seemed pretty minor. this season, though, she’s stepped up her game (somewhat) as far as performance goes and, with the whole justinbobby thing, she’s brought in enough drama to sustain the show. it was really necessary this season because the center of the show, the heidi-lauren conflict, was largely a cold war, conducted at a distance and by intermediaries. the travails of the audrina-justinbobby relationship, though, they were personal, they were filmable every week: the climactic break-up was straight-up in-the-trenches “saving private ryan” kind of shit. i still don’t think that audrina’s half or even a quarter the performer that lauren and heidi are, but she’s doing her best.
  • lauren and co. have been really interested in coining new terms/adopting slang this season. thus, “she-pratt” in this episode. when you combine lauren and whitney’s capacity for slangy banter with heidi’s malaprops and mispronounciations and spencer’s phraseology (“life-changing mexican food”), the show really has its own dialect. it’s like valley girl crossed with dirty realism littered with the detritus of dead IM conversations.
  • remember that episode that ended with the lauren and brody about to hook up and there was moony, romantic music and it felt like there was so much promise. then nothing happened for TWO WEEKS, brody jenner just stopped existing in the world of the show and lauren didn’t have a relationship and wha? it reminds me of daytime soap operas, where characters and relationships that have been central to the narrative will completely disappear for a week or two to make way for new threads. when i saw brody in the preview for next week, i didn’t recognize him at first, i was wondering who the new guy was.
  • stephanie pratt bores me. i think this is the curse of guest stars on “the hills,” that, barring a rare exception, they’re square pegs trying to fit into a beautifully filmed round hole. the problem is that “the hills” isn’t a typical reality show, but, at the same time, it’s not typical dramatic acting. the skill set required to be a good performer is distinct from both of those disciplines and is a thing that’s learned by experience; there’s no lee strasberg for this kind of shit. lauren is really good at it partly because of aptitude and raw talent but partly because she’s been doing it for three years. heidi, whitney, spencer, and audrina haven’t had that much time, but learned quick (the difference between heidi’s performance in the first season and in the second season is striking). michael pointed out to me after the vegas weekend episode that the reason that men usually seem so stiff and awkward is probably that they’re not used to the cameras, that they’re not used to being on the show. this is why brody jenner is just recently loosening up a little bit and becoming more natural, because he’s had time to adjust. this is why frankie delgado will never fit in, why he’ll just be a “wilmer valderama wannabe” – he tries too hard, he’s too caught up in the hustle to appear natural. the exception to this rule is of course justinbobby who has been uniformly excellent from the start.
  • if she and lauren get in a fight though, like a fight fight, then having to watch stephanie pratt would be totally worth it. it would probably be better if lo fought for lauren, though – she’s so spunky.
  • something i do find interesting about the pratts is their attitude towards religion. note the quiet disdain, the raised eyebrow when spencer says, “heidi wants to have a…wedding in a…church” and then heidi cuts him off to say “with, like, a priest that can actually marry us,” at which point stephanie is like, “OMG i totally got certified as a minister on the internet when i was wasted the other week.” which, if you are a genuinely religious person, i would assume you would find pretty offensive (is this online minister thing something that real people do or is it largely a tv convention inspired by that episode of “friends”?). heidi, a genuinely religious person (or at least she plays one in blender) does find it offensive and declines, says, “i don’t want…i don’t want that,” not even bothering to couch things in politesse. anyway, it’s really popular these days for celebrities to either be religious or to make gestures so as to seem religious. the pratts, though, are repping for good old, old school secular hollywood wealth, with its dismissal of christianity and fascination with exotica and non-denominational “spirituality” (thus spencer’s fixation on going to tibet). that croatia thing was pretty left field, though. who wants to go to croatia? do they have mcdonalds there?
  • the introduction of stephanie pratt and “roxy” (do people honestly name their children that?) at the club was pretty good. the way that it was shot was the most interesting thing, as the dialogue was pretty lame. the big question, as always, is whether the camera work is verite or a simulation of verite. the big answer, as always, is i don’t know or care. the grainy low-light camera filming stephanie pratt and “roxy” is good because it sets up a simple visual contrast between the two of them on the dance floor and lauren/audrina/brody at the table: because s.p. and friend are in the dark, on the outskirts, because they’re underexposed and out of focus, they’re the bad guys. because the cameras don’t trust them, subconsciously, we don’t trust them. ditto with the way that justinbobby’s barslut hook-up is introduced, in a glancing, underexposed medium shot in which she’s not the dominant element in the composition (also her overdone black make-up, like a kabuki mask – evil, but also ugh). (wow this is really like ART HISTORY 101 level analysis, i know, like next i’m going to talk about how diagonal lines create tension. sorry)
  • justinbobby wearing the shirt over his head is fantastic. it’s weird and dirty enough to be a manifestation of his johnny depp greaser persona, but, more importantly, it’s an anti-camera, anti-press, anti-television gesture, it’s an appropriation of what criminals do when they’re exiting a courthouse or what celebrities do when they don’t want to be photographed by the paparazzi. justinbobby understands that what he’s about to do with the redhead could affect his image, how he is perceived, and so, like a soldier suiting up for battle, he puts on the camo.
  • the most genius thing in the episode was the way that justinbobby’s infidelity was recorded, or, actually, not recorded.
    • there’s a shot of justinbobby sitting at the table talking to the girl.
    • then there’s a longer, shaky overhead shot of audrina bending around, scared, trying to see.
    • back to justinbobby and the girl. still just talking
    • a two shot of audrina and lauren, watching, audrina openmouthed and nervous, lauren more confident, now sure that her distrust of justinbobby will be validated.
    • a shot where justinbobby may or may not be leaning in to kiss the redhead, but which is almost completely obscured and blacked out by a person right in front of the camera
    • shots of the gang reacting to whatever happened.
  • and what’s important is nobody says that the kiss actually happened. lauren, who reacts first, says, “did he just kiss her?” it’s a question; she doesn’t say, “he just kissed her.” brody says, “oh my god,” but that doesn’t mean anything and he could easily be reacting to lauren’s statement more than what he saw with his own eyes.
  • on “the hills” we’re always with the characters, we get access to the same information they get, so when visual information is withheld like this, it creates an ambiguity, like, if i don’t see it happen, then how did they see it happen? the blocked shot of the kiss is kind of like the zapruder film; it’s the only evidence, so you try to mine it for truth, but it’s not telling you the things that you really want to know.
  • the bar scene is also an example of how the casual voyeurism that is the form of “the hills” so often becomes the subject. it’s just like lauren and audrina watching whitney’s date last week or whitney watching lauren and heidi the week before. our gang, the audience, sits on the couch (just like us) observing events as they unfold in the distance, the dancefloor acting as a surrogate screen between them and the scene they’re watching. and they are watching, rapt, eyes locked on justinbobby as he inches imperceptibly towards the girl, trying to read his lips and his eyes for signs, to divine meaning from how he crosses his arms or plays with his phone or his greasy, greasy hair.
  • outside the bar, justinbobby amps up the whole anti-tv thing, moving through the shadows, avoiding the cameras, never letting them see his face. then audrina catches him and he gets kind of stuck on stage, in camera range. he seems to decide, “well, i’m here, i might as well put on a show.” so he pulls back the shirt a little and starts mugging for the camera, these weird shots of him grinning, gesturing with his cigarette, flapping his lips, blowing up his cheeks, stumbling around. i think i was partially right when i called him “jim morrison doing a staged reading of ‘he’s just not that into you'” but instead of jim morrison, it’s johnny depp’s keith richard’s impression. or maybe he is just really really high.
  • the parking lot scene was great. as i’ve said before, the “hills” style is so defined and rigid that when the mold’s broken, it can be really powerful. that’s what happens here: instead of tripod close-ups, there are shaky wide shots. instead of clean, well-lit places, there’s a dirty, shadowy parking lot. there’s play with grain, with video texture, with low light conditions. some of the close-ups that we do get are so strong and beautiful because they’re only silhouettes, shapes moving through the darkness. you can’t read the faces like you can in every other scene.
  • and the last scene, at lauren and audrina’s apartment, is good too, even without all the verite touches of the parking lot. (the blocking is also interesting because, starting with audrina hearing the doorbell and checking the peephole, it feels identical to the blocking of the heidi-lauren confrontation at the apartment two weeks ago. if i had the technology, i would do a side by side comparison). it’s good because jb isn’t begging or pleading to be taken back and he isn’t really that angry. he’s just saying that she doesn’t know what she saw, that she can’t trust her eyes. he isn’t so much calling into question audrina’s judgement as he is attacking the veracity of visual truth and how we construct that truth from clues and signs and, so, in a way, attacking the integrity of audrina’s TV show. he doesn’t talk so much about the actual infidelity, he talks about the visual record of the infidelity, he says “you can look me in the eye and tell me, out of all this, that you saw me kiss her.” when she says that she did, he retorts that she’s wrong, that “i think you’re on hallucinogenics, dude.” is she? did she really see the kiss or has she convinced herself that she did because it’s what she wanted to see or what she expected to see or what her friends said that they thought they saw? is this a kuleshov thing, like we see a shot of justinbobby with another girl and we see a shot of him moving in close to her and somehow that implies to us that they kissed. did they really, though? we didn’t see the kiss, so if we’re backing her up, if we say that he did it, we’re doing that based on spurious evidence and hearsay and our prior impressions of him and the baggage we carry from our own personal relationships, from the way that we and our lives are similar to audrina or justinbobby. does that mean it’s true, though? it’s like this crazy discussion about epistemology packaged as a dashboard confessional song.
  • now that i’ve gotten all the “whoah! this is the matrix” pseudo-philosophical blah out of my system, he totally kissed her, i realize that, i’m not an idiot.
  • also, what the fuck, brody jenner? smiling and saying you’re ready to leave while audrina is fighting in a dark parking lot with her crazy kind of boyfriend who is wearing a shirt on his head like a hijab and hanging on to her and shit? real stand-up, dude.
  • if you want to say that it’s all fake, staged, then i think you would your find your best evidence at epic, when audrina’s talking to chiara on what is implied as the day after the fight. no more tears, she seems almost giddy to recount the narrative of the previous evening. it’s not about justinbobby anymore, it’s not about being sad, it’s about the fact that she gets her own LC-like monologue scene with her version of whitney, it’s about the fact that she’s a woman of importance, now. “all the women who independent / throw your hands up at me / all the ladies who truly feel me / throw your hands up at me.”
  • also funny in that scene when chiara is saying to audrina, “you can only take so much abuse,” how she stumbles on the word “abuse,” like she can’t really believe what she’s saying.
  • heidi, poor heidi. she hasn’t been doing much of anything interesting lately, but she’s pitch perfect in that last scene with the pratts. when stephanie pratt says, “and i was like, look, i’m heidi’s best friend,” heidi’s uncomfortable head turn, eye flick, and the way that she runs her hands through her hair speak volumes about how much she misses lauren and misses having a real best friend. then stephanie pratt, off camera, looks at her for some kind of confirmation and heidi does another great, silent combo of chewing something, looking confused, forcing agreement, raising her eyebrows, taking a short breath, and smacking her lips. the rest of the shots of heidi, besides one where she gets excited hearing about audrina getting cheated on, are all sequences like this, of slight discomfort and longing rendered in seemingly unconscious facial tics. bravo.
  • everybody’s talking about that that interview in blender. it’s mostly become a new opportunity for people to dump on heidi for being vacuous and stupid, but doesn’t it make anybody a little bit sad, doesn’t it make you feel for her? any rational person could tell you that she’s never going to win an academy award, but the fact that that’s her dream and that she believes in that dream enough to say it to a reporter who’s going to publish it, isn’t that a little heartbreaking? when she says, “I was Beatrice in … an old English play,” or “I’m reading a book about Chicago and the mob,” doesn’t it make you want to root for her a little more? maybe this is the reason i like her, because even though she’s supposedly mega self-aware, constructing a persona, staging a relationship, trying to be a celebutante etc., there is also something naive and almost rural about her that is absolutely touching. i could be a fool, it could all be a construction, of course, but i think it’s more like construction paper, like she’s trying to draw an image of herself as a star but all she has at her disposal are magic markers and a glitter pen and so the image is sort of beautifully simple.
  • only two episodes left.

in the player is my cover of “hard to explain” by the strokes. i know i promised something fun but my bootleg borrowed recording software chose to crash violently this morning during the recording of my multi-part funk epic and to take said multi-part funk epic down with it, so instead i did another strokes cover. i wrote an essay for this music anthology essay contest once in which i did christian readings of strokes lyrics (the whole essay was basically this meta-critical greil marcus huffing gasoline thing about how since the strokes’ songs don’t mean anything, they can mean everything.) needless to say, i lost the contest, but i still like the idea of really earnest, deeply felt versions of stylish ennui. plus i also really like the song “hard to explain.” i like to listen to it while jogging: the part where everything drops out and then comes back is great for a little burst of speed.

natasha

natasha bedingfield was on the today show this morning, wearing an admiral’s hat and a white jacket. it reminded me of the captain and tenille, but cute. she was a pretty good live singer. on her second song, someone dropped in to do a (relatively unremarkable) guest verse. guess who?

sean kingston

“Either you have stumbled indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alkaloids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty…; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know, and you too, sweetie. Or you are hallucinating it. Or a plot has been mounted against you, so expensive and elaborate, involving items like the forging of stamps and ancient books, constant surveillance of your movements, planting of…images all over San Francisco, bribing of librarians, hiring of professional actors and…what-all besides, all financed out of the estate in a way either too secret or too involved for your non-legal mind to know about even though you are co-executor, so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull.” – src

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  • so, way to mess up my little theories, “hills,” by providing a whitney storyline not centered around the workplace. i’m going to stick to the theories, though, and say that without any other evidence, this is just the exception that proves the rule. i knew before whitney said it that the date wouldn’t go anywhere. it couldn’t, at least within the world of the show because 1) whitney is on the record as adamant that she doesn’t want her personal life taped much 2) to sustain another relationship story on any real level would be too much for a show – the show needs whitney to be a spinster, at least on TV, because to deal with her having a life every week would take too much airtime away from lauren and heidi, not to mention audrina.
  • secondary texts underline the insignificance of the date. in the comments last week, hannah and i talked about chronology on “the hills” and how time is basically fluid and as non-linear as an NLE will allow. the example last week was that apparently the “declare yourself” event and sean kingston’s appearance on jimmy kimmel were like two months apart. this episode, the macro time-editing example is that whitney’s date with the trainer probably took place months before where it was placed in the narrative (it was included in the season 3 trailer, so it had to have been shot relatively early). the micro time-editing example is the way that the date is comped together, for example, the hard cut when homeboy asks whitney “so what’s your sign?”
  • right now, whitney is actually dating e! film critic ben lyons. the one thing i’ve seen repeated about their relationship is this usmagazine tidbit: “Surprise! Lauren Conrad actually likes one of her friends’ boyfriends! Usmagazine.com spotted the Hills hottie, 21, hanging out with pal Whitney Port‘s new man, E! News film critic Ben Lyons, at L.A. club Opera on October 18. “She was taking pictures and showing things on her Blackberry to Ben,” an onlooker says. When Bon Jovi‘s “Livin on a Prayer” came on, “she sang along and grabbed Ben’s hand and pretended to dance with him,” the witness adds.” what i find significant is that the one press anecdote about whitney’s social life/boyfriend does not actually involve whitney (it doesn’t seem like whitney is even present) but is centered around lauren and her actions. this further cements the predominance of lauren’s character in the narrative.
  • churches keep appearing. los angeles is just a concept to me, so it’s weird to think that there are churches there, except like the scientology compound. i think mtv should do a show with the “laguna beach” aesthetic except about a group of well-to-do evangelical christians. if they amped it up and dangled the carrot of controversy before us, i think it would do great numbers. evangelical teens would watch because they want to see how they’re being represented/they want to see how richer/fantasy versions of themselves live (the same way that secular teens watch “laguna beach”/”the hills”). at the same time secular america would be watching it in a sort in a sort of “seeing how the other half lives” kind of way. toss in a “last temptation of christ” style boycott and you’ve got a hit. (not to mention that it could actually be an artistically interesting show dealing with how religion and faith work in contemporary society which no other good shows on TV deal with save “big love” and, recently, “the salt and pepa show.”)
  • the whole spencer-marriage issue is fascinating. in a traditional television/movie narrative context, spencer would be the one delaying the wedding because he isn’t ready or isn’t into commitment or is getting some on the side or for any number of reasons. in traditional movies and TV shows, the man is always the one who doesn’t want to get married and the woman is always starry-eyed and wedding-hungry. this is different; you can’t say that spencer fears commitment or doesn’t want to get married – he wants to get married right now, he wants to get married maybe more fervently than heidi does (unless you read his offers as empty promises, as feints that he knows heidi will turn down but will be hurt for having to turn down, but i don’t). in the traditional narrative context, the other problem TV men always have with big weddings is that they cost a lot of money, but i’m going to presume that’s not the issue here (duh). instead, the language spencer uses over and over again when he’s talking about the wedding is “big thing” and, several times, “ordeal.” what he doesn’t want is for the wedding to be a big event; he wants something small and private.
  • which is bizarre, because the one thing that we know about spencer is that he loves big media events and is in fact constantly, actively trying to create big media events for himself and heidi to star in, to bolster their image and press cred. so why wouldn’t he want a big wedding? is this his attempt to inject a little heat into the narrative by going against what he actually wants with the knowledge that eventually he’ll be able to change his mind and ride the escalator up the redemption arc to the point where things are okay again?
  • the question here is how to view heidi and spencer in the light of all their recent interviews together, in which they directly address the constructs of reality existence, in which they say that it’s all an act. these statements are, of course, in direct opposition to the recent presslets from audrina and lauren testifying to the show’s reality. the question is in what authenticity context can we place heidi and spencer? like the argument tonight about the wedding, how much of an act was it? on whose part, heidi or spencer or heidi and spencer or heidi and spencer and the producers? if it’s not real/captured reality, if it’s an external narrative bit dreamed up by spencer, as i implied before, does it still mirror tensions in heidi and spencer’s real life relationship and can we see that in their faces? does the way that it and they are represented have an impact on the way that they act in private, in their bedroom and their kitchen, does it have an impact on their feelings for each other? the fact that it’s difficult to answer these questions in any definitive way is, of course, what makes it so compelling. and what i really want to stress is that when most people think of the show’s mediation/staging, they think of it being a result of MTV, of producer interference in the lives of the cast. i don’t know the reality of how the show works, but i don’t agree with that hypothesis; i think that the producers’ role in shaping the narrative has to do with editing; it’s post-production. heidi and spencer and lauren and audrina are creating the story with their actions, and i don’t think the show is scripted and i don’t think they’re being coached by the producers (or maybe in scene they are, with retakes and everything, but i don’t think their actions are, i think they are living their lives without being told what to do). i think the level of mediation is up to the cast themselves, how much they think they are performing/acting and how much they think they are existing in front of cameras, how much they truly are willing to give of themselves and how much they want to create a story that’s maybe not true. of course, if they create a story that’s not true but then live it in real life and have it filmed, doesn’t that make it true, doesn’t that make it real?
  • you can also look at it a completely different way; i.e. heidi and spencer are largely genuine on the show and are then embarrassed by the way they are portrayed/vilified by the producers/audience and thus, in their press coverage, they stress that the show is fake as a way of saving face, as a fake way of protecting their real existence. i think the previous explanation is way better, though.
  • it’s hard not to see echoes in recently gawked new york couples who are constructing media events to further the myth of themselves, like jakob lodwick/julia allison and patrick moberg/that bitch he stared at on the subway. i prefer heidi and spencer.
  • it was great when lauren went rifling through whitney’s purse (“i was just looking, i wasn’t, like, rifling.”). her line “oh, to be a natural beauty” was also good w/r/t the recent dust-ups in the real-fake discussion. i like that whole scene a lot. like, think of the moment where lauren says “big wangs” and then audrina says “big wangs.” the camera setups and the deft way that they capture these two soundbites make me feel like the girls stopped and warned the cameramen that they were about to do something, or that it was a retake, but at the same time, it seems like such a genuine, spontaneous “yeah, we’re going out ALRIGHT!” kind of moment. it’s like at the bar when lauren is chewing peanuts or something and does the big double thumbs up thing; like, that’s so obviously telegraphed to the camera, but at the same time i feel that lauren would do the same thing if the camera wasn’t there.
  • and of course that date scene was a reversal of the lauren-heidi-whitney scenes last week, where now lauren is the audience and there are lots of cutaways to her watching whitney across the room,  of her commenting on and reacting to how whitney acts in the scene. it reminds me of “big brother,” where one of the most popular activities in the house is to sit in the head of household room and watch the screen with the closed circuit feed of the cameras in the house; like, to be filmed on a TV show watching yourself on TV. soliplipstick!
  • i think one of the reasons people like whitney, besides all the ones i’ve laid out in previous posts, it’s when jarett asks her on a workout date and she matter-of-factly says “when, i’ll do it as soon as possible.” it’s like, who would be that direct and specific? it would be embarrassing and losery to admit that you’re doing nothing all weekend, even if you really like someone and want to go out with them; it’s not coy, it’s not how we’re taught to act. but when whitney does it, it feels like this refreshing lack of artifice (not that artifice is bad). “feels” may be the operative word there, of course, but she makes me want to believe.
  • when whitney and jarett were jogging on the mountain, i couldn’t help but think of when marvin killed u-turn. this must be some fad workout in california or something? jarett in that scene shows why he couldn’t be a regular on “the hills”: he doesn’t understand how to shut the fuck up and look pretty. even gavin understood that. in this episode, homeboy just keeps spitting platitudes and trainerspeak like he’s getting paid by the word. during the date, there’s a shot of him bouncing up and down in his chair: is he coked up?  too much redbull?
  • i’ve talked before about how the strength of “the hills” is that narrative information is withheld, that we’re forced to fill in gaps which is a more mentally/emotionally pleasurable/powerful experience than being didactically told very clearly the significance of everything. something i thought about with this episode is the way that the same thing is done with visual information. take the first scene at the gym. it opens with these close-ups of thighs pumping, of feet walking. it’s almost abstract; it all adds up to “gym,” but we have to add it up; we’re not being presented with wide shots of groups of people exercising or a (literal) sign that says “gym.” at the bar, it’s 1) close-up of hands playing pool 2) close-up of beer being poured into a pitcher 3) close-up of boobs in t-shirt. the beginning of whitney and jarett’s date is similar. the first shot is two pairs of legs walking down the sidewalk approaching the camera, the second shot breaks the 180 degree rule and the camera jumps across the street to a wide shot of two people from behind as they cross the street; our view of them is largely obscured by traffic. the audio under this is whitney and jarett smalltalking. our brains naturally, almost instantly make the connection (thanks, lev) and think “oh, it’s whitney and jarett’s date” but the show is able to avoid the cliche setups, the medium shot of whitney and jarett from the waist up approaching the camera. it’s operation by implication and inference.
  • what was most interesting about the date scene was the pacing and how different it was from, say, the pacing of that lauren/jason encounter at ketchup or lauren’s date with gavin. in those scenes, things moved more slowly and the focus was on pauses followed by glances and short, isolated lines of dialogue. here, the pace was quick, almost screwball, with so much dialogue said so fast that when whitney and jarett stop to sip their drinks at the end, it’s like they’re really stopping to breathe. how much of this is a function of snappy editing, i don’t know, but there was a certain giddy something or other to it.
  • the way whitney says, at the beginning of the date postmortem with lauren, “can i have some – do you have any…sweetener?” it’s the kind of superfluous moment would get chopped off in a second in any other show on television, that would have no place because it means nothing to the narrative or the character or anything at all, but it is the glimmer of the real that is “the hills.” the way in that scene that they break down the date by what the guy was wearing (“a v-neck american apparel t-shirt”) and the discussion about how to avoid stolen kisses (lauren, “you go to the side” – whitney,”oh, awkward, that’s so awkward.” – lauren, “not really, you can make it – not awkward” – whitney, “knowing me, i would make it awkward” – lauren awkwardly plays with her drink – whitney awkwardly shakes her head – and…scene.)
  • heidi, re: her wedding: “i’m definitely wearing a crown.” i don’t really have to comment, do i?
  • 3 episodes left

in the player is a song i wrote called “american idyll.” it is overcooked. next week i am going to do something funkier and funner, no more of this wintry lap-pop. i do like that in the chorus it sounds like i’m singing “american idol, our only survival,” and also starting the song with fantasia’s name. if this was a radiohead song it would be satire, but here it is at least partly true. and, really, i think thom yorke would be happy with cereal, beer, and TV, too, it’s just his cereal would be like macrobiotic wheat chunks and his beer would be microbrewed with barley that was allowed to roast comfortably in the sun on a beach in andalucia instead of the newcastle factory and his TV would be an issue of the economist or something by naomi klein, but, like, basically the same.

[splashcast MJCC5217BT HNRX3551CR]

  • so remember a couple of weeks ago when i commented on how authentic it felt when lauren mentioned sean kingston, how i thought it was genuine and didn’t think it was product placement but how i thought it was a good model for how product placement could work in fauxreality. and then i reiterated in discussion with hannah in the comments last week how real it seemed. well, guess who was a featured guest in tonight’s episode? sean kingston! wow. because, of course, his label is the label that audrina works for and where audrina has now magically been given a promotion. coincidences are fun!
  • this episode was actually really big on product placement-y gestures. the sean kingston thing, of course, but also the way that the “declare yourself” party was dealt with, how it was introduced in that weird opening scene with lisa love, in which she deigned to descend into the intern pit and carefully enunciate who was throwing the party and the cause celebre. after that, it seemed like there were a requisite amount of times that the girls had to say “declare yourself” and that the cameras had to flash shots of the logo. what does it all mean?
  • a paean to whitney and lauren’s backs. well, not their backs, really, but seeing their backs in that opening scene. it’s like what i’ve said before about the rare appearances of the moving camera: “the hills” style is so defined, so rigid, that when a shot comes along that maybe doesn’t fit exactly right, it feels interesting. like when lauren and whitney are looking at the invitation to the declare yourself party and all of a sudden we cut to a shot from behind them, of their backs as they face the computer, it redefines the space, it reminds us that we’re in a 3 dimensional room and not just this narrow shot line between lauren and whitney’s desks.
  • heidi’s nondescript work friend kimberly bores me. it seems that there is nothing to her. i am more interested in audrina’s nondescript work friend chiara, who seems to have some modicum of personality, like when she told audrina that she was “at work” so not to invite justinbobby to the set. she could be at least a second-rate lo.
  • the way that film and TV celebrities are handled on “the hills” is interesting. i noticed this a little bit last week, like the way that hilary duff was shown so briefly, in a long shot that swept over her in the blink of an eye. this week, a very similar thing with justin timberlake, who we see briefly. in any other show, it seems like these shots would be important, they would be made into a focus, they would be a kind of pop capital, but here they’re just woven into the fabric of the show like clear thread.
  • yet there is a definite contrast between this nonchalant attitude towards celebrity and the portrayal of sean kingston, who gets a hell of a lot of screen time. whether you think that’s because of some epic bankroll or not, i dunno. his discussion of urban slang with chiara and audrina was cute.
  • the “devil wears prada” reference that lauren made was gently meta. let’s pause for a second to imagine whitney and lauren eating cotton candy and watching “the devil wears prada” together and singing along to “suddenly i see” and constantly interrupting the audio of the movie to compare their personal lives to that of anne hathaway’s character. if i could have a high definition recording of this from multiple angles, my brain and heart would explode at the same time but it would be such a happy death.
  • i loved that heidi and friend’s entry was taped from the same camera set-up as lauren and whitney’s. of course, it makes sense, it’s the main entrance of the party, but it makes the cynic in me think of the four of them waiting on the far side of the building together and then going in one right after another so that the director can wrap that setup and use the camera somewhere else.
  • the first lauren-heidi confrontation was kind of weak, i thought. i mean the initial stare down from lauren was good and i liked the trifecta of silent looks that made up the climax the climax (lauren’s “are you seriously that full of shit” smirk and steely head shake THEN heidi’s open-mouthed, chin-jutting ” THEN whitney’s “omgthisisawkwardbutiloveit” gum chew and head turn with the hair falling over her face). but, really, the meat of the thing was kind of weak. could the reason be that they were in a very public place with a ton of people around with camera phones and everything just waiting to expose “fakery” and thus they could only do the scene once or maybe twice without attracting attention, instead of working it up in successive takes to its full potential?
  • how bizarre was that erin fetherston adutainment thing that covered the first commercial break? her bangs really creep me out. all the scenes with her in them made me imagine her hanging out with bjork and matthew barney in like iceland and the three of them playing in a replica of a mcdonald’s play place covered in vaseline.
  • the way audrina says “d’you want some vegetables” and then there’s a decent length shot of lauren staring down, drooly, at a plate of vegetables and rooting around for a good carrot or something. and then she doesn’t eat and the idea of vegetables disappears because it’s monologue time!
  • at the end of the lauren-audrina scene, after lauren says “people change,” audrina, with her newfound power, tries to take over the scene with this loaded, pregnant pause/look to the side/breathy, resigned “yeah.” this would be the obvious place for the scene to go now, for lauren to say, “what’s wrong, audrina?” but she doesn’t, because remember, bitch, lauren is the main character. lauren rolls her eyes and physically shakes off the thought of audrina controlling the scene, shifting the power back to herself to ask a bullshit placeholder question about audrina’s job. and what’s great about this is that you can read it in the meta way that i just did, but you can also read it in a totally natural human way, like lauren had to have picked up what audrina was trying to communicate but chose to ignore it, the way people do sometimes when we are prompted by others to care about their problems and just don’t have the energy at the moment.
  • continuing the thread from the bar scene last week, this episode was like audrina’s coming out party as a major character. this is underscored by the presence of that little filler scene after audrina and chiara hug sean kingston goodbye. the main purpose of the scene is some more advertising for how great sean kingston is, but it’s also a sign that we’re supposed to take audrina more seriously now, because, earlier in the season or in earlier seasons, she never would have warranted a bullshit little scene like this. she wasn’t important enough.
  • and then there’s the next scene at epic records, the triumphant audrina scene, when the pop gospel piano kicks in and audrina says “i feel like everything is just…different now, like i’ve got my own cubicle next to you and i get to work with a huge artist, like, this is good.” amid all the obvious mediation and bitterness about people having jobs they don’t deserve blah blah blah, you have to admit it was a little touching.
  • of course, by now you may know that audrina and justinbobby’s break-up has already been filmed. i wonder what the lead time of the show is, i wonder how much longer we’ll be graced with his fascinating visage and his powerful belches?
  • i love the IM scene, i think it’s my favorite part of the episode. it is so banal and at the same time so great because it’s so banal and it gets the im experience way better than how hollywood movies stumble whenever computers are involved. like how lauren is so fixated on the screen that we don’t see her face for nearly the entire scene, and even better, the way whitney is constantly having to get updates “what are you saying…that’s what you said…is that what she just said?” because whitney is operating as the stand-in for the audience, just like she was earlier in the episode, at the party, when she spotted heidi and said, almost gleefully “oh my god, she’s like right there, is this horrible for you? this is horrible for you.” and now in this scene she’s asking to be updated on how the plot is progressing and sitting there giggling and smiling and holding her head in her hands. then it becomes all the more powerful when heidi writes that she wants to meet and lauren all of a sudden stops giving a running commentary. and whitney is saying “is that what she just said?” and “what’s going on?” and “what’s, what’s happening, fill me in…” and lauren is so in the moment she’s completely blocked out whitney and whitney finally gets kind of annoyed and says “lau-ren!” and then lauren snaps out of it a little and whitney’s like “is everything okay, i just want to help?” because, like the audience, like us, she’s empathetic. when she encourages lauren to go meet up with heidi, she’s just following everyone’s impulse, which is the desire to know what happens next.
  • it is scary/good (not scary good, but both scary and good) that it is completely natural and okay to heidi that spencer is reading her private im conversation.
  • i imagine hisham abed and jason sands really getting off on the wide shot shot where heidi talks a long walk by the pool, across the frame and up to lauren’s apartment. it’s a pretty beautiful shot, with the midnight blue glow of the swimming pool in the foreground and the steam rising off the hot tub in the background.
  • the final scene between lauren and heidi more than made up for the lackluster showing earlier. great details, like lauren looking out of the peephole even though she knows it’s heidi, heidi talking about how the flowers have thorns that might prick lauren, walking slowly and surveying the room, speaking heidi dialect by saying “did a maid come,” instead of a “does a maid come,” awkwardly rubbing the coffee table before getting into the actual conversation.
  • intriguing that heidi doesn’t deny anything about spencer’s actions.
  • if i was watching a scripted drama and i heard a character say “i want to forgive you…and i want to forget you” i would cringe so hard that i’d probably pull a muscle, i would think, oh god, that’s such horribly cheesy writing. but because this show is at least in some ways real, i can’t do that, because that’s what lauren really said! and so instead of being like, ugh, what a bad writer, it kicks off all these interesting tangents, like, was it spontaneous or was it something she prepared, like she’d been thinking about this conversation and playing it out in her head for weeks (like rehearsal for a scripted drama, yes, but also like the way we all practice for moments in our lives) and when she thought of it, what level of it is completely genuine feeling and what level is playing to the camera and what level is thinking that she’s clever and what level is trying to be like a character in a movie, to use cinematic drama to fuel real life drama and on and on and on.
  • what i think is genius about the scene, whether it’s producer driven or scripted or completely authentic or any combination of the above, is the way that it could shift the narrative. because, excepting a few of lauren’s freakouts about relationships, we’ve been set up to totally identify with her, that this is her story, that she is who is important. yet in this scene, lauren is so intense and emotional and kind of mean and all heidi is trying to do is be rational and be friends again. will this shift some ranks from team lauren to team heidi? i think there’s a definite chance, because, excepting that scene at ketchup where she was so horrible, heidi’s been basically a sympathetic character all season and we’ve seen how much trouble she’s having with spencer and feel bad et cetera. at the same time, if there’s another information payload about the sex tape, things could totally shift again. either way, it’s definitely the spice the plot needed.
  • but hold up, did you hear about this? is it true? is it false? what does it all mean!?!?!

in the player is my cover of the song “tell me when to go” by e-40. the keyboard riff was originally for a song about going to the bahamas with barack obama and then it was for this song called “i went to the narrative convention” which was about barthes offering me ecstasy at a marriot near the airport (“james wood got wood in the middle of his own speech / he said it was absurd, we said practice what you preach / we were all hysterical, it was near unbearable / zadie smith screamed that his bulge looked terrible”) but neither of those songs worked out so instead i did a cover of this e-40 song from a couple of years ago. i left out the keak da sneak verse because even with the lyrics written out i still don’t understand what he’s saying. my favorite song off of that album is still “white gurls,” which uses clever wordplay to conflate caucasian women and cocaine and features the line “i ain’t talking bout lindsay lohan / i’m talking bout that sniff, that blow, man.” prescient, really.

lauren, lo, and darfur

November 9, 2007

cute, but i think they would be more useful working on this.

great, can’t wait for the whole thing. also see this.

i just found out about this. i need to see it. i am working on it.

(you can see a higher quality version of the trailer here but i love the idea of someone loving the show so much that they tape it off of their TV)

bizarre. in a two day span, two songs have been released about “the hills”: mine and this rap one by young moses. his verse feels a little TV guide, a little too transparently following step 4 of rafi kam’s “soulja boy lesson plan,” but the chorus is hot, for real.

[splashcast OAAY5991HA YBIW9338LU]

  • hey, it’s a “whitney does a good job” episode! to be more specific, it’s “whitney is nervous she won’t do a good job, but then does a good job.”
  • the fact that the episode was centered around this big event (“the fashion show”) basically precluded anything really interesting happening. like, take the scene before the first break where whitney and lauren are making gift bags. for the scene to be interesting, there would have be something else going on, some other element. for example, in episode 7 there’s a scene where ostensibly the girls are scouting locations, but this is just a pretense that breaks down immediately and lauren starts talking about a boy or something and whitney makes appropriate dazzling facial expressions. the scene this episode, though, is just about making gift bags. ok. same deal with the scene where whitney is learning how to seat a crowd. i guess maybe these scenes serve to build up the idea that “whitney is nervous she won’t do a good job,” but i just don’t feel like that’s enough. i wasn’t bored, but i wasn’t particularly engaged, either.
  • the exception to the above is the exchange backstage between whitney and lauren where lauren is just like saying combinations of numbers at whitney (“7 and 1…7 and 11…i’m 7, you’re 1”) and whitney is like omg. hilarious.
  • i’m not sure how i feel about the “dramatic” centerpiece this episode, with the frantic intercutting between whitney racing around flustered and lauren trying to call her on a walkie talkie. i have talked previously about how intercutting like this breaks the unity of scene and seems too showy for “the hills” style. in addition, all the big sweeping overhead shots were wrong; this show is at its best when it’s at its most intimate; think “cathedral” and not cathedrals. still, there was a good rhythm, and if the only drama in this episode was going to be “whitney is nervous she won’t do a good job,” then this was probably the best way to milk it for all it was worth.
  • did you notice any interesting celebrities? i only saw (i think) hayden panettiere (juicy). that was a fucking ugly hat hillary duff was wearing. is she like a rasta now or something?
  • before “america’s next top model” and “project runway” and “a model life” i bet the shots of backstage at the fashion show would have felt so insidery and revealing and cool. but now, with reality shows and with this wikipedia level of knowledge that everyone thinks they have of everything, you really have to push harder to defamiliarize the world.
  • the scenes with heidi and nondescript work friend were placeholder-y. there were a couple interesting spots in the lunch (“spencer’s just taking me out for a surprise dinner”), but i felt like heidi was really overselling the whole “what is up with my life omg???”discomfort.
  • heidi’s remark about how she “feels like she should be turning 25 right now, you know” will, i’m sure, rouse some fresh ire from the blogs, but i found it kind of poignant.
  • the heidi and spencer dinner was also pretty blah. the best part was when it cut back to them at the end of the episode and spencer is twiddling on his cell phone and heidi, disconnected, eats cake and unfolds her napkin and drinks water and pushes glasses around on the table.
  • also i found it interesting when spencer asked heidi, “what’s that face?” everyone knows what that means in the real world, but it takes on a whole other dimension when you live in “the hills.” what’s that face? like, are you projecting that face at me or are you trying to telegraph it for the cameras? is it how you genuinely feel or is it the mood you’re trying to set for the show or is it a combination of the two? are you going to be doing this face later when we’re at home? etc. etc. etc.
  • i have a bad memory and watching this episode i was struck by the idea that, hey, wasn’t audrina like public enemy number one at the beginning of last season? or was that the end of the first season? i don’t know, but either way, it’s funny because it’s like it never happened, it’s like the past doesn’t exist. it’s kind of the way that i have absolutely no memory of heidi’s asshole boyfriend from season 1, like nothing, he is a blank. i should probably rent the DVDs or something.
  • audrina and justinbobby were adorable in their “rocker” outfits. the problem with the concert scene was that there was no emotional context. the combination of that lack of emotion, the focus on the band instead of on justinbobby/audrina, and audrina’s line, “I wanna get their CD so I can take it into Epic,” which is subtitled so as to just beat us over the head: it all tastes like really bad product placement.
  • this impression was reinforced with awfully artificial staging and composition outside the club. like, oh yeah, of course, the guys in the band are casually chatting outside the club, completely ignorant of the the camera and tripod three feet behind them. audrina approaches, walking directly towards the camera. ugh. later, at the bar, i also didn’t like the staginess of the two guys in the band talking “in the distance,” the camera capturing them in the mirror. just felt like too much.
  • when audrina first sits down at the bar, it’s like everyone in the room is paying attention to her. which makes sense, she’s the TV star after all. but in every other scene she’s in, she’s always playing second fiddle to lauren, always in the background. yet here she is, holding court, repeating the name of her funny drink order over and over again, fending off suitors, and you really get the sense that she is loving it, feeding off the attention in a way that she hasn’t before.
  • and who is this rocker dude? this is his rock star game, to ask “where are you from” and to say, squeakily, that there’s “always an after-after party”? and then asking permission from her boyfriend to ask her out? you just played a hot show to a packed club and you’re soberly hitting on a girl with a boyfriend? of course the obvious answer is that he’s doing this to get screentime/appease the producers, that he could care less about audrina and, in fact, maybe he’s so stiff and lame because he’s having a real internal crisis like “whoah am i selling out??” like “bro, i thought i was an artist but, what, now i’m on this soap opera?” it could be that, like something out of “kaya,” but he also plays a pretty convincing wuss. justinbobby has more rock/roll in the grease in his hair than this dude has in his whole body.
  • speaking of, justinbobby was hilarious. he is always good. the staccato clip of his laugh. flicking his tongue back and forth. the variation (“she’s a really good girl…she’s a really good person”) and repetition (“she’s pretty good…she’s pretty good”)
  • although, watching it again, now i think that the second time that justinbobby says “she’s pretty good,” is actually just the clip of him saying it the first time replayed, separated by a cutaway to another angle. a reminder, of course, that the editor is creating the character as much as the performer. duh, i know, but it’s interesting to see it in a tangible way.
  • “the hills” as achievable fantasy. now i will trot out the “sex and the city” comparison, for the umpteenth time. for the majority of the young audience of “the hills,” envisioning yourself in the world of “sex and the city” is complete fantasy; those women have Careers, they have Jobs. any dream we have of living their lives right now is as far fetched as thinking about being an alien or an astronaut. but for teens and twentysomethings, the fantasy that’s set forth in “the hills” is achievable, it’s the fantasy we can allow ourselves to have. we can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the world of “sex and the city”: to be a lawyer or the curator of an art gallery or a PR exec or a freelance writer who can somehow buy really expensive shoes and lay around her apartment all day. but what we can imagine is what it’s like to be an intern, at a record company or a PR firm or a magazine. what are lauren and audrina? interns. what were heidi and whitney just last season? interns. lauren and audrina’s apartment is nice and everything, but how different is it from an apartment that you’ve lived in or that someone you knew in college lived in? how much nicer is it, how much of a distance is there really? unless you lived in the sticks or something, i bet not that much. it’s not like it’s crazy blinged out or something; it’s the midpoint between middle class and the “back to school” spread in seventeen magazine. it’s fantasy, but it’s not a fantasy that makes you ache with jealousy to imagine.
  • and like so much of “the hills,” of course, this is an illusion. i’m sure these people are rolling in money, i bet heidi’s birthday dinner cost more than i spend on food in a month, but at the same time, the show makes it feel like they’re in a situation that’s only once or twice removed from my own. enough to make it glamorous but not to make it foreign.
  • the bread and butter of this blog is close reading and not my crackpot theorizing or shallow musings, but in this episode there really wasn’t an awful lot to read close. hopefully more next week.

in the player is a song i wrote called “won’t you please be friends.” it’s about how lauren and heidi should be friends again. i have never written a song about “the hills” because i thought it would seem kind of weird and obsessive, but who am i kidding? my friend alicia and i used to play music together and we once tried to write a song about alex h. from laguna beach and her existential crisis about how nobody knew her last name. notice in the picture audrina’s velvet underground t-shirt – nice. it makes me want to do a cover of “i found a reason” but change the spoken word part to be about lo. i also tried to do a cover of “wave’ by patti smith except about lauren instead of the pope, but it sounded too creepy, even for me.