the hills season 3, episode 16, “a night at the opera.”
November 27, 2007
[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.