holding pattern

December 21, 2007

hello, lots of people! i am in the midst of last minute prep for a move and have no time to update, even though i am happy to see you all. sometime next week i will be back with new content, including a longish thing i have in the works on ricky gervais, the season finale of “extras,” auteur theory, and why people hate reality television but shouldn’t. (also probably some shit about heidi and spencer’s wedding being called off or a close reading of “body language” because i just can’t stay away) ((also, aren’t you so happy that whitney’s not getting kicked off the island? i am))

if you watch/like/love “the hills,” then you are prepared for any of my posts; also, by virtue of your good taste, you surely are attractive, intelligent, and smell nice, so hi. if you don’t watch “the hills,” you might want to start with understanding the hills, part 1, after which you should watch an episode from the third season on mtv overdrive (this is a subpar way of experiencing the show – the images are so beautiful that they demand TV resolution – but something is better than nothing). if you don’t like “the hills,” then you might enjoy my fan fiction, but also understand that if you don’t like “the hills,” you probably won’t like me.

the hills season 3 finale

December 11, 2007

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wasn’t that so terribly sad? it was like the charlie brown christmas tree version of a red carpet; short, stubby, a cheap, pasted-on backdrop. you get the feeling that the camera flashes weren’t from real paparazzi, that in the photo corral there were a group of MTV interns given disposables from walgreens and broken thrift-store polaroids; they weren’t there to capture images themselves but to try to create an image for the TV audience at home. but what image? that chintzy red carpet, the bare concrete expanse underneath, the dead, empty blackness of the sky above the bleachers, and, sandwiched in between, a crowd as small as at a middle school soccer game?

there was none of the glamour of “the hills,” the feeling that the frames of the show themselves are something more, the feeling you get looking at layouts in fashion magazines or immaculate, high-concept car commercials, where you think, wow, that looks expensive. as the song goes, it never rains in southern california, and, in popular lore, it’s never supposed to be cold in LA. yet, as heidi remarked over and over in the five seconds she was interviewed during the preshow, it was cold, so cold, “freezing.” that’s how at odds this live extravaganza was with the endless sunsets and warmth and orange light of “the hills”: it was cold and dark. through the magic of digital color correction, the editors of “the hills” can imbue even nighttime with hue and richness (go look at that justinbobby-audrina fight and compare it to this), but on the red carpet, we were placed into the dark of night and the desert of the real; the temperatures were bracing and the light was harsh and un-diffused.

it was classic bad live television, all false starts and miscues and stalling and broken technology. our hosts attempted banter, like preteens in maybelline trying to mimic melissa rivers and ryan seacrest, but they had nothing to say. the stars, our gang, who shine so gloriously every week within the context of color-corrected, carefully lit, letterboxed 24p – suddenly, they were moving through space live, at thirty frames a second, and they weren’t within the flattering constraints of the letterbox and they weren’t carefully framed to show their good sides, and the editing and blocking were a mess. they moved like us, which is strange because we’re used to seeing them move at a completely different speed, and they held their microphones and stared into the camera and they knew we were watching them and they were looking out at us. and it was so bad.

and then they spoke and it was even worse. these masters of intimate dialogue, what awful interviews they gave. what they remind me of are the david foster wallace essays about tennis players (“how tracy austin broke my heart” and “roger federer as religious experience“). in “how tracy austin broke my heart,” he writes that,

“It may well be that we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only ones able truly to see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift we are denied. And that those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it — and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.”

lauren and heidi are neither blind nor dumb, and i don’t think performance on “the hills” is an unconscious thing, but i think there’s something of that quote here, the idea that in their moment, in their environment, these girls are perfect, incredible, beyond the beyond, but outside of it, in the too-clear, too-honest waters of live television, they are more frogs than princesses. on “the hills,” when they’re trying to act like normal people, lauren and whitney and heidi and audrina feel like celebrities, like movie stars. but on the red carpet, when they’re trying to act like celebrities and movie stars, they feel startling, disappointingly, like normal people.

the sadness, the embarrassment that was the red carpet event is the best argument for the fakeness of “the hills”; that no, it is not a literally true representation of the real (so no, alessandra stanley, we aren’t going to see the migrant workers build LC’s family mansion, but who cares, this isn’t “the grapes of wrath”), it’s better than the real, it’s the idealized everyday, it’s a fantasy of how living life could be. not capital F fantasy, none of the big old narratives, no princesses or slayed dragons. “the hills” isn’t like a movie, nothing ever really happens, but at the same time, it’s not like everyday life or those scratchy, ugly verite attempts to represent real everyday life. we don’t hear toilets flush and we don’t see hairs out of place or bad makeup. it’s the narrative of our casually exhibitionist moment, of facebook, where the minutiae of the everyday becomes elevated because it’s selected and exhibited and viewed by an audience; all those scenes where lauren talks at whitney or heidi talks at elodie or audrina talks at chiara, those one-sided dialogues, they’re the televisual equivalent of facebook status updates (“heidi is feeling sad.” “lauren doesn’t know what to do anymore.” “audrina is done with him.”) the tabloids that are so important to the success of “the hills,” usweekly and intouch and OK, they’re one big facebook profile for our girls, where they list their hopes and dreams and the books they’re reading right now and their favorite singers and whether or not they’re in a relationship, where they post only the most flattering pictures of themselves (although sometimes they get tagged with ugly ones of them drunk or in their sweatpants by jerks they don’t like).

the form of the show, the casual voyeurism, is, again, perfectly suited to our age. it’s not like those voyeurism movies, like “lost highway” or “cache” or “the truman show,” where there’s some sinister subtext to the viewing, where there’s a Reason that these people are being watched. we’re not watching lauren and whitney because of any big, important reasons; we’re watching them for the simple joy of seeing them move through space and eat cereal and iron clothes and push paper and staple things, the excitement of seeing them wrinkle their noses and scrunch their eyebrows, the fun of being invited into their first dates and days at the office and nights on the town, their tiffs and their spats

no more big narratives, no more capital F fantasy. the thematic preoccupation of the season three finale was with fairy tales. lisa love tells whitney that she “might come back a princess” from paris and later tells lauren her own fairy tale story of living in paris as a girl. elsewhere, lauren and brody argue about whether or not lauren wants a “prince charming.” if there’s anything we’ve learned from lauren and jason or, for that matter, from heidi and spencer, it’s that there is no prince charming, that prince charming is a myth and if you choose to believe the myth, like heidi does, you get burned, and even if you are a hardened cynic like lauren is and you try not to believe it, you’re still going to eventually let your guard down and you get burned.

what was the big decision, the defining moment for lauren’s character? right, she chose to stay with jason for the summer instead of the teen vogue internship in paris. it’s branded on her, it’s her defining characteristic, she’s “the girl who didn’t go to paris” (subtitle: for a man). you can read this decision as choosing a man over a career, or choosing love over opportunity, but you can also read as choosing the status quo, the everyday, over the big, earth-shaking life-changing move, as choosing stability and comfort (however fleeting) over excitement and possibility.

the sometimes problem with heidi and spencer is that they try too hard to give the audience what they want. they’re afraid of being edged out of the story and out of the show and so they feel they have to present this big drama to stay relevant. so, in the season finale, they have an over the top fight and “break up.” and in a way, this is crucial: the struggles of their relationship have been really important to maintaining the soap style micronarrative pull of “the hills.” but it’s also why heidi and spencer can come off as inauthentic, because sometimes their oft-professed desire to be stars overwhelms their ability to seem like regular human beings. because heidi wants to be a singer and spencer wants to be a politician, but all we want them to be is themselves, heidi and spencer, a couple that we watch on TV.

lauren, meanwhile, is boring and self-assured enough of the stability of her role to stay boring (i.e. to be herself). while heidi and spencer are performative in terms of plot, i think lauren only performs in the moment, with her eyes, with her face. because what really happened to her this season? nothing much at all. she worked a lot, she partied occasionally, she went on a couple of dates that didn’t really go anywhere, she fought briefly with an ex-friend. it’s not really an exciting life, i bet that’s how a lot of people you know spent their fall. yet she was the star of and her life was the story of a major, popular television show that millions of people followed, rapt, and she’s boring, gloriously boring, and that’s incredible. and i hope she gets more boring, because that’s what the show is really about, at least to me, not big trips to paris or catfights, it’s moments like seeing lauren cram all those pairs of shoes into her suitcase when she’s packing for paris and her telling audrina that she’s taking black ones because they match everything. maybe it was rehearsed, maybe it was blocked out by jason sands, maybe it was scripted, maybe there were storyboards and miniatures and 3d rendered pre viz, but it doesn’t matter; it feels so true that i don’t care whether it actually is or not.

in the player is my version of the song “what’ll i do” by irving berlin. i first heard nellie mckay’s version, which led me to the doris day version, which is probably my favorite, although the harry nilsson version is also pretty incredible. anyway it’s one of my favorite songs and it’s so simple and beautiful, just a repeated verse and a chorus (well, also there’s an intro but i cut that because it’s dated). this is a really rough take and normally i would have time to rerecord it but i don’t, so this is it until i have time to fix it up. the song is addressed to a lover who is leaving, and, as the chorus makes clear, all that the singer has left is a photograph, a weak representation of the flesh and blood person. the song is about a lost lover, but i think it could also be addressed to a television show on the eve of a season finale. the relationship, at least for now, has come to an end, and all that the viewer is left with is reruns. reruns are good and comforting things, but they don’t give us anything more than we already have. we don’t watch them to remember what happened to the characters, we watch them as records, to try to remember the experience of watching them for the first time, to try to get at it again. which is of course impossible, but it beats the alternative, which is nothing.

thank you very much to everyone who read this and wrote about it or in it or to me; i really and truly appreciate it and you. i am moving to south korea in about a week (yes, i did schedule this major global move around “the hills” season finale; if it’s not abundantly clear already, i have issues), but, besides maybe a one or two week break to get settled, i will still be posting at least a song and some kind of prose piece every week and probably more, so please do come back. do you want to be friends? mark yes or no and pass it back.

Never fear Hills fans, even though the third season of the hit MTV reality series is coming to a close on December 10, In Touch can exclusively reveal that Lauren Conrad and crew will be back for a fourth round! Will this be the season that Lauren and her former BFF Heidi Montag finally extinguish their feud or will Heidi actually become Mrs. Spencer Pratt? Maybe we’ll get to meet a whole new cast of characters. “I have some friends on [the show], some friends off,” Lauren tells In Touch. Whatever happens, one thing is certain, The Hills will be alive with the sound of drama once again! 

this was basically a given, but it’s still nice to hear it officially.  rest assured that your correspondent will continue to be yours and corresponding for the fourth season.

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  • i always skim “the hills aftershow” so i can see the one interesting part, the weekly interview segment with the girls. two weeks ago, we found out what magazines they read!

    • audrina: “lauren buys [usweekly] every week, they’re all over our table, so i don’t need to buy those.” (!)

    • lauren: “…and just mounds and mounds of weeklies: usweekly, star, life and style, OK.”

    • whitney: “i mean, i’ll have an usweekly, just…whatever, cliche…”

    • heidi: “forbes and fortune.”

  • this week, though, there are two or three interesting parts. besides the interview, in which we find out that the last time lauren went out on a date, someone proposed to her (!), the aftershow devotes a segment to airing the mila kunis/james franco parody of “the hills.” (!!)

  • not the whole thing, just a twenty second clip, but still. i mean, the aftershow has always been a home for self-parody (the opening video remixes, the monster movie and sitcom things) but to include something external like this is pretty wild, like valuing cool points over self respect. maybe “hills” fans are wacky and irreverent enough to love it. the spin that the hosts put on things is great, like, the parody is not a scathing criticism of the vacuity of “the hills” and reality television in general and a vote of support for the striking writers, it’s “a true testament that anybody can be a ‘hills’ fan.”

  • also, at the end of the aftershow, britneycanadawhore calls in. here it is important to note that the aftershow is filmed in canada and, i believe, airs on actual television in canada, so it feels like there is a little hometown rah-rahing of support for her. her story: she met brody at a club about a year ago, he was with spencer, who was guest dj-ing (!), and she “maybe” hooked up with him.” she seems a little surprised about things but overall fairly unemotional and self-assured: “he seemed really sweet when i was like…talking to him.” there’s no springeresque drama, pretty civilized. of course, how do we know she’s britney canada whore? she could just be a whore in canada named britney, another of brody’s conquests or maybe someone he’s never even met. did she watch the show, think it was her, and call in to the aftershow? did the producers of the aftershow, based in canada, get the cell number from brody and call it so they could set up a live on air interview with her? what does it feel like to get a call like that? to make a call like that? (“hi, yeah, i’m calling because i think i was just called a whore on TV. oh, you want to interview me? sure!”)

  • they also call the gross lip ring a cold sore, so points for them.

  • ok, so, like, the actual show. maybe it’s taking so long for me to get to it because it was kind of blah and mediocre, which probably is necessary, coming between something so action packed as the previous episode and the season finale.

  • first scene: as he is seemingly on the way out of the narrative, brody starts to get “the hills.” at first, he and lauren have this absurd perfectly “hills” conversation about lauren’s eyes, with brody questioning what color they are even as he stares deep and unblinking into them (“blue-ish…”). closing the discussion, he says “i need some eyes like that,” but it doesn’t sound cheesily romantic at all, it sounds bizarre and lecter-esque because he speeds it up and rasps it and turns his head as he’s talking to stare at a girl walking down the street. cut to b-roll of a girl walking down the street and entering a store to make this distraction all the more obvious (re: what i said last week about the kiss; if we don’t see it, how do we know they saw it)((i wonder when/where that shot was actually filmed)). heidi said it best in the blender interview (“‘It’s a show about looks,’ she says of The Hills. “The faces, the expressions — they tell the whole story.'”). what is the sign that lauren can’t trust brody? a look, a glance, a gaze.

  • i tried, i really tried, but i’m just not interested in steph pratt. i would rather have heidi’s maid of honor stunt casted (hayden panettiere? ugly betty? marie osmond?) than s.p.

  • the halloween party is, i think, a good example of my concept of the hills as achievable fantasy for its audience, of the relateability factor. when i was in college i wasn’t anywhere near as rich as the gang and i didn’t live in beverly hills but i went to about five million small parties that were exactly like this at little apartments that were basically like this. i’m sure my experience is not unique. this is not a hired yacht, this is not some crazy club night, this is not the VIP room: it’s beer pong and plastic cups and PBR and girls in slutty costumes. they’re like us, we’re like them etc.

  • i liked lauren and whitney’s costumes, as well as the dynamic duo. audrina’s was pretty stupid. i read somewhere that she is a natural blonde but i don’t know if it’s actually true. besides that and jen bunny’s complete idiocy, the only interesting thing was a medium length shot of whitney in her ladybug costume, watching lauren say goodbye to brody. again, whitney is the audience. there are i think two shots of her in the whole scene, the one where she’s watching lauren and another where she assists lauren in making a joke about brody. it’s like she’s not at the party to have fun or get crazy, but solely to watch lauren and find out what happens to lauren and empathize with lauren, for the sake of the narrative, because as we all know they’re not “really” the closest of friends.

  • i love that spencer wants to do the wedding reception at don antonio’s. so great. life changing mexican food for a life changing day.

  • i don’t know anything about wedding invitations, but if spencer is at the point where he’s picking them up, isn’t he, like, obligated to pay for them? it doesn’t seem like this is some design or typesetting meeting, this is the pick up, so presumably they’ve already been printed, so, presumably, he’s already spent that “few thousand dollars” that he throws in heidi’s face, right?

  • because like what’s the deal with the lady at the printer’s? was she actually looking for the cards through that entire scene? or was she told by some producer to just go in the back room and be quiet while they filmed? also, why doesn’t the place get its own little subtitle, like ketchup or les deux or any of the other restaurants or stores that they go to do? i can’t believe that you would agree to be on camera (as the nervous employee is) but not get the free advertising?

  • i have nothing much to say about lip ring boy. the conversation was pleasantly empty. his over the top “hey baby” eyebrow raise at the end was a little much, amateurish face acting, but i really liked the looks that audrina does right after. they’re not “oh yeah, i wanna hit that” or even coy looks; she seems nervous, a little shaky, she looks like she’s thinking “am i agreeing on national television to have sex with this guy – what will everyone think of me?” or maybe just first date nervous, i don’t know. she never looked like that with jb though.

  • transcription, LO, beginning of dinner with lauren: “this place is cute, it’s very romantical. have you? who have you been here with? oh, then it is very romantical indeed. well, i can be your boyfriend tonight. how was halloween? i’m sorry i’m such a loserface, i had a midterm the next day, horrible.” goddamn adorable, not just the weird coinages and mock-shock genderbending but the great faux-haughty accent. it’s performative, but in a real life “oh you goofy girl” guard-let-down kind of way. maybe that’s what i want to codify as good performance on “the hills”: it’s definitely performance, but it has the appearance of private performance between acquaintances/friends/lovers that seems as if it just happens to be captured on film, that even if the cameras weren’t there they would still be acting exactly the same way. lo’s quote from laguna beach, “every day is a fashion show, mom,” is particularly apt here; the idea of the dramatic quotidian and the quotidian drama.

  • intermission: see these incredible deleted scenes of lo and lauren from laguna beach season 1, in which they discuss the magical vagaries of public transportation, try out vespas, and lo repeatedly hits lauren in the head with a book while she’s wearing an oversized vespa helmet. i need access to a full library of outtakes/raw footage, although it would probably ruin my life.

  • anyway, i like that lo/lauren dinner a lot, easily my favorite part of the episode. there are nice faerie lights (does lauren like them because they’re pretty and girly or because they’re soft and diffused and make her photograph well?) but also great dialogue. there’s two parts to the scene really. the first part is all fun and levity, with the lo comedy material quoted above. then there’s the dividing point, where lo opens her mouth really wide and eats a giant piece of something (bread? a shrimp? i don’t have HDTV.) this seems to have a popeye-spinach effect on her because in the second part she takes this tone (literally, listen to the change in her voice when she says, “he’s more than your friend, lauren.”) of challenging lauren’s conceptions and psychological issues re: her relationship with brody. this move evolves into an exquisite parsing out of the minutiae of unspoken social codes. again, a transcription is necessary to do it justice:

    • LO: I mean do you want him to be more than your friend?

    • LAUREN: [frustrated throat sound] That’s the thing, is I just…

    • LO: Maybe he wants more things from you that you just don’t know.

    • LAUREN chews her food.

    • LO: You know like how we’re having this conversation? He could be having a conversation like this with somebody else and you just don’t know.

    • LO: [dubbed] Maybe Brody’s waiting for you to say something.

    • pause, acoustic guitar arpeggios sound in the background

    • LAUREN: It’s not that I don’t want Brody to be my boyfriend but…I mean, I’m not stupid, I know that he’s out with other girls all the time, I know that. I want Brody to want to not do it, without me saying anything.

    • LO: So you want him to not want to see other girls?

    • LAUREN: But I don’t want to tell him not to do that, I mean, who am I to tell him not to do that.

    • LO: Yeah. Catch-22, love.

    • song rises in the background, scene.

  • if i had ever read anything by jane austen, this is the point where i would say, “isn’t that like a jane austen novel”? but all i really know is the reading of “pride and prejudice” that tom hanks gives in “you’ve got mail.”

  • also liked lo’s idea about brody jenner having a simultaneous, parallel conversation with frankie about lauren/brody’s relationship, just like the one that she and lauren are having. it’s why lo is necessary, why lauren has to have these kind of “girl, get your mind right” friends, because it seems like a thought that lauren would never ever allow herself to have, because lauren has to automatically assume the worst about people. at the very second lo advances the idea, lauren is probably imagining brody is taking part in some coked-up stripper orgy at the chateau marmont. (which, knowing brody jenner, he may well be.) this is lauren’s curse; she has trust issues, but she is only attracted to guys who she knows from the outset are untrustworthy (jason/stephen/brody/gavin) and then she gets into relationships with them where she doesn’t trust them and then they do untrustworthy things and she is hurt and shocked by this and then the cycle starts again. when whitney asks lauren “what’s going on with brody?” and lauren says “same thing as always,” she isn’t really saying same thing as always with brody, she’s saying same thing as always like ever.

  • okay so i have spent so long talking about those scenes that i have no energy to talk about the the spencer-heidi, lauren-brody confrontations, which are probably supposed to be the meat of the episode.

  • heidi and spencer: love the camera blocking to show his feet on the table. it really did get heated. spencer’s outraged face was too over the top. the best lines were the two about the troubles being together 24-7 (maybe they’d prefer just to, like, star in a TV show together instead). fights on “the hills,” unless they involve lauren, i think are better when they are oblique, passive agressive affairs instead of straight ahead knock down drag out things. you risk things getting too heated and verging on the melodramatic, which is i think what happened here. i love when heidi walks off frame into the bedroom at the end of the scene. it’s like, literally, exit stage left

  • lauren and brody: seriously, that hat? (also, earlier re: audrina: seriously, that hat?). note how lauren shuts down any possibility of the justinbobby relationship continuing. she is the authority, she decides. when lauren says, of audrina, “she’s gonna be strong this time,” it seems like this is lauren code for “she’s going to be like me.” her looking at the phone is a very clever device – the reading of the extended list of names is great and real; would never happen in a movie or anything scripted for that long. (although if she really wants to know something, read the list of incoming or outgoing calls instead of the database, duh). for the climactic line “brody, you can have you whatever you want,” she has the right phrasing and the right look, it just needed to be dialed down a degree or two, it’s dangerously close to “dawson’s creek” territory. after that, the five closing shots are great.

    • brody, shut down by lauren, says, exhaling, “nothing” in response to her asking what he wants her to say. his eyes are downcast, he lifts his head to make himself look at her.

    • lauren, in full light, has this kind of sad smile and is looking into his eyes. she folds in her lips, looks down, raises her glass, does this weird “bewitched” style quirky nose crinkle, takes a sip of her drink, and puts the glass down.

    • brody is leaned back in his chair, distant, but instead of looking at her, staring at her, like why won’t you say something.

    • lauren, leaning on her upturned palm, is looking down, then looks up full on at brody, but she’s kind of vulnerable now, like maybe she gets what she was supposed to do, inhale, exhale, and she looks down again.

    • lone palm tree in the darkness, wrapped in christmas lights. existential dread in gleaming wrapping paper.

  • the preview sets us up for even more lauren conrad sadsville, because, as we know from what he told the tabloids, the brody relationship is going nowhere fast, and, in the preview for the finale, lisa love seems to give the paris internship to whitney again, leaving lauren 0 for 2. the magic of “the hills,” though, is that anything can happen because it’s real life, lauren isn’t handcuffed to some freytag pyramid plotting out her life as a fictional character. the producers can, through arrangement and omission, attempt to impose a shape on the narrative, but they don’t create it. SAT analogy: lesbians are to porno lipstick lesbians as l’ecriture feminine is to “the hills.”

  • i would liveblog “the hills” finale except my brain doesn’t work that quick.

  • “the hills” website is holding a poll where you can vote for your favorite look/expression as seen on “the hills.” it is too season 3 heavy, but still obviously something i am in favor of and it certainly is more important than iowa. choose or lose! declare yourself! other slogans!

in the player is a song called “brb.” it is the second song i have written about “the hills.” there are some digital artifacts on the second verse that make it sound like i am going through puberty and also i think it is supposed to be le quotidien instead of la but i took italian, not french, and that’s not how we declined nouns. lately there have been some rumors that whitney is going to be out next season and is going to be replaced by jenna goldsmith. while this new character looks suitably bitchy and no doubt will be entertaining and dramatic, i will miss terribly whitney’s fauxwkwardity and quiet grace and use of IM expressions. the reported criticism of whitney is that she’s “too vanilla,” so i tried to do some classic vanilla (or maybe raspberry) power pop as a complement. being too vanilla is really funny criticism of a character on “the hills”; i mean, the show is almost g-rated; no sex or even mention of sex (besides hays code-y winks/nods/innuendi), barely even any kissing (as we saw last week), very little profanity, never any drug use, the cast besides spencer have jobs and “work hard” and are upstanding members of society who attend charity functions. occasionally lauren gets a little buzzed but hey, she’s 21, it’s legal. i swear, some days “the view” is racier.