The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Toronto: "Paris, Not France" -- Hilton, not interesting

September 10, 2008 | 10:01 am

FROM THE TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: Hilton

Times correspondent Mark Olsen contributes this post to the Big Picture blog: Paris Hilton was present but not accounted for on Tuesday night at the world premiere of Adria Petty’s documentary “Paris, Not France” at the Ryerson. The film had been one of the very last schedule announcements for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and then had generated some subsequent buzz when its lone press screening and 2 of its 3 public screenings were mysteriously pulled. Rumors began to abound -- was Paris trying to suppress the film? Did it reveal too much? There has also much chatter about rights issues and possible legal entanglements. As with anything related to Hilton, the specter of media manipulation was undeniable.

If the cancellations were intended to drum up interest, it would be tough to say it worked. Tickets for the one remaining public screening were plentiful for journalists and minutes before showtime the theater’s balcony was almost entirely empty. Those who did attend could be said to skew slightly younger than most TIFF crowds, whether due to Hilton’s fan base or the fact of a 6pm screening on a Tuesday, although there were certainly a few more pairs of stiletto heels clacking by than for a typical festival screening. (What does one call fans of Paris Hilton anyhow? Paris-ites? Paris-ians?)

The project apparently started when director Petty (daughter of musician Tom) was assigned to make a film to go along with the release of Hilton’s 2006 album "Paris." It says something about the brutal speed with which culture is moving that the film seems oddly out-of-date, as the Paris it depicts is not the lower-key Paris of today, and there is certainly no mention of her infamous 2007 stint in jail. The film itself provides no time frame for what was shot when. Paris talks at length about herself while revealing essentially nothing and there is little true insight in the film into the Paris “phenomenon” of marketing, merchandising and monetizing within the new celebrity economy.

For that matter, the allegations that the Hilton camp is trying to suppress the film are hard to swallow, simply for that it sells the exact party line Paris herself has been hawking for some time -- she’s smarter than the public assumes, her public persona is a put-on indicted by the change in register between her famously breathy, girlish voice and her private, lower tones.

She also repeatedly portrays herself as a victim at the hands of media culture, and there is a painfully long sequence in which her notorious sex tape is discussed at wearying length. Hilton compares herself favorably to Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Princess Diana, but their tragic ends, and how it might relate to Hilton, is never addressed. The film could easily have been directed by Hilton’s crisis manager Elliot Mintz, who is given considerable screen time along with Hilton’s parents, sister and aunt, as well as the head of her merchandising firm, photographer Jeff Vespa, gossip columnists, Donald Trump, and media critic Camille Paglia.

While the festival’s initial press release for “Paris, Not France” referenced the '60s-era film “Darling” and Petty herself mentioned the French New Wave as an influence, there is no explaining away that the film, in the form as screened, is a mess. The sound recording on some of the interviews is shoddy and unpleasant to listen too, while some of the imagery is amateurishly rough. The songs used in the film -- including Madonna, The Beatles, Django Reinhardt, Belle and Sebastian, Pizzicato 5 and Paris herself –- have presumably not been fully cleared for use, as there were no credits indicating as such at the end of the film. It is hard to imagine any professional distributor wanting to get involved with such a thing, with or without the allure of the Hilton brand.

The Q&A session following the 68-minute film featured a few friendly questions from TIFF programmer Thom Powers for Petty and her editor John Gutierrez. (Hilton, with her latest beau in tow, never took the stage and quickly left the room.) No questions were taken from the audience.

“Paris, Not France” is perhaps the most damaging, most dangerous thing of all to a global brand based on glamour and fantasy: dead boring.

Photo of Paris Hilton by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

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