Some say that before there were influencers, there was Paris Hilton. I don’t know if I agree with that, because influencer culture has always existed in some form, but it can’t be denied that Hilton possesses a unique kind of celebrity.
Actually, that’s an understatement. Those of us who were around in the nineties and aughts remember the Paris Hilton who was seen at every shindig and big event, especially if there was fashion involved, and no one could really nail down the reason for her fame except that she’s Barron Hilton‘s granddaughter. Other than that, she was an airhead with an accessory dog and a seemingly perfect life. No apparent smarts or talents, no distinguishing characteristics besides her catchphrase, “That’s hot.”
Oh, and then there was that infamous sex tape, which Hilton didn’t consent to and a lot of people would rather forget.
There was also The Simple Life, in which Hilton and Nicole Richie see how the rest of us live. There’s nothing like working in a rural convenience store and sleeping in a room with an open well to put things in perspective. Only it really didn’t, because the ladies didn’t seem to change at all. Sheesh, that show made me cringe.
However, as with most reality TV, the image of the spoiled, ditzy rich girl was all an act. Is anyone shocked?
This Is Paris busts the myth that’s been built around Paris Hilton, and it’s done in a straightforward, low-key way. Well, as low-key as it can be when its subject can’t be photographed in the same outfit twice and who has an entire secret closet of stuff yet to be organized.
The film starts in October of 2019, and we see Hilton preparing for a photo shoot. Then it flashes back to six months earlier, with Hilton driving to her grandpa’s house.
Hilton grew up in a conservative Catholic family and, believe it or not, she was a tomboy. Her mom thought she would be a veterinarian, but as Hilton got into her teens she revealed a penchant for partying.
Her worried parents put her in Emotional Growth schools, which were really work camps punctuated by harsh discipline. Hilton ran away from each of them. She kept partying.
Hilton’s experiences left scars: “I’m freaked out by people, especially men.”
It’s obvious she’s being tight-lipped about something, but that will be revealed later. Paris Hilton is a busy lady.
The film puts in a lot of time focusing on Hilton’s brand. She’s literally a brand now–she has her own fragrance, hotel chain, makeup line, skin care line, clothing line, and she’s the number one female DJ in the world, paid up to a million dollars per gig. Hilton plans on working until her net worth hits a billion.
Does she sleep? Er, no. Not much.
Hilton’s sister, Nicky Hilton Rothschild, is understandably worried. She wants her to take a vacation. Just leave the phone behind and go to Hawaii or something. It’s not possible, Hilton replies.
Rothschild says Hilton loves drama. She wants her life to move at a dizzying pace, always with something happening. Rothschild doesn’t say it, but Hilton acts like someone who’s trying to outrun her demons. It reminds me of something Judy Garland told George Cukor when they were making A Star Is Born: “I’m always afraid they’re going to catch me.”
When she was seventeen, Paris Hilton was literally caught. Some men came in the middle of the night and dragged her from her bed while her parents watched helplessly. She was taken to the Provo Canyon School in Utah, where she was subjected to emotional and physical abuse, including being stripped and locked up in solitary confinement.
This is where I felt sad and angry for her. Hilton’s mom said she had no idea that the school was so horrible, but her daughter being basically kidnapped right in front of her should have been a gigantic clue that something was rotten in Provo.
Hilton wasn’t the only one to be taken from her bed, either. Her fellow survivors have reported similar stories and there are numerous testimonies of abuse and negligence at the school. One of the best parts of the film was when Paris was able to reconnect with some of her Provo classmates and they talked about what they experienced. It’s one of the few times in the whole two hours when Hilton looks honestly relaxed.
The meeting is already having a ripple effect, although Provo Canyon School is now under different management. Since This Is Paris released they have been doing damage control.
This Is Paris is tough to watch because Hilton does a lot of unpacking literally and figuratively. More often than not Hilton sounds tired and looks lonely, but she soldiers on.
Fortunately, the film gives her a lot of room to breathe, with director Alexandra Dean calmly asking her questions off-camera. The filming style isn’t intrusive. There aren’t any funny angles or trendy quick cuts except for a few during Hilton’s DJ gigs. Each scene is allowed to play as if Hilton is hanging out with a friend. If Hilton needs distance, she gets distance. If a room is crowded, Hilton becomes a tiny face in the midst of the masses.
Dean employs animation the way she did in Bombshell, only sparingly and judiciously, usually appearing during the traumatic parts of Hilton’s story. I thought this was effective because it softens the intensity of these scenes every so slightly while still getting the point across.
I’ll be honest, I never was a fan of Paris Hilton. During her heyday I was pretty ambivalent about her and didn’t think too much about it when she seemed to disappear from the limelight. I never thought I’d be reviewing a documentary about her, but I was curious when I saw the trailer. And hey, that’s 2020 for ya.
Now, having watched This Is Paris, I can’t help but feel sympathy for her. I’m not sure Hilton is someone to look up to per se, but her drive and determination are certainly admirable. It takes a lot of guts to reveal as much as she did in this film. I hope Hilton’s demons are laid to rest and she finds real peace.
October starts tomorrow, guys. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Here’s a sneak peek at the month’s upcoming blogathons:
If anything looks interesting, please see the following bloggers:
- Me, because my blogathon starts Friday
- Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
- Virginie at The Wonderful World Of Cinema
- Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
- Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood
- Kristen at KN Winiarski Writes
And of course there will be some horror and noir on offer because fall and fun. As always, thanks for reading, and see you Friday…
This Is Paris is available to stream on YouTube.