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Never Leave the Basement

Critic:

Isabelle Ryan

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Posted on:

7 Dec 2021

Film Reviews
Never Leave the Basement
Directed by:
Evan Blum
Written by:
Nadia Vaeh, Dion Shaw
Starring:
Nadia Vaeh
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The music video for Nadia Vaeh’s pop-rock breakdown of social media dependency Never Leave the Basement follows an influencer as she connects with her audience and, in general, tries to get through the day. The upbeat hook and instrumentation jars with the reality of the message and slower bridge section, while the contemporary visuals go hand-in-hand with scenes of Vaeh dressed up like a 1950s pin-up, a 1970s free spirit, a 1990s alt-rocker, and so on. Essentially, the music video makes a case for our current obsession with online stars – their worshipful fans and derisive detractors – having much more in common with previous generations’ icons than many would care admit. To make the connection even more obvious, in one scene, Vaeh’s ’80s teenager sprawls on a bed overlooked by a poster of Marilyn Monroe (who, of course, is still misunderstood and misrepresented to this day).

 

Makeup and hair by Laura Bueno and Rachel Anderson, respectively, bring each era to life in a vivid, if deliberately stereotypical way: the 1950s beauty with her hair in curlers and bright red lipstick, the culturally appropriative hippie in the 1970s (she wears a white woman’s approximation of Native American dress), and so on. Additionally, Evan Blum’s editing (he also directed the video) combined with Marlo Madlangbayanz’s lighting and Lani Rose Ault’s work on the set design come together to create an almost overwhelming experience. One assumes this is the point: to hammer home just how much work social media influencers put in (even if people assume the job is easy), and how many parallels can be drawn between this new breed of star and the previous generations’. A great touch is the visual distinction between periods, from the black and white TV flickering to colour for the 1950s, grainy film stock in the ’70s, the 1990s video camera, etc. These effects appear to have been added in post – rather than filming the respective eras with different stock or cameras – but the visuals work, and one could argue that deliberately duplicating these aesthetics strengthens the overall message; these are more filters on the influencer’s phone.

 

Speaking of the protagonist, a short, memorable scene stops the song dead: Vaeh attempts to set up her phone and ring light to stream to her followers. She is alone in an otherwise dark room, quietly struggling with and cursing at her technology. Then, she fixes her hair, puts a smile on her face, and begins to sing and play guitar for an invisible audience. This moment hammers the point home strongest, and one could make a connection here between Never Leave the Basement and Bo Burnham’s Inside (Vaeh’s music video released just 25 days before Burnham’s special). Both explore this idea of art as performance – of self as performance – and the frustration faced by creatives who kill themselves to please their audiences, even when that audience is invisible. Such is the case with Burnham’s film and Vaeh’s fictional influencer. She is not glamorous like Marilyn Monroe or free-spirited like her 1970s proxy, but of course, Monroe was much more than her image, and hippies were more than their aesthetic. The influencer at the heart of Vaeh’s music video cultivates an image of cosy intimacy: wearing soft clothes, perched on a soft bed, lit by soft lighting, and strumming her acoustic guitar. Everything is a performance; every move is calculated for her online audience. And, as Vaeh sings, “I love myself online.”

About the Film Critic
Isabelle Ryan
Isabelle Ryan
Short Film