Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Love Keeps Her in the Air"

It's a double shot of Whedon this week! And it's also a double shot of Slayers as the Re-Watch rumbles into Season 3 and we see a Slayer-less Sunnydale that suddenly finds itself with an unexpected surfeit of Slayers. Over in the film class, we follow up our dip into anime by taking a swim in Serenity. Fortunately, violence did not ensue.

Reel One: Over at the Re-Watch, Buffy follows up the events of "Becoming" by following the advice of Brave Sir Robin of Monty Python fame and running away. Cynthia Burkhead explains the first three episodes of Season 3 for us, which gives her a lot of ground to cover, as Buffy tries to re-invent herself in the glittering sewer that is Los Angeles (that's her at the top of the post in her "Anne the Waitress" persona), returns home to discover how much home has changed (or maybe the changes are in her) and how much her absence has affected people she loves, and a new Slayer comes to town. Burkhead approaches these three episodes through the lens of examining Buffy's dreams, which can be prophetic for the Slayer but also very instructive for the audience.

Reel Two: Ah, Serenity. My introduction to the 'Verse of Firefly, as I (hangs head, adopts defensive tone) missed the "blink and you'll miss it" half-season when it first aired on the Network That Shall Not Be Named. So this is how I met Mal (who I only knew as Caleb from much, much later on Buffy. I'll let the Re-Watch handle him in due time) and his quirky crew. The class seemed to enjoy the film - those River fight sequences are jaw-dropping - but I'm not sure the True Grit-meets-Mandarin-Chinese dialogue scored points. Still - a fitting bookend for the world of Bebop.

Coming Next Week: Guest speaker! Dr. Sherry Ginn, neuropsychologist, author, and national science fiction section chair comes to talk to the class about sex, gender, and space. All kinds of space.

See you there!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Take All That Away and What's Left?"


And with that exchange of lines, my conversion from casual fan to "this is something special and everyone should watch it" was cemented. Over at the Re-Watch this week, Steve Halfyard leads us through the musical feast that is the Season 2 finale "Becoming." If you're not going through this as a newbie, please also read the "spoiler forums" that follow the main posting. (On the other hand, if you ARE watching Buffy for the first time, take your time. You can only see it for the first time once and [trust me] it's worth savoring.) Confession - "Becoming, Part 2" is the first Buffy episode I ever saw and, while the above-referenced lines jumped me off the couch, a particular exchange between Giles and Xander* (characters whom, at the time, I did not know from Adam's house cat) made me want to stick around and see what happened.

Reel Two: Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we began exploring the "space Western" in class with a showing of the movie version of Cowboy Bebop. This film has so much going on! Leaving aside the detailed characterizations and depth of backgrounds, Bebop is also a great place to discuss sound in films for three reasons. First, in terms of the use of music - many different styles are presented, some underscore the onscreen action while in other places, the music serves as a counterpoint. Second, some of the music is diegetic (the characters, as well as the viewer, can hear the music) while in other places it is not. Third, as a Japanese film, it can spark a good discussion of the "dubbed vs. subtitle" debate.

I'm also finding it interesting I can easily locate links between my class films and the Re-Watch. Central to "Becoming" are the ideas of what we become, how knowledge influences our self-concepts and (most importantly) what we do with that information. In Bebop, characters are faced with those same dilemmas and viewers see that the answers matter. "Who am I?" and "What's important to me?" and (maybe most important to both "reels" this week) "What's my responsibility in this?" In "Becoming," Buffy (at least for a moment) fully embraces her identity of the Slayer - it's not a job, it's who she is. She's got people to protect and what she personally wants must be put aside to deal with what's right in front of her. In Bebop, Spike** protests as much as Queen Gertrude that he doesn't care about the sheep of the worlds, yet he fights mightily to protect a world of innocents who will never know what they were saved from.

Great stuff that makes you proud to be human.

* - Xander is playing hero and goes to rescue Giles. Finding him weak from torture and confused by Drusilla's mind tricks, Xander begins untying him. Giles thinks Xander's appearance is just another illusion. Giles: They get inside my head, make me see things I want." Xander looks him straight in the eye and applies unshakable logic to the situation: "Then why would they make you see me?"

** - Don't give me any guff about Watanabe's use of the name "Spike." I think there are some particular reasons for the name in Bebop. Timeline wise, Whedon's Billy Idol-ish Spike first appeared in late 1997 and Bebop first came out in 1998. That said, Bebop is animated, so that Spike was on the literal drawing board for a while. Whedon doesn't have a monopoly on cool tough guys named Spike, even if they both smoke like chimneys. Do I think there are links between Bebop and Whedon? Yep, and they come out in packs in Firefly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Work, Which Becomes a New Genre Itself . . .

Reel One: Actually, the only "reel" this week. My college is on spring break, so my film class didn't meet this week (I'll spoil you about what's going to happen when they come back later in the post). Not to fear, though - the Nik at Nite re-watch continues unabated! This week, Ian Klein dissects three episodes leading up to the jaw-dropping finale of Season 2. (Incidentally, those finale eps are where I first entered the Buffy boat lo those many years ago.) The twin "Becoming" episodes are so strong that these three can get lost in the shuffle, which is a shame. Klein does a lovely job of giving these episodes the credit they're (over)due. And Steve Halfyard explains the music to us - honestly, I love those bits. Musicology isn't my field (at all, despite my propensity for belting out lyrics at stoplights), and I enjoy learning more about how the music weaves themes together throughout a show that has such a special place for me.

Now - there is no "Reel 2" this week, due to the afore-mentioned break, a large chunk of which I'm spending drafting my paper on Whedon's circular take on Marvel's Kitty Pryde and his own Buffy Summers. The paper is due to be delivered at the end of April, so you'd think I had plenty of time. Then again, you've never seen me write. But I also had to do some prep work for my return to class next week, which meant re-watching the anime feast that is Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop. To borrow from Mal Reynolds, dear and fluffy lord, how I love this show! It's not without its flaws (Faye appears to be an amalgam of large, jiggly parts that are often posed provocatively for the camera and her heart is nearly as cold as outer space itself), but it also isn't afraid to ask the Big Questions. You know the type - "Must I always be my past?" and "Caring about people complicates matters - am I better off with people or without them?"

The music is stunningly good and is in many ways the heart of the show. The title of this post comes from a snippet on Bebop and is a reference itself to the free-wheeling nature of jazz: "The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called . . . Cowboy Bebop." At its best, Bebop is a meditation on freedom and the price that comes with it. Lovely, truly lovely work, but I must warn you. Don't let the cartoon nature of Bebop fool you. It'll dazzle your eyes and then break your heart. Poor FryDaddy (who was a fan before I was) had to put up with my storming around when the series ended as it should, rather than how I wanted it. My students will be spared that, as they'll see the film, rather than the series. Still, I wouldn't give up the hurt that came with "Real Folk Blues."

Yet my pain is being mocked. Apparently, Keanu Reeves wants to be Spike. (Not that I blame him. Hell, some days I want to be Spike!) The difference is, especially after the bank that was The Matrix, Reeves has the box-office pull to make this an Appealing Idea to Fox. The live-action deal seems to be stalled in Development Hell due to cost.

Let us give thanks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Genre in a Blender

Reel One: After multiple examples of films using straight-ahead, easy to follow narratives, we left the safety of the path this week and dove into the magnificence of Dark City. As a general rule of thumb, when the protagonist of a film is suffering from amnesia, the plot is going to go down a few rabbit holes. It's actually one of the (many) things I enjoy with this movie - you need to actually watch it. I included it on the syllabus to discuss the concepts of mise en scene and I think it provides a brilliant springboard for that discussion. Proyas' view of a sort-of New York is dark and mystic and foreboding. Buildings rise and fall at the collective whims of a race running experiments on us in a complicated attempt to understand what allows us to also be individuals. Time is running out, yet day never comes. Coming out a year before The Matrix, this film deals with some of the same issues, including the idea of "am I my memories?" and "if I am, and I can't trust those memories to be true, then who am I?" Dark City is often classified as a neo-noir, which I think is fair, but it fits in nicely with my sci-fi-centric class as well. (Another point that will come back up when we return from break is that the canvas that is science fiction is large enough to encompass any number of genres. More on that in the "Coming Next Week" portion!)

Reel Two: Buffy breaks my heart. Over at the Re-Watch, three amazing scholars tackle some crucial Season 2 storytelling. Hold the phone, Agnes! you say. Buffy? That late 90s thing based on that fluffy movie with that guy from the first 90210? She's in high school but goes around killing - what was it? - yeah, vampires. That's what you're talking about breaking your heart?

None other, Skeptical Ones. For this week, the Re-Watch gallops headlong into the valley of love, loss, maturity, grief, and flaming baseball bats. "Phases" can be sweet as love begins to blossom and "Bewitched . . ." can be funny and tragic by turns in its depiction of boomerang magic (be very careful what you wish for, when you put revenge into the mix) and then. Then there is "Passion."

I'll say no more about it - this week's lineup will spell it out for you (and Steve Halfyard even breaks it down by notes for you!) and really - this is where many a casual viewer sat up on the couch and said, "Whoa. They did that?" Whedon mixes genres into a fine puree sometimes - teenage angst gives way to slapstick gives way to gothic romance gives way to horror gives way to "clutch a pillow and cry for the loss of what never was."

This is why Buffy has (rightfully) sparked book after book and blog after blog.

Coming Next Week: The school is on spring break, so there won't be a usual "reel" for our film. However, I'm taking the time to finish watching the amazing and incredible Cowboy Bebop series, so I daresay I'll yammer on about Spike and Faye and Jet and Ed and Ein and the wonders of anime. The class will be watching the movie; I'm working through the original series. What? you say. Japanese animation? Huge eyes and sharp features and jerky movements? Piffle. Bebop has more heart and loveliness and humor and despair and hope than anything I've seen consistently in quite a while. Pokemon it ain't. Join me, won't you?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"She Made Me Feel Like a Human Being . . ."

"That's not the kind of thing you just forgive."

Reel One: Buffy's protective and broody boyfriend Angel gives in to his ongoing temptation. After nearly losing Buffy to the death and destruction promised by The Judge (and on her birthday, no less!), the two star-crossed lovers become - well, lovers. It's glorious for them both - each of them realizes the treasure that is the other and they take tremendous comfort in being with someone who knows all the secrets (and there are many) and still offers only love, acceptance, and tenderness.

Sweet, but this is Whedon. I won't get ahead of the Re-Watch in terms of the explanations, but Angel turns bad. Very, very bad. He's cruel to his bewildered lover, taunting her inexperience and trampling love and tenderness underfoot. So what'd Buffy get for her birthday?


The episodes this week (yes, even "Bad Eggs") set up some important Events To Come and are beautifully explained by this week's guest bloggers. Go on over there and take a look - and take your time reading the posts!

Reel Two: After a series of misadventures involving open windows, torrential thunderstorms, standing water, electrical cables and a recalcitrant DVD player, the film class managed to watch the original short film version of Impostor. (The plan was to watch the feature-length version, but Life Was Overtaken By Events and it became necessary to punt.) Interesting, and while the feature length version may drag a bit in the middle, this one felt almost breathless in its mad dash to the finish line. Still, some interesting points are made about what it means to be human - is it physical? The ability to remember events? The ability to feel pain and to bleed? Is it spiritual? In which case, how do you quantify that? Is it the ability to feel compassion for others, who may be unlike you? All good questions raised, but not necessarily answered here.

Angelus deeply resents being made to "feel like a human being," while the rest of us (at least those of us who aren't afflicted with some form of pathological condition) prize that quality.

Where will this go next week in Dark City? What happens when non-humans are running the show and we don't even realize there's a show being run? Tune in next week to find out!

PS - I'm working my way through the original "sessions" of Cowboy Bebop. That's sure to become an item of reference for the next little bit. I'm not quite a quarter of the way through and I think this series is an absolute gem. Freedom, down-on-your-luck-but-unwilling-to-give-up characters, spaceships, lost love, and reluctant do-gooding, all with an absolutely kickin' soundtrack! There's nothing here to not love. The opening was enough to grab me - see what you think!