Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest"

As I rewatched the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I thought a lot about all the things that one can say about “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest”. I thought about the wonderful wit and humour of the episode and particularly the wit and humour of Buffy’s creator and writer and director (though not in this two parter) Joss Whedon: Buffy’s reference to a vamp as carbon dated. I thought about all the popular culture references in the episode: Buffy referring to that carbon dated vamp as looking like someone out of DeBarge, an R&B and funk group popular in the late 1970s and 1980s. I thought about the language of the episode: the language of the Master and his vampire minions is decidedly religious and gothic. I thought about Buffy’s blending of mode and genre: the episode blends humour, drama, tragedy, horror, and fantasy to name only a few. I thought about the metaphors in the episode: Joyce telling Buffy that everything feels like the end of the world to a sixteen-year-old girl. Ironically in this case that is exactly what will happen if Buffy is prevented from getting to the Bronze to save Sunnydale and the world from the impending apocalypse. But most of all I thought about Buffy’s cinematic qualities.

I don’t recall when I first recognized this but it is clear from rewatching the first episode of Buffy that Buffy follows in the footsteps of American TV shows like The Rifleman, Peter Gunn, Moonlighting, Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure, and X-Files all of which brought a cinematic quality to television. I was struck once again by the cinematic aspects of Buffy: the wonderful and elegant transition from the tunnel that Buffy and Xander are looking for Jesse in to the edge of the card catalogue in the Sunnydale High School Library where Giles and Willow are doing research, the wonderful moment when Buffy opens her chest and we see her normal stuff in the top tray and then her slayer stuff when she removes the top tray, a superb example of mise-en-scene revealing character, the wonderful use of music to underline the eerie, the wonderful use of sound to provide a sense of eeriness (the sound of rats in the tunnels) and comedy-horror (the sound of the Master poking out the eye of one of is minions, an act we hear but do not see), and the wonderful acting where so much is done trough gestures (Buffy’s facial expressions in the principals office at the beginning of the episode, Angel’s tragic facial expressions when Buffy asks him if he knows what it is like to have a friend just before Buffy goes underground to try to rescue Jesse).

The Virgin and the Whore: Buffy holds up two dresses “(holding up one) Hi! I’m an enormous slut! (the other) Hi! Would you like a copy of the Watchtower?”

Mythology: According to Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) the earth is older than popular mythology (Judeo-Christianity) has it.

Sound: Did anyone else think they could pick out what was looped and what wasn’t?

Music: Independent bands. Pop music to hook the younger “hipper” demographic?

Mise-en-scene: Buffy may be in colour but it is so dark that it almost feels like a black and white show. Graveyards. These will become one of the most prominent settings of Buffy as we will see. The Library and one shots. Whedon, as we will see, if a big fan of “oners.

Character: Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is infatuated with Angel (David Boreanaz): Buffy referring to Angel: “Dark, gorgeous in an annoying sort of way”). Buffy is athletic and strong, the tough female who kicks ass Joss Whedon intended her to be. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) is not the total wallflower (she who has seen the “softer side of Sears”, as Cordelia puts it). She gets back at Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Harmony (Mercedes McNabb) in the computer room (“deliver”). Cordelia is the queen of her own mental world and has her own royal court. Does Angel’s response to Buffy’s question about whether he has friends reveal something about his past? For those of us who have already watched this great series previously we know it does.

Love the scene where Buffy walks into an alley early in this episode. In this scene Buffy knows she is being followed. Traditionally some petite blonde is usually one of the first to get killed in horror films. This will not be the case here. Buffy turns down an alley, grabs onto bars over the street, swings up so she is vertical on top of the bar, and jumps the potential male assailant who is following her. Buffy ends up on top, the traditionally male position, and in control of the situation.

Music: I love the Nerf Herder Buffy theme. It has the energy of youth and the speed and rhythm of a fight, both things appropriate to a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show built around, in part, lots of young people and fighting.

Popular Culture: Reference to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, John Tesch (composer and Entertainment Tonight host), and actor James Spader (among his many roles is one in Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape).

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