Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reading Buffy Synoptically: Musings on the Buffy Canon

Kevin Durand (“Canon Fodder: Assembling the Text” in Durand (ed.); Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts, pp. 9-16) and Brent Linsley (”Canon Fodder Revisited: Buffy Meets the Bard”, ” in Durand (ed.); Buffy Meets the Academy pp. 17-24) have reinvigorated the exegetical criticism of Buffy. Durand argues that it is the shooting script of Buffy that is “canonical” for a variety of reasons. Linsley argues that the text that is “canonical” for Buffy is the final filmed version for a variety of reasons.

Let's assume Linsley is right for the moment. A question still remains, however: what filmed version is the canonical text of Buffy, the 4:3 or 1:33:1 version of Buffy or the 1:69 or 1:78 version?

Buffy save for the episode “Once More With Feeling”, was broadcast in the classic Hollywood ratio of 1:33:1, the aspect ratio that dominated TV from its beginnings until recently when more and more widescreen shows began to make their appearance, not coincidentally at the same time wide screen televisions increased in sales, on US and British television. The problem is that Buffy, at least beginning in season four, was filmed in widescreen and these widescreen versions of Buffy are available on the season four through season seven European DVD sets.

Buffy creator, writer, and director Joss Whedon has waded into the debate over standard ratio Buffy versus widescreen Buffy. In his IGN interview Whedon said he framed Buffy in the standard ratio:
IGNFF: Did it surprise you the reaction that the lack of widescreen for Buffy season four on DVD got here in the U.S.?
WHEDON: People were upset, right? I haven't seen the season four package ... it contains a disclaimer from me as to why it's not in widescreen, that I wrote. It's on it, it comes with it. It's not a widescreen show. We shot it in a TV ratio, and I am very, very specific with the way I frame things. To arbitrarily throw – and I love widescreen, but Buffy was never a widescreen show. It was an intimate, TV-shaped show. To arbitrarily throw wider borders on it, to make it more cinematic when I very specifically framed it. Think of "The Body" – the episode "The Body"...
IGNFF: Right, which I've seen in widescreen and full frame...
WHEDON: How could you have seen it in widescreen?
IGNFF: The U.K. sets are in widescreen.
WHEDON: Good. See, that is not the way I framed it. That's not the way it was meant to be seen, and therefore that's not the way I shot it. I'm preserving what I shot. The DVD is there to preserve what we made, for eternity. What we made, very specifically, was a certain shape. So I'm sure there'll be widescreen copies and there'll be arguments about what's better, but I'm not interested in – and I mean, I love widescreen. I'm a widescreen fanatic, when something's wide. When it's not, then I want to see it the way it was meant to be seen.
“Joss Whedon Interview”, IGN, 23 June 2003, p. 10

So, if Whedon’s is the authoritative voice as to which version of Buffy is canonical, standard ration Buffy or widescreen Buffy, it has to be conceded that the standard ration version of Buffy is the “canonical” version at least from Whedon’s point of view. Still we can study both and ask whether the framing and the mise-en-scene on the widescreen versions vary from those of the standard aspect ratio versions.

One other interesting fact about the difference between the European versus North American versions of Buffy on DVD is that the former contains the “previously on Buffy” introductions that were done for the series. Since I regard these, and particularly the “previously on” for “The Gift” as essential to the Buffy tale, I would have to say that at least in this regard the European DVD’s of Buffy are more canonical than the North American versions.

Given all of this one has to wonder whether there ever will be a final canonical DVD version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I guess we can await the release of Buffy on Blue Ray to see if this remains an open-ended question.

By the way, an important question needs to be asked about the Buffy text on DVD: Can the DVD’s of Buffy be canonical when they don’t contain the original commercials? The episodes of Buffy, after all, were structured around commercials and watching the Buffy text with commercials is different then watching them on DVD without commercials, isn’t it? Isn’t watching Buffy on TV a different experience that watching it on DVD?

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