Monday, June 30, 2008

Coming Soon: Dr. Horrible!!

I was out of town on the weekend, so I missed the big unveiling of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, but it is not too late to help spread the word! This is Joss Whedon's latest project, a three-part Web movie. As the Facebook profile states, it is "The story of a low-rent super-villain, the hero who keeps beating him up, and the cute girl from the laundromat he’s too shy to talk to." The super-villain is Neil Patrick Harris from How I Met Your Mother, the guy who beats him up is Nathan Fillion (WOO!) and the girl he's too shy to talk to is Felicia Day, best known in the Whedonverse as Vi, that British Potential with the jaunty hat.

The first episode will appear on July 15th, the second on July 17th, and the third on July 19th, and they will all appear here, on the official site for the show. The catch? They will all be taken down at midnight on July 20th, and thereafter will be available for download for a nominal fee before appearing on DVD.

The Man Himself posted on Whedonesque to tout the event, and here is his post (check out the link to see the other comments):

Dear Friends,

At last the time has come to reveal to you our Master Plan. BEWARE! Those with weak hearts should log off lest they be terrified by the twisted genius of our schemes! Also pregnant women and the elderly should consider reading only certain sentences. Do not mix with other blogs. Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this blog. You must be this tall to read. ‘Kay?

It is time for us to change the face of Show Business as we know it. You know the old adage, “It’s Show Business – not Show Friends”? Well now it’s Show Friends. We did that. To Show Business. To show Show Business we mean business. (Also, there are now other businesses like it.)


"Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog" will be streamed, LIVE (that part’s not true), FREE (sadly, that part is) right on, in mid-July. Specifically:

ACT ONE (Wheee!) will go up Tuesday July 15th.

ACT TWO (OMG!) will go up Thursday July 17th.

ACT THREE (Denouement!) will go up Saturday July 19th.

All acts will stay up until midnight Sunday July 20th. Then they will vanish into the night, like a phantom (but not THE Phantom – that’s still playing. Like, everywhere.)

And now to answers a few Frequently (soon to be) Asked Questions:

1) Why, Joss? Why? Why now, why free, why us?

Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kings and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

2) What happens when it goes away? Does it go to a happy farm for always like Fluffy did when mommy was crying and the neighbor kept washing his fender?

No, Dr horrible will live on. We intend to make it available for download soon after it’s published. This would be for a nominal fee, which we’re hoping people will embrace instead of getting all piratey. We have big dreams, people, and one of them is paying our crew.

And somewhat later, we will put the complete short epic out on DVD – with the finest and bravest extras in all the land. We’ll go into greater detail about that at Comiccon, but we’re changing the face of Show Friendliness a second time with that crazy DVD.

3) Joss, you are so kind, and generous, and your forehead is like, huge, like SCARY, like I think I can see Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint hanging off it… what can WE do to help this musical extravanganza?

What you always do, peeps! What you’re already doing. Spread the word. Rock some banners, widgets, diggs… let people know who wouldn’t ordinarily know. It wouldn’t hurt if this really was an event. Good for the business, good for the community – communitIES: Hollywood, internet, artists around the world, comic-book fans, musical fans (and even the rather vocal community of people who hate both but will still dig on this). Proving we can turn Dr Horrible into a viable economic proposition as well as an awesome goof will only inspire more people to lay themselves out in the same way. It’s time for the dissemination of the artistic process. Create more for less. You are the ones that can make that happen.

Wow. I had no idea how important you guys were. I’m a little afraid of you.

4) Joss, do you ever answer a question simply or coherently?


There’ll be more questions, and more long, long answers, but for now I’m just excited that we’re actually making this happen. We (and a lot of other people -- gushing to commence soon) worked very hard on the show and we hope/think you guys will be pleased. Until July 15th , I remain, yours truly, -j, of the firm j, j, m & z.

Still not convinced? Check out the trailer:

Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

The week of the show shall be Dr. Horrible Week on Nik at Nite, where we can discuss the show at length... let's drum up support for this, and get as many people over to the site that week as we can.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Site of the Day

Thanks to Maggie Elizabeth for this link. This site has been cracking me up all morning. Someone with mad Photoshop skills and a photo of angry Keamy about to shoot up the Lost island has put Keamy into various photos, and the result is SO funny. Check out a few of my faves:

You can see many, many more at Keamy's Paradise. Brilliant.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stuff for a Wednesday

I keep meaning to post on this, but then I forget again... I assume I have a gist of what new music is out there. My husband and brother are complete musos, so of course I can't compete with them (as my brother constantly reminds me) but I do typically know what's out there, especially on my home turf. My husband is a music writer for a large music publication, so our house is constantly bombarded with truckloads of CDs and DVDs. One day I saw sitting in his pile this DVD for a band called Moneen. I'd never heard of them, but after some googling, I discovered they've been around for a couple of years and have a fairly devoted following. I felt out of the loop.

But then I turned over the DVD and began looking at song titles, and imagine my shock when one of them was called, "Don't Tell Locke What He Can't Do." I madly opened the packaging and popped it in... and the song doesn't seem to have anything to do with Lost or Locke beyond the title. Which might actually be even cooler... I just haven't decided yet. The band sounds a bit like the UK's Muse, and when I googled "Moneen and Lost" I found this great discussion where people were trying to find hidden Lost meaning in the lyrics. Go here for more info on the band.

So, are you one of the ones who hasn't bought a single season of The Sopranos, because you'd rather save some money to buy the entire box set? Think again. HBO just announced the box set will come out with a price tag of $400. Unbelievable. Go to Costco and grab some of them up; they're usually about $40 each there. (While you're at it, grab The Wire AND WATCH IT... it's currently $25 a season!) Also, keep an eye on it... it'll be offered for less elsewhere.

I have a confession. I am totally, completely, head over heels in love with So You Think You Can Dance. My pals CC and SD encouraged me to watch it last season, and I actually started to like it, even though I only saw the last 6 episodes. (I wanted the guy to win, but c'est la vie.) I really disliked Mary on the judging panel, and thought she came off as a screechy Marie Osmond... I'd actually fastforward it every time she spoke. But now that I've seen it from the beginning, I have a new respect for her, and I think she's great. And the dancing is fantastic. I showed part of last week's episode to my 4-year-old daughter, and now she wants to take up dancing. I'm going to see if I can get her signed up. I've never had a dancing lesson in my life (seriously, Elaine in Seinfeld looks like Baryshnikov compared to me), so I usually stayed away from shows like this out of a complete lack of interest, but I'm hooked. My husband is very ashamed of me. But he thinks Road Trip is a funny movie.

Now that Battlestar is coming to an end (in 2009... FRAK!) Tricia Helfer has already landed herself a pilot on Fox. Considering the show is by Shaun Cassidy, who did Invasion, I'm intrigued already.

Well, this was going to be longer, but I have to go out and buy my daughter a bathing suit.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come, Revisited

So for my Lost talk at the Kitchener library last week, I rewatched “The Shape of Things to Come,” the Ben flashforward that I originally blogged about here. I was just meaning to go and check the opening scene, this time with the finale in mind, and thinking of it all being continuous from him moving the Frozen Donkey Wheel. Instead, I saw some new things I hadn’t really seen before, and so I wanted to reopen some questions to y’all on that episode.

So let’s start with the finale, with Ben turning the wheel to move the island, and subsequently being ejected from the island. He’s just killed Keamy, and as far as he knows, he’s blown up every person on the freighter. He’s said goodbye to Locke, and heads into the stalactite (or are they stalagmite?)-filled polar chamber. He’s ripped the Dharka on the way down, and the cut is pretty deep, into his arm. He turns the wheel, crying partly because he knows he’ll be forced off the island, and partly in mourning for Alex. There’s a flash, and boom… (now we’re in The Shape of Things to Come) he wakes up in the desert in Tunisia. He breathes out the arctic air and checks the arm of his jacket. He’s disoriented, freaking out, and he bends over and vomits onto the ground. Suddenly two Bedouin come riding over to him, and his mind is all over the place. You can tell he’s still confused… but this is Ben. He comes to his senses pretty quickly, overpowers the men, ties up his wound, and rides into town.

If we accept, then, that the events of TSOTTC come immediately after turning the wheel, then one assumes he’s had no time to prepare for what comes next, and luck just falls into his lap. At the hotel, where he finds out it’s October 2005, he sees a television where Sayid is talking about the death of his wife. Ben sees his opportunity and heads to Tikrit. He has a few days in there where he can put together a fake photo of the Widmore lackey, and convinces Sayid it’s actually a traffic shot of the guy at La Brea and Santa Monica. Sayid shoots the guy, and becomes Ben’s man.

So does Ben really zip 10 months into the future and whip up this too-perfect story, or does something else happen?

The answer to that question might lie in where he goes right after Alex is killed. He disappears into his hieroglyphic powder room behind the suit closet, and when he emerges, Old Smokey shows up angry as hell and eats all of Keamy’s men. The audience assumes the two actions are linked – that Ben went underground to call up the monster – but are they? Perhaps Smokey shows as the island’s reaction to Widmore “changing the rules,” and Ben had nothing to do with it. Maybe Ben disappeared into a time machine of sorts, and he already zipped into 2005, laid the groundwork for his war against Widmore, and then returned, knowing it was all in place. Maybe he simply did some research, and already watched Sayid mourning Nadia in the future once, figured out which Widmore lackey would be there, and then went through it all again… but considering post-Donkey Wheel he seems a little surprised about the date, and surprised to see the Sayid news clip, I don’t think he had things down to a science when he zipped forward. But he was definitely doing something under there, and I’m not convinced he was yelling “Sooey!” for Smokey.

Something I completely missed the first time, but now take it as proof of the claim that Claire is dead is a brief exchange between her and Miles. Sawyer saves her in his valiant hero scene, and takes her to the bedroom. Hurley is holding Aaron while the shootout is going on. He moves away from the window and goes to check on Claire. She comes out of the bedroom holding Aaron, and when Sawyer asks if she’s okay, she says, “Yeah, a bit wobbly, but I’ll live.” Miles, sitting nearby on the couch, replies bluntly, “Well, I wouldn’t be too sure about that.” Miles isn’t a fortune-teller, he’s a ghostbuster, so his reply wouldn’t be him seeing a flash of the future – it’s him seeing something right now. I’m thinking he senses from her standing there that she’s no longer with us. Death on the island is very different than death in our world. Yes, Nikki and Paulo and Ana Lucia and Libby and Eko and Boone and Shannon and dozens of others all left behind bodies to bury, but none of them were the offspring of Jacob’s mouthpiece. I’m thinking Claire means something different to the island, and it takes care of her because she’s Aaron’s mother. Maybe Smokey’s appearance had nothing to do with the death of Alex, and everything to do with the “death” of Claire.

I said it at the time, and I’ll say it again: that scene at the end of the episode is probably a harbinger of what is to come for the next couple of seasons. The episode IS called The Shape of Things to Come, after all… The face-off between Ben and Widmore never gets boring, no matter how many times you watch it. Ben asks Charles when he started keeping scotch by the bed, and Charles says it coincided with when the nightmares started. He asks Ben if he’s here to kill him, and Ben replies, “We both know I can’t do that.” Does he mean he can’t do it, as in it would be morally wrong? Or does he mean he can’t physically do it? Is Widmore immortal? Are they both immortal? (It would certainly explain how Ben takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’, but it would make his worry about his spinal cancer seem a little less serious.)

Rewatch this scene as if Ben is pure evil, and Widmore is the victim, and it plays out perfectly. When Ben says Widmore murdered his daughter, Widmore replies that they both know he did nothing of the sort, and that Ben did. Ben maintains that isn’t true, and Widmore repeats, “Yes, Benjamin, it is.” He asks Ben how he has the nerve to pretend he’s the victim, and then says, “I know who you are, boy.” It’s interesting he calls him “boy” here, as if he knew him as a boy and he’ll always be a boy to him. It’s why I think Widmore is much older than we originally thought. Perhaps his obsession with the Black Rock is because he was originally on it. So again, he says, “I know who you are, boy. What you are. I know that everything you have you took from me.” I know WHAT you are, he says, as if he’s something other than human. And he says he took everything from him, as if the island was his (maybe Alex was his?) and Ben usurped him in some way. Ben replies that he’s going to kill Penny, so that Widmore will know how he feels, and will regret that he’d changed the rules. Widmore says he’ll never find Penny (I guess by October 2005 Pen and Des are in deep hiding somewhere?) and Ben says he’ll never find the island, and Widmore says the hunt is on for both of them.

If this isn’t a signal to what’s next to come, I don’t know what is. I’m just hoping we get a LOT of new scenes with these two, because they’re riveting to watch together.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dwight Schrute: Warrior Princess

Check out Rainn Wilson dressed as Xena. Just when I think I couldn't love Rainn Wilson more, he dons a warrior woman outfit and begins using a Kiwi accent. (Also, watch the other Rainn Wilson dress-ups along the side... is it just me, or in the second one does he look more like Vic Mackey in a Federation uniform?)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Let the Arguing Begin!!!

Entertainment Weekly has put together a Top 1000 modern-day classics group of lists, with the top 100 of the last 25 years in several categories. For the purposes of this blog, let's just focus on the television (though I could argue about the movies, books, and music as well). Buffy is nicely placed at #10 (YEAH!) and Lost is at #8 (DUDE!)... I'm happy to see awesome placement for The Wire, South Park, Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development, The Shield, My So-Called Life, Six Feet Under, Mr. Show, 30 Rock, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Xena, and MST3K, (and yay, Kids in the Hall are on there!) and I'm happy that The Sopranos and The Simpsons are holding the top spots.

But hey, y'all know I need to bitch.

SO... Battlestar Galactica, The Office, Friday Night Lights, and NewsRadio should be higher. And where the frak are Angel, Firefly, Heroes, Pushing Daisies (hey, before you say I'm premature on that one, they have the Ben Stiller Show on there, a similarly brilliant show with few episodes to judge), Veronica Mars (forget about season 3 for a minute; season 1 is STELLAR television, and it deserves a spot just for that), Dexter, Animaniacs, Futurama, Blackadder...

I know, I know... I can't have the list custom-made just for me, but every show I listed there is far superior to some absolute mind-bogglers on there: Saved by the Bell? Are they joking??? If you're going to put some high school show on there, The Facts of Life was far superior (and maybe my 11-year-old brain that watched it is betraying me by remembering it as being better than it was, but it was DEFINITELY better than Saved by the Frickin' Bell). The Hills. They have included The Hills. And The Osbournes. It's entertaining to watch the Prince of Darkness struggle to change the garbage bins... but one of the top 100 shows of the past 25 years?! Are they mad?? And... Baywatch. As in... BAYWATCH. Oh. My. Joss.

Here, in all its simultaneous awesomeness and stinkitude, is the list. What do you think is missing? What are you happy with? What would you like to see off this list?

1. The Simpsons, Fox, 1989-present
2 The Sopranos, HBO (1999-2007)
3 Seinfeld, NBC (1989-98)
4 The X-Files, Fox (1993-2002)
5 Sex and the City, HBO (1998-2004)
6 Survivor, CBS (2000-present)
7 The Cosby Show, NBC (1984-92)
8 Lost, ABC (2004-present)
9 Friends, NBC (1994-2004)
10 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The WB (1997-2001); UPN (2001-03)
11 The Wire, HBO (2002-08)
12 South Park, Comedy Central (1997-present)
13 Freaks and Geeks, NBC (1999-2000)
14 The Daily Show, Comedy Central (1996-present)
15 The Oprah Winfrey Show, Syndicated (1986-present)
16 Arrested Development, Fox (2003-06)
17 The Office (U.K. version), BBC2 (2001-03)
18 American Idol, Fox (2002-present)
19 ER, NBC (1994-present)
20 Beverly Hills, 90210, Fox (1990-2000)
21 Roseanne, ABC (1988-97)
22 The Real World, MTV (1992-present)
23 The West Wing, NBC (1999-2006)
24 Star Trek: The Next Generation, Syndication (1987-94)
25 Miami Vice, NBC (1984-89)
26 Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central (2003-06)
27 Law & Order, NBC (1990-present)
28 The Larry Sanders Show, HBO (1992-98)
29 The Shield, FX (2002-present)
30 Late Show With David Letterman, CBS (1993-present)
31 The Civil War, PBS (1990)
32 Gilmore Girls, The WB (2000-06), The CW (2006-07)
33 My So-Called Life, ABC (1994-95)
34 24, Fox (2001-present)
35 CSI, CBS (2000-present)
36 thirtysomething, ABC (1987-91)
38 Beavis and Butt-head, MTV (1993-97)
39 Six Feet Under, HBO (2001-05)
40 Mr. Show, (HBO, 1995-98)
41 Frasier, NBC (1993-2004)
42 L.A. Law, NBC (1986-94)
43 Late Night With Conan O'Brien, NBC (1993-present)
44 Jeopardy!, Syndicated (1984-present)
45 Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO (2000-present)
46 Homicide: Life on the Street, NBC (1993-99)
47 30 Rock, NBC (2006-present)
48 Ally McBeal, Fox (1997-2002)
49 Twin Peaks, ABC (1990-91)
50 Baywatch, NBC (1989-90), Syndicated (1991-2001)
51. Melrose Place, Fox (1992-99)
52. Felicity, The WB (1998-2002)
53. Will & Grace, NBC (1998-2006)
54. Moonlighting, ABC (1985-89)
55. Pee-wee's Playhouse, CBS (1986-90)
56. Desperate Housewives, ABC (2004-present)
57. The Amazing Race, CBS (2001-present)
58. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, NBC (1992-present)
59. Battlestar Galactica, Sci Fi (2003-2008)
60. Xena: Warrior Princess, Syndicated (1995-2001)
61. The Office (U.S.), NBC (2005-present)
62. House, Fox (2004-present)
63. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Comedy Central (1989-96), Sci Fi (1997-99)
64. The Osbournes, MTV (2002-05)
65. Family Guy, Fox (1999-2002, 2005-present)
66. Grey’s Anatomy, ABC (2005-present)
67. Planet Earth, Discovery Channel (2007)
68. Jackass, MTV (2000-02)
69. The Colbert Report, Comedy Central (2005-present)
70. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS (1996-2005)
71. Friday Night Lights, NBC (2006-present)
72. NewsRadio, NBC (1995-99)
73. Oz, HBO (1997-2003)
74. Wiseguy, CBS (1987-90)
75. Project Runway, Bravo (2004-present)
76. In Living Color, Fox (1990-94)
77. The Golden Girls, NBC (1985-92)
78. I'll Fly Away, NBC (1991-93)
79. The Comeback, HBO (2005)
80. King of the Hill, Fox (1997-present)
81. Murphy Brown, CBS (1988-98)
82. The Hills, MTV (2006-present)
83. Absolutely Fabulous, BBC2 (1992), BBC1 (1994-2004)
84. Northern Exposure, CBS (1990-95)
85. The Kids in the Hall, HBO (1989-92), CBS (1992-95)
86. Prime Suspect, ITV (1991-2006)
87. Deadwood, HBO (2004-06)
88. Malcolm in the Middle, Fox (2000-06)
89. SpongeBob SquarePants, Nickelodeon (1999-present)
90. Dawson's Creek, The WB (1998-2003)
91. Mad Men, AMC (2007-present)
92. The Ben Stiller Show, Fox (1992-93)
93. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Bravo (2003-07)
94. Married...With Children, Fox (1987-97)
95. Designing Women, CBS (1986-93)
96. The Arsenio Hall Show, Syndicated (1989-94)
97. Party of Five, Fox (1994-2000)
98. MacGyver, ABC (1985-92)
99. The Bachelor, ABC (2002-present)
100. Saved by the Bell, NBC (1989-93)

Check out the other lists here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Attention Southern Ontario Lost Fans

I really should have posted this sooner, but I'm going to be leading a discussion of Lost (specifically, I hope, Season 4 of Lost) at the Kitchener Public Library in Kitchener, Ontario tomorrow night -- Tuesday, June 17 -- at 6:30pm. It's about an hour from London, an hour from Toronto, and I know several of y'all live in Toronto, so come on out and let me meet you in person!

You can call the library to register ahead of time (this is just to give them a sense of the numbers; no one will be turned away at the door) at 519-743-0271, ext 255. The program is scheduled to go until about 8pm. For more information, visit the Kitchener Public Library website here. Here are the directions.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Slayage Conference: Some Fave Moments

And now, some of my favourite moments I forgot to mention earlier (I can hear you out there, by the way, "Oh my GOD, Nik, do you KNOW how to write briefly?) The short answer: No. (Hey, check me out... I gave a short answer!!)

After the initial keynote packed the house in the smaller seminar room (Sue and I were sitting on the stairs along with dozens of other people) they moved the morning keynote speeches to an amphitheatre, complete with spotty sound system and microphone. (I, on the other hand, delivered mine behind coconut cream pie... personally, I like my setup better!) When we walked out of the amphitheatre the first day, we walked down the halls, which had Greek flags hanging from the ceiling for all the sorority girls and frat boys. (Yes... the irony of discussing anti-frat boy Buffy eps like "Reptile Boy" and "Selfless" in an institution that was glorifying them was not lost on me.) In Canada, sororities and fraternities aren't celebrated in quite the same way. They exist, sort of, but they don't have their own houses. I still remember the first time I went to Georgia and we drove around to see the gorgeous mansions with the big Greek signs on the front lawns, and that was when I understood WHY people want to get into them. But anyway... my favourite moment in the hallway at Henderson was finding the pictures of "Miss HSU." I have no idea if a pageant is involved (I SO hope it is) but in these pictures the gals all have gigantic hair with tiaras glued in there, and big shiny dresses and the wide-eyed fake smiles that make the photos absolutely perfect. Sue and I snapped some photos (sadly, the photos were on her camera, and I don't have copies, so I can't post them yet... but I will).

I went into the smallish bookstore on campuses (at the universities I went to, the bookstores were the size of department stores). There were probably 15 or 20 people in the store, and you could tell where the Buffy books were because they were all crowded around one small area. It was a thrill to see my books in amongst the more scholarly ones (and people actually looking at -- and buying -- my book... bonus!) Because I couldn't get anywhere near the display, I instead went over to the fiction books and found this one, called Attack of the Theatre People. This was the back cover copy:

It is 1986, and aspiring actor Edward Zanni has been kicked out of drama school for being “too jazz hands for Juilliard.” Mortified, Edward heads out into the urban jungle of eighties New York City and finally lands a job as a “party motivator” who gets thirteen-year-olds to dance at bar mitzvahs and charms businesspeople as a “stealth guest” at corporate events. When he accidentally gets caught up in insider trading with a handsome stockbroker named Chad, only the help of his crew from How I Paid for College can rescue him from a stretch in Club Fed.

I so wanted it, but if it's a sequel to another book, I want to read the other book first.

Outside of the building, there were two women standing on the pavement looking at something and poking it with their foot. Sue and I are instantly drawn to people poking things with their foot, and we wandered over. It was one of those awful palmetto roaches... thankfully, dead. Now we got to see up close something we just wanted to be far away from us when it was alive. We described these horrible things to the women standing there, and I think we gave them the heebie jeebies.

On the night of day 3, Sue was determined to get a photo of these things. We went out onto the veranda for our hang-out session with the others staying at the B&B, and a dozen of the bugs came swarming out from under the table. Sue ran in the other direction, I stood and shuddered and lifted one foot after another, freaking out completely. I hated being the little fraidy girl, but I can't help it. If a snake slithered out in front me, I'd glance at it and go back to what I was saying. And yet the tiniest bug moving quickly can reduce me to a maniacal mess. I HATE bugs.

As we left the veranda, we saw one of the creatures sitting on a post, and Sue got out the camera. Someone quickly mentioned we needed perspective, and sat his bottle of Bud Light beside it, and she took the shot. It was awesome (as soon as the flash went off, the bug ran away. More squeals). David Lavery had told us the first night that he once was vacationing in a motor home of some kind, and he went out during the day and left all the windows (no screens) wide open. He got back, opened the door, and hundreds of these palmetto roaches descended from the ceiling. I think, quite honestly, I would have just passed out from sheer panic.

Other favourite moments: A line Sue and I repeated often throughout the weekend: "What happens in Arkadelphia STAYS in Arkadelphia." What possibly embarrassing thing(s) could have happened to have made us repeat this over and over? Wouldn't YOU like to know.

During one dinner chat, Ian asked us if we'd seen the crazy Brenda Dickson videos on YouTube. Sue asked if Brenda Dickson was the actress from Y&R. Ian looked stunned, and said he'd never met anyone who actually knew who this woman was outside the videos (one thing you must know about Sue... she knows the real names of every actor on every soap... I could watch a soap for 20 years and not know the name of the person, but not Sue: she makes it her mission) so that was funny to begin with, but then he began doing his impression of these Welcome to My Home videos, and they sounded brilliant and crazy. He said there were a bunch of parody videos, and I asked why anyone would have to parody them if they were self-parodies to begin with, and he said you just have to watch them. So I did, and I couldn't stop laughing. You can watch them on Ian's blog here. I think "vajine" is my new favourite word. I wish Ian would do a video himself, because a lot of my laughter was remembering his impersonation of them, which was deadpan and hilarious.

The first day of the conference, we were desperate for a place to have lunch. We'd heard about Sonic, which is apparently a chain of drive-in burger restaurants, and we'd been told the waitresses roller-skate out to your car. We were also told if you didn't have a car, you couldn't go in. The guy who took us to our room at the B&B, this adorable kid named Chad ("kid," she said... man, I'm getting old) told us the Sonic was the closest place, and said, "Nah, y'all can go there if you don't have a car!" so off we went. On the way we were bitten by some cactus that was hanging out onto the sidewalk, and as we came down the hill, there was Sonic.... and Ian and Ryan sitting there! So we sat down and went over to the speaker and it was so weird giving our order without sitting in a car. I must report that contrary to what I'd been told, the waitresses did NOT wear roller skates. Wah. We all began discussing this interesting building across the street that was called "God's House." The worst part? It was empty. Eep.

At the banquet where I gave my keynote, we were told that of the 8 metal hot pans of food, the first one had the vegetarian dish in half of it. I leaned over to Ian and Ryan and joked, "And the other half is meat!" And guess what... the other half was meat! Seven other trays and they couldn't have put the mashed potatoes on the other side of the vegetarian tray? Sigh...

After the dinner and my speech, Rhonda and David passed out lyrics to Once More With Feeling, and we sang the entire thing as a massive group. It was AWESOME. I've been to some Buffy singalongs before, but this one was so much fun (and I belted it out a little too much; I was hoarse for the rest of the weekend). My favourite part (and the moment I knew this was a group of Buffy fans I was deeply in love with) was when we got to the part where Dawn says (as I've mentioned already in another post): "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it" and as I've always done since the first time I watched that episode, I muttered, "Shut UP, Dawn." Much to my surprise, half the room said it at exactly the same time!!


Oh, and in another funny moment at the banquet, Matthew Pateman was awarded the Mr. Pointy Award, and was told ahead of time he couldn't make any obscene jokes about what it looked like. He simply took it, stood there for a moment, and said, "I'd like to thank my father," and sat back down. Ha!

In David Lavery's talk on Joss Whedon's work in film, he gave a great quote from Joss: "Just because you're a script doctor doesn't mean every patient lives."

In Ian's speech on fandom, Tanya Cochran, who is the co-editor with Rhonda Wilcox of a new Firefly/Serenity book that I picked up while I was there (definitely worth it: it contains essays by many of the people at the conference), began talking about a YouTube series of videos that parody Angel, and they're called "Cherub: The Vampire with Bunny Slippers." You can check out the trailer here, and it looks pretty funny.

Sue and I drove back to the airport with Matthew, who generously offered us a ride in his rental car. Afterwards I said to Sue maybe we should give him some money, since he had to pay for the rental and gas and all, but then we realized we only had American or Canadian, and he wouldn't have much use for either. So, next time I see him, I'll buy him a couple of beers. Unless the conference is in a dry county again. In which case, I'll spring for some gigantic onion rings.

I'm not sure if I mentioned Kevin Durand yet... he was the organizer and the guy who hosted it at his college, and he was aces, as I told Rhonda. I can't believe how smoothly the whole weekend went. The poor guy was run off his feet; every time I saw him he was rushing from one place to the next with a cellphone attached to his ear, and I'm not sure he got to see any of the papers. (I hope he did.) I kidded him in the beginning that he had the same name as an actor on Lost, and as Keamy became more important to the storyline, it became an onrunning joke. Between organizing this conference and flying between Arkansas and Hawaii, Kevin's had his hands full for sure. Thank you so much to Kevin and his army of amazing volunteers, especially Jeremey and Brent, who I probably chatted with more than any of them. They were all incredible.

I must say the Little Rock airport boasts the nicest airport security I've EVER met. Usually airport security people absolutely ooze with hatred for everyone passing through, but the guy who put my luggage through to cargo couldn't have been kinder, and the woman who scanned my passport with her UV thingie asked how I'yall was doing, and told us to have a nice trip. The man who gave us our boarding passes saw we were from Ontario, looked again to see that we were going to Detroit, and said, "So what will y'all be doing in Detroit, walking across the border??" and he laughed. Sue replied, "Nah, we'll probably jog."

Our plane got in early, and then proceeded to sit on the tarmac for over an hour. Argh. I've never had that happen before, and to make matters worse, it was during a freakishly close lightning storm (by close I mean we saw a bolt hit a couple of runways away, and I undid my seatbelt and pulled my arms close, not wanting to touch any metal of any kind.

Once we were inside the airport, we went straight to luggage, where our luggage was right there, grabbed it, and were heading to the parking lot when I said to Sue, “Man, if that damn plane hadn’t sat on the runway for that long, we’d have been halfway home by now!” I’d written down where our car was parked, and we got off the elevator, went straight there, et voila, car! I hit the keyless open button on my key… nothing. Hit it again. Nothing. Tried the trunk. Nothing. CRAP. I’m thinking that maybe the x-ray had desensitized my key, and it’s the only key I’ve got, how the hell will I get back home?? I call my husband, and ask him if he thinks the alarm will go off if I try to open it with the key (usually if you lock it with the keychain, it won’t open without the alarm going off). He said he didn’t think so, so I tried it. It didn’t go off. And that’s when I noticed the interior lights didn’t come on either... battery was dead. ARGH.

The irony? The battery died because I left an interior light on... a light I’d turned on so I could write down where the car was parked so we WOULDN’T BE STUCK IN THE PARKING LOT. I was SO angry with myself, but it took less than 10 minutes for a guy in a golf cart to show up, give us a jump, and we were on our way.

Silly silly silly. So, my week away at the conference ended with a bit of a burp, but hey, no one knows I did it, right? This is just between you and me.

I got home and sneaked into the house, and into my son’s room. (Here is a picture of the little cherub… when I was 6 months pregnant with him, my daughter began calling him Pickle, and the name has, sadly, stuck. My dear friend Crissy – and fellow Buffy fanatic – made this shirt for him.) He was curled up in one corner of his crib, looking like an angel. My daughter, with her mop of curly hair, was equally perfect. The next morning I awoke to little arms being thrown around my neck and her kissing my face and saying, “Mommy! I missed you! I love you!” over and over. Ah... it’s so nice to have something like that to come home to.

Interestingly, the morning after my keynote, one of the attendees approached me and asked if I could send him my paper, and he explained that unlike me, the high school thing in Buffy didn't appeal to him, and when I listed off all of the moments that had deep meaning for me, they didn't have the same meaning to him. He added that perhaps it's because he's older, and I said to him that since having kids, I've watched all shows in a completely different way. I've been accused of being unfair to Joyce in my books, and I always have to explain that my point is that Joyce comes off a certain way; she's not necessarily a bad mother, but we are supposed to see her from Buffy's point of view, and that's the brilliance of that character. She's marginal, and interfering, just as a teenager would see her, and as Buffy matures, Joyce seems to be a more interesting character. I wonder if on my next viewing I'll see Joyce differently from the start?

So here endeth my Slayage 2008 reminiscences. Thanks for reading! Well, actually, no. I'm lying. I think I'll post one more post that will be about the critical reaction to the conference that I've seen on a couple of forums, and how much that infuriates me. Prepare for my soapbox, it's coming soon.

But until then... back to Lost!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Slayage Conference: Day Three

Mmm... Wesley.

Sorry, where was I?

Day Three. I've already given you the opening of it, with Jeanine Basinger's fantastic talk. From her keynote we went to see Stacey Abbott, who was a featured speaker and author of several Buffy-related tomes, including Reading Angel (long discussion on how it was supposed to be Investigating Angel, but her publishers wanted to attach it to their "Reading..." series). Her paper:

"'I don't know what kind of man I am anymore': The Damaged Man in Angel and post-Angel Cult Television"

Her talk was about an hour long (and she was the master of power-point and audio-visual clips) and she focused on Wesley and Gunn as examples of damaged men in Angel. She had the honour of having Jeanine Basinger in her audience, which was the only session where I saw her (which must have been daunting, but Stacey certainly didn't act like it was), and it was a fantastic paper. And, for me, depressing. Matthew Pateman, in his keynote, mentioned that Wesley is his favourite character of either show, and he got a smattering of applause and cheers for saying that. One of the applauders was me. I heart Willow more than words could say, but Wesley was the richest character, and one of the most remarkable examples of character development I've ever encountered (and I'm counting books, TV, and movies in there). He begins as a sputtering Hugh Grant-type with the hots for Cordelia, and you roll your eyes and hope he lasts a couple of episodes before being eviscerated. I'll admit when he showed up in episode 10 of Angel after Doyle had died, I just stared at my television in horror thinking, "You're going to replace Doyle with HIM?!" Yet by the end of season 1, he was already intriguing. By the end of season 2, I loved him. And by season 3, he was the main reason I was glued to my set week after week. Never has a character been more put upon (Erica Kane? Puh-leeze... Wesley WISHES her life were as easy as hers!) and as such, become dark. Wesley changed SO much throughout the development of his character, and just when you thought maybe, just maybe, he might be happy, something else happened. (SPOILER ALERT for season 5): When he dies in the final episode, I was bawling my head off, and it took days for me to recover my senses, and yet, at the same time, his death was a welcome one, as if only in death might Wesley find just a small bit of peace.

So when Stacey began talking about Wesley as a damaged man, showing clips of some of his darker moments, I felt a lump rising in my throat. The clips were painful to watch (and I mean that as a compliment), and while other papers made me want to explore a few episodes, Stacey's made me want to watch the series in its entirety once again... or maybe just seasons 2-5 (skipping part of 4) and focusing on Wesley. She showed that incredible scene (filmed by Whedon, of course) of Gunn and Wesley squaring off in "Spin the Bottle," where Gunn looks at him squarely after Wesley shows very little emotion or remorse for anything, and says, "What happened to you, man?" And Wesley, in a moment so perfectly delivered by Alexis Denisof, says, emotionless, "I had my throat cut and all my friends abandoned me."

Talk about the line that can stop a conversation.

It's one of my favourite moments in the series, and I was thrilled she showed it. Even if it made me want to crawl into a fetal position and not move for a couple of days.

She also talked about Gunn, but even his damaged self usually feeds back to Wesley. When Gunn makes the pact that eventually kills Fred, it's Wesley who must face Illyria and force himself to become her Watcher, so to speak. When I was working on my Once Bitten book and interviewed Alexis Denisof, I was very lucky in that he was gracious enough -- and eloquent enough -- to give me as long as I wanted, and he eagerly went through Wesley's entire character development with me, helping me map it out and giving me his thoughts along the way. It's the reason why, out of all the actor interviews I did for the book, his is the only one that I just ran verbatim as its own chapter. I hope at the next Slayage conference there's a panel devoted to Wesley. Or how about a day? A weekend? I'll be there. :)

Just as a side note, Stacey also mentioned other damaged men in genre television, and noticed the prevalence of damaged men named Jack: Jack Bristow (Alias), Jack Shephard (Lost), Jack Bauer (24), Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood)... as well as the Pie Maker (Pushing Daisies) and Logan Echols (Veronica Mars).

After Stacey it was lunch time. Sue and I wanted to take pics with Ian and Ryan, our two lovely friends, and we pulled someone out of the lineup for shuttles so she could take our pictures (staking each other with the Slayage Registration sign) and then when we turned, the shuttles were gone. D'oh. Luckily we found one more and we all went to Subway. After that we headed over to the B&B to sit on the veranda (during the day = less bugness) and chat about what we'd seen so far and what we'd missed. One of the scholars, David Kociemba, had been in a few sessions and he always had some of the most insightful comments (he was the one who suggested Willow's addiction is more like Overeaters Anonymous and not Narcotics -- at that same panel, when someone commented that Nikki Wood was a bad mother because she took her son Robin slaying with her at night, David retorted, "Hey, good daycare is hard to find!" hahahahahahaha!!). I'd missed his paper on "The Spoiler Virgin Project," but it sounds fascinating. I've asked him to email it to me and I can't wait to read it! Basically, he teaches an entire course on Buffy (how much do I wish I was in his class?!) and he said he's got three different kinds of students: those who haven't seen Buffy and think it's an easy course, those who have seen it all and are well-versed in it, and those who say they haven't watched it, but it turns out they have. So his big conundrum has been spoilers: How do you teach a class on seasons one and two without giving anything away, especially if you assign reading and the paper you assign them to read refers to events a few seasons away? So he started the spoiler virgin project, where he has gone through all the academic papers and worked out which ones are safe for what episode. As someone who DESPISES spoilers, I loved it. This is a man after my own spoiler-free heart. So that began a long discussion on spoilers and non-spoilers and why people want them, etc.

The next panel was a "Dynamic Duo" session, where two key speakers who have made names for themselves in the academic Buffyverse give papers. The first was Janet Halfyard, whose paper, "Hero's Journey, Heroine's Return: Buffy, Eurydice, and the Orpheus Myth" was another one of my favourites. In fact, when I had to vote for my fave paper for the Mr. Pointy Award (more on that later), I was torn between this one and Rhonda's. The genesis of Halfyard's paper was an intereseting one: at a 400th anniversary session of Monteverdi's Orfeo, she was called up and asked if the Orpheus myth plays any role in Buffy, and if so, could she talk about it. She thought about it, and decided yes, she could. So she used clips from Prophecy Girl, for example, to show how Buffy plays the role of Orpheus, descending into the underworld of the Master's domain with her black leather jacket over her prom dress, holding her crossbow like the lute that Orpheus is usually depicted holding, and as such she becomes the hero. But when she is overcome by the Master, he removes the black jacket, and she is now the damsel, or heroine, as Halfyard contended, and she becomes Eurydice, held forever in the underworld. As such, she becomes both the hero, and the girl the hero is trying to save.

She next talked about Angel's return, and that Buffy is able to bring him back from the underworld by doing the very thing Orpheus couldn't do -- she lays the ring on the ground, and walks away, and does NOT look back. And that's how Angel returns. Brilliant!! She pulled up a clip from Once More With Feeling where Buffy casts herself as Orpheus, descending into Sweet's underworld to save Eurydice (Dawn). The scenery is very much like the original production of Monteverdi's Orfeo (Halfyard pronounced this with absolute delight, which I loved), and when she begins to dance herself to death, Spike becomes her anti-Orpheus, saving her (she played the clip up to the point where Spike sings, "So one of us is living" and then stopped it, saying, "I can't bear to listen to Dawn's terrible line there" Hahahahahahaha!) And she said ultimately, Spike, the anti-Orpheus is the one left behind in hell in Chosen.

What a paper!

Next up was Dale Koontz, whose paper was entitled, "The One That Almost Got Away: Doyle and the Fish Story." Koontz's book is about issues of faith in the Whedonverse, and in her terrific paper, delivered in her exquisite southern accent (I could have listened to her talk all day), she talked about Doyle's short journey, and compared it to various biblical stories, particularly the story of Jonah. She said the name Doyle translates to "Dark foreigner" and that his visions, where he says he feels like his skull is on fire, are like Moses talking to God in the form of a burning bush. In "Hero," where Doyle sacrifices himself to save the group, it's like Jonah jumping off the side of the boat and being swallowed by a giant fish. It was nice to see someone bringing in faith issues in an academic paper, which is usually more of a secular realm, and I loved her analogies. (And the fact it was another paper on Angel!)

And now we were down to the penultimate session... over so soon? I wish this conference had gone on for weeks. Well, okay, I was missing my children terribly, and the few conversations I'd had with my 3-year-old on the phone, where she began crying in one and begging me to either come home or let her come and be with me where I was, were heartbreaking... but if this conference could just come my way at some point so I can see the kids every day, I'd be in heaven.

The final paper of the day for me was "Myth, Metaphor, Morality and Monsters: How BtVS and Other Works by Joss Whedon Changed Ethical Thought Forever." It was written by J. Michael Richardson and J. Douglas Rabb. Rabb couldn't be there, so another person helped deliver the paper with Richardson. The profs were from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay (more Canucks!) I was very intrigued by the title, and unfortunately I arrived a few moments into the paper (it was the only one I was late to) so I missed the opening. I'm thinking that's what went wrong for me -- I didn't hear the thesis, so when the paper moved into a hour-long discussion on biomedical ethics, I was lost. And not in a good way, on a desert island with Sawyer and Desmond and..... okay, I'm back. There were very few moments where it was brought back to Whedon's work, so it was difficult for me to ground it in something tangible for my mind. I'm sure the paper was absolutely brilliant, but biomedical ethics are way beyond my realm of understanding, so it was tough for me. He was speaking English, but no matter how many times I tried my hardest to focus, I just couldn't. I really wanted to be able to report back to y'all on this one, but I can't. There was one point they made that I grasped onto and it made sense (because it was brought back to Whedon) where they talked about Sartres' Jean Genet, and the idea of Bad Faith: Like Jean Genet, Faith becomes bad because that's the label that's been put on her. She became the object of another person's narrative, and lost her own. What that had to do with the rest of the paper, I couldn't tell ya, but it was a wonderful concept.

If someone else reading this right now was at that paper and made sense of it, please post and let me (and my readers) know what it was about, so I can do some justice to the paper. I can say it was presented with enthusiasm and charisma, and the presenters really enjoyed their topic.

The final final session of the day was called "Buffy Bookers" and it was a collection of everyone who's written a book on Buffy. I saw my name on the list and worried momentarily... like I had just run a marathon and was suddenly told, "You do remember the swimming leg of the race, right?" Uh... I'm sorry, what? But David quickly reassured me that it's really not much more than sitting there and talking about how we got published and what our books are about and sharing experiences -- good and bad -- about the publishing experience. Because I work on both sides -- I'm a writer, but also an editor and I acquire books -- I could provide some extra insight for the listeners, but I also was fascinated by some of the stories on the panel. Not being paid anything for the books? Having to pay your publisher to publish the book?! Not being edited at all when you hand it in?? The wrong version of the book going to press? Wow. I was stunned by some of the stories. As I told the people in the room, I'm interested in publishing academic pop culture volumes along the lines of what people in the room have done, but what I failed to mention was that in trade publishing, the bottom line is the sales. So if they can show me how there might be a chance for sales -- and I could convince the publisher to expect lower sales on these ones -- we might have a chance to start such a thing!

I got two pitches right after the panel. :)

At the panel, by the way, they presented the Mr. Pointy Award for best paper to Cynthea Masson, who'd delivered a paper I sadly missed on the Angel episode "The Girl in Question." Here's a photo of Mary Alice Money and Rhonda Wilcox holding a previous incarnation of the handmade award. We all joked about how much fun she'd have bringing that one onto the plane.

It was now off to dinner, and about 25 of us piled into several shuttles to head off to the Hamburger Barn (we were raving about its poshness) but when we got there? Closed. Apparently some things actually close on Sundays in Arkadelphia. Luckily, in that same parking lot was a pizza restaurant. So we piled in there instead (you should have seen the looks of horror on the faces of the one waitress and couple of guys making pizzas who had assumed it would be a slow night... Joss could have filmed it for a reaction shot) and had to wait for the buffet to be replenished a bit. Sue and I sat with Ian and Ryan and they regaled us with stories and we were in stitches for most of the dinner. I love those guys. I miss them already.

And then it was a sad goodbye, and back to the B&B where Matthew drove us (after I reminded him to stay on the right side of the road... and then admitted to taking a roundabout THE WRONG WAY AROUND once when I was in England. Gulp). Sue and I turned on our television (I mean, come on, we have our priorities) and it was a heavily censored version of Pulp Fiction, which I posted about because I was so shocked to see it. We watched as Marcellus Wallace called Butch a "cod jam mother-father" when there was a knock on the door and it was Rhonda inviting us out onto the veranda for round two of our discussions, and it was just as much fun as the first night.

I loved the Slayage Conference (can't you tell??) and I'm in full-on withdrawal now. I know I've missed a bunch of stuff (how is that possible?! you may be asking yourself, considering the length of these posts...) so I'll write up a separate post tomorrow morning on the last little bits I might have forgotten about.

Mainly I just wanted to say that this is an amazing group of people, and with about 150 people in attendance, give or take, I know I was meeting only a small number of Buffy academics. I've never felt so at home with a group of Buffy fans, and while I was worried I would be seen as an interloper who doesn't write about Buffy academically, no one ever made me feel that way while I was there. It was brilliant.

Jeanine Basinger said she was going to get Joss to come to the next Slayage conference (big cheer from the crowd, and she stepped out from behind her podium to do a little curtsey, which was hilarious). And while I'd be lying if I didn't say that was exciting, I'm looking forward to it more just to see all these people again.

If this is what academia could be, I'm starting to wish I'd taken my PhD after all.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Slayage Conference: Jeanine Basinger

Joss Whedon once said, "I've had two great teachers in my life -- one was my mother, and the other was Jeanine Basinger." On Saturday night, I got to go out to dinner with the second great teacher of Joss's life. Jeanine Basinger is one of the world's leading film historians. She was a professor and mentor to Whedon when he was at Wesleyan College, and also boasts among her students Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt), Matt Weiner (Sopranos, Mad Men), Alex Kurtzman (Alias, Fringe, Transformers), Toby Emmerich (exec producer of too many to mention), Michael Bay (any film with a giant stylized explosion in it), and many, many, many others.

Joss Whedon took every class of hers except one (The Four Directors, which he still complains about to this day; he joked with her that on his tombstone it will say, "He didn't get to take the Four Directors class.") and since then he not only keeps in touch with her, but calls her on a regular basis, asks for her help and input and criticism, and will go spend weeks at her house hashing out ideas. Her students say that despite her strictness in the classroom (she does not tolerate absences or lateness or extensions AT ALL) she is amazing one on one, and always makes you feel better about yourself and what you do. She can buoy up a person who's about to give up, and she makes her students feel like they can do whatever they set their minds to.

At dinner she was lovely, and we went to a very posh place called "The Hamburger Barn" with onion rings the size of my head. Jeanine loved the onion rings. I had ordered fries so I didn't eat one of these gargantuan things, but I think you'd have to be some sort of superhero to be able to do so... and Jeanine is certainly that. Although we were all hanging on every word she said, she showed an interest in what we did and thought, especially when it came to film and television. David Lavery had told her we were the keynotes, so she went around asking each of us what our papers were on. When she got to me, I explained that mine was about Whedon's realistic portrayal of high school, and that I compared it with John Hughes movies. She replied, "That's very interesting, Joss LOVED John Hughes movies." I felt like my paper had just been given a gold star. :)

Then she asked us a doozy... for all those who easily answer, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" whenever anyone asks you what your favourite show is, consider this question she posed to each of us, "What is your favourite non-Whedon television show? In other words, you cannot say Buffy, Angel, or Firefly." Uh... I eventually said Lost, because I love it and am immersed in it, but it might be a tie with The Wire, which I didn't say. Other answers were My So-Called Life, M*A*S*H, and Due South. She also asked about favourite sci-fi film (Blade Runner for me) and then she told us this hilarious story about one of her students. It sounds like many of them come to her for motherly advice, not just teacherly, and this guy had introduced her to his girlfriend. In a short conversation, she somehow figured out this woman did not like Vertigo. Jeanine was appalled, but said nothing. As she tells the story (I'm paraphrasing, obviously), with much drama: "So a few weeks later he comes back to me and tells me he's getting engaged. I decided to take the high road. 'Well. That's very nice, I'm very... happy for you, and, um, marriage is good, and I think that you will be very ... happy, and OH FOR GOD'S SAKES HOW CAN YOU MARRY SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T LIKE VERTIGO??!!"

They broke up two weeks later.

She told us some stories about Joss, but they were always respectful of him, and she wouldn't say anything that she considered private, which was very gracious. She said he was very interested in Slayage, (he'd been invited him to come but he couldn't because of Dollhouse), and she seemed to suggest she'd sort of been sent by him to scout it out and report back if we were a bunch of crazy people. He'd said to her, "Grab everything you can, I want to see EVERYTHING. Programs, books, everything." She talked about other aspects of film, and mentioned in passing her good friends Marty, Capra, and Kazan. Wow. She was one of the most fascinating people I've ever met, and I just wanted to sit there and listen to her talk for ages.

Then Sue and I headed back to the B&B room, where, on TV, they were playing Footloose. We were thrilled! Especially since we were totally convinced we were in Footloose territory all weekend, with the no alcohol (I'm sure if we'd started dancing in the streets someone would have stopped us). By the end of the movie, which I hadn't seen in many years, I wondered aloud, "Wow, do you think Kevin Bacon watches this now and cringes?" I especially loved the idea that by learning to dance, they could now kick the asses of the guys in the parking lot, using wicked awesome dance moves.

The next morning was Jeanine's keynote. She'd told us the night before that she had absolutely nothing prepared. Either she's a liar, or one of the greatest impromptu speakers ever (I'm still not convinced which it is, though she did have notes). She introduced her talk as being very Citizen Kane, and said she was going to jump around, and give us puzzle pieces, and she would leave it up to us to decide why she'd formulated it that way. It was brilliant. She started in 1983, where a young Joss Whedon had walked into her office to ask to enroll in her class. Because of the huge demand for her classes, you had to register for them one to two years in advance, so that's what he was doing. She said, "He walked in and sat down, and we began a conversation that is still continuing 25 years later, and it's one of the most important and meaningful conversations of my life." She added that she was looking forward to leaving the conference so she could get back to their conversation.

When she'd told him about Slayage, he said to her, "Make sure you don't tell them that thing." She said, "Oh, you mean the time you ---?" He said, "No, that's not what I meant... but don't tell them that, either!" "Well, the time when you and I--?" "Oh God, no, I'd totally forgot about that, don't tell them that, either!" She said after 10 minutes of this she said, "Joss, I'm hanging up, you're not leaving me anything to tell!!"

She said the one thing you could say about Joss is that fame never changed him. Despite the adoration and adulation and cult status and "Joss is my God" t-shirts, he's the same guy, wearing the same t-shirt and shoes, that he was 25 years ago when she first met him.

She told amazing stories about him at Wesleyan, and said that for each film she assigned that they watch (on 16mm in the screening room on campus) she'd have 3 alternates, and he would go every night and watch all 4 of them, until 2am, when he'd go home and pop on the TV and see what else was on. He was a consummate watcher. She said the students had to run the movie theatre on campus and choose the movies, and his choices were "The Bad and the Beautiful," "The Furies," "Laura," and "The Scarlet Empress." She said her students feel passionately about their films, and they'd get into fistfights over them. She said, "While Joss is a very effective screenwriter, he is weak in the punching department." He liked Brian DePalma, and would defend those movies to the bitter end, while he hated Masterpiece Theatre-type films like Merchant-Ivory.

See if you can see the Buffy connection here: She said he loved Hitchcock, and when he presented a paper analyzing The Birds he divided the movie up into 4 themes: The Watcher/The Watched/Isolation/The Role of the Viewer. In talking about Hedren's character, he said "She has to give up her superficial life to survive," and added "Stop thinking of why the birds are attacking... they just are, that's all that matters." In other words, horror needs no explanation. It just exists.

She said when she first watched BtVS, "I could hear Joss's voice, I could hear his cadences, his language, his nuances, emotions, pain... I could feel his heartbeat."

In his third year, he became Jeanine's TA, and one of her favourite notes that he'd jotted on another student's paper was, "This guy misses all the points in a single bound."

In an analysis of Rear Window, Joss told the students to look at Jimmy Stewart as the Watcher, and that he thinks life is a movie, and it can't hurt him, but it does. Watching him watch them, can hurt us. I noticed when Jeanine was talking about his analyses of Hitchcock that Whedon always seemed caught up in the role of the viewer, as if when he's writing he's constantly aware of how this will be watched.

In 1989 she received a letter from him while he was writing for Roseanne (on the Roseanne letterhead) and in it he said, "I'm making my way."

In the mid-90s they went out to lunch and he said he wanted to talk to her about a new project, and he looked up and said, "Don't say anything.... Don't say ANYthing.... Now... just don't say anything." She said, "Joss, I'm not saying anything!!" "Okay... just don't say anything. You remember that movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I'm thinking about turning it into a television show." "Joss!! That was such a terrible experience, why would you--" "I said don't say anything!!"

Hahahaha! Eventually he explained to her that it had always irked him that he couldn't do it his way, and besides, it'll only last a few episodes and then be cancelled, but he'll get to "do it a little bit my way." Jeanine concurred, and decided it'll be good for Joss to let him do it for a few episodes a little bit his way. She explained what it was like on March 10, 1997, sitting in front of her television. "A moon. The sound of an organ. A wolf howls. Guitars start playing. Cheerleaders start jumping. Now my husband is interested." Joss called her when it was done. "What did you think?" "Joss, I thought it was very good." She said she never missed a single episode, never watched it recorded, she always watched it live after that.

As for Firefly, she calls it the biggest screwup in television, and if she could kill television execs, she'd kill these guys. She apparently chews them out every time she sees them. She was in on the ground floor on this one, leading him to noir westerns to help him out with his idea.

She concluded by saying that Joss Whedon is a storyteller, and he must do it. He's unhappy if he isn't telling stories. She likened him to a tribal storyteller: if he were in the cavemen age, he would be the tribal storyteller who would be invited over to the fire of the chieftains, wearing their fur. Sometimes they would feed him, and sometimes they would beat him with a stick. She said the same is true today. He walks into the network offices in his sneakers and t-shirt, and the chieftains wearing their fur invite him in. Sometimes they feed him (Buffy) sometimes they beat him with a stick (Firefly).

She had a LOT more to say, but I was so caught up in what she was saying I wasn't always taking notes (and to be honest, I actually have more notes, but I feel like the talk was meant for a small group, and I wouldn't want to give it all away). She was a truly amazing and gracious lady, and I wish she'd write a book on Joss. But even more interestingly (sorry Joss), I wish someone would write a book on her.

Slayage Conference: My Keynote

Don’t You Forget About Buffy:
Why Joss Whedon’s Masterpiece Captivates Us Still

I don’t know about you, but I love John Hughes films. When TBS runs one of their Hughes marathons, I’m right there. When I watch The Breakfast Club I’m suddenly 15 again, wishing my school had a Saturday detention that was that freakin’ cool. And I can’t get enough of Sixteen Candles, with its geeks and touchy-feely grandmothers and parental neglect. I’ve seen Ferris Bueller so many times I’ve lost count, and while I thought I identified with Ferris, I’ve recently realized it’s his worried friend Cameron that I sympathize with the most. I’m not a huge fan of Pretty in Pink, but despite Andie’s godawful dress and the fact that Blane was a bore, I still love Ducky.

I know I’m not alone here. Everyone I’ve talked to seems to feel the same – we turn on a John Hughes film, and we’re transported back to high school... it’s like our twenties and thirties never happened, and we’re suddenly teenagers again, experiencing that rollercoaster of emotions, embarrassed about our parents and wanting to be in with the cool crowd. And why is that? Because John Hughes captured a time in our lives that all of us went through, for better or for worse. There are things we did in high school that we’d probably chalk up to being the most embarrassing moments of our lives. And there are moments that we cherish. For every memory we have where we swear we’d give a limb just to go back and relive it one more time, there are probably ten memories that remind us we’d never go back to high school if someone paid us.

Over the years, I’ve been asked the same question countless times: What is it about Buffy that makes people love this show so much? We all have our own answers to this question.

For some, it’s that remarkable dialogue or the story arcs that took monsters and made them metaphors for real life. For others, it’s that extraordinary ensemble cast, made up of mostly unknowns, with the exception of a diva from All My Children and that British guy from the coffee commercials. Most often fans point to the veracity of the show as the reason it was so good: it might have been about werewolves, vampires, and the occasional tiny Gachnar, but it was the most realistic show on television. (Try saying that to a non-Buffy fan.)

But for me, the reason Buffy has had such a major impact on my life, and is something that I will always keep coming back to, is that it was set in the teenage years, and began in high school. At no other time in our lives do our emotions run so high. When you’re a teenager, the tiniest provocation can cause your world to come to an end. We love with so much passion we feel our hearts will split in two, and we hate with that same fervour. So many things are happening for the first time – you meet the guy or girl that you completely obsess over. Sometimes it’s requited, but sometimes it isn’t, in which case you have your first experience with writing suicidal poetry. It’s a time when you meet the people who might be your friends for the rest of your life, and when you’re fighting with them, you hate them more than any person on Earth.

When it comes to the old adage, “Write what you know,” high school is a pretty safe topic for any of us. Joss Whedon is clearly no exception. A connoisseur of teen angst, Whedon has been on the front lines, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the perfect medium through which he could recreate the hell of high school and bring it back to life. Just like watching those John Hughes movies, viewing the first three seasons of Buffy will bring back memories for all of us. You’ll realize that you can take the person out of high school, but you can’t take the high school out of the person, when you think back to how you felt watching certain Buffy moments, such as:

• Dodgeball.
• Buffy and Angel’s first kiss, and what happened after.
• The consummation of Buffy and Angel’s relationship... and what happened after.
• Cordelia teasing Willow that she’s seen the softer side of Sears.
• The prom.
• Buffy explaining to Jonathan that every student – from the mathlete to the cheerleader – is filled with pain.
• The talentless show.
• Buffy’s father not taking her to the ice show on her 18th birthday.
• Willow crying in the girl’s bathroom stall after she finds out Xander, the best friend she’s had a crush on since infancy, would rather be with someone he hates than with her.

By beginning his series firmly ensconced in a high school setting, Joss Whedon managed to pull us in and keep us there, week after week, because he had portrayed high school in such a realistic way. Because those years are so deeply imbedded in each of us, we could relate to the show, and it suddenly became about us.

High school was a huge time in our lives, filled with change and firsts: High school is when we have authority figures surrounding us – whether it’s a teacher, a coach, your boss at your first part-time job, or your parents – but we’re also struggling to gain our independence for the first time. High school is where you first stayed out late, often first lied to your parents about where you were going to be, and tested the boundaries of the rules that you had always followed before.

When we were in high school, our personal lives changed. Parents got divorced, and some of us had to deal with meeting mom or dad’s new “friends.” You may have fallen in love for the first time when you were in high school, and probably suffered through your first breakup. Your hormones were raging, so everything seemed more amazing or depressing than it later would.

In high school, we were pressured with preparing ourselves for the rest of our lives. At 17 or 18, we were making decisions that would affect everything we would do from that point on. It’s like that first section in The Game of Life... if you land your tiny car on Teacher and someone else lands on Doctor, you’re pretty much screwed from the outset.

Whedon created all of these scenarios and more. Buffy’s parents are divorced, and she’s being uprooted at the beginning of the series and moving to a new school and town with her mother. Sunnydale High is full of cool kids versus the nerds. It’s hard watching Xander, Willow, and Joyce gang up on Buffy upon her season three return in “Dead Man’s Party,” either because we identify with Buffy and hate seeing her ganged up on, or we sympathize with the others, and feel their pain of betrayal.

Emotions are running high for these high schoolers: just think of the Willow and Oz romance. Willow is the wallflower who was never supposed to get the cool guy, and when HE actually notices HER, our hearts are a-flutter. Buffy, on the other hand, personifies first true love gone terribly, terribly wrong. She discovers the guy she loves is 240 years old, and after sleeping with her he turns into a soulless vampire. But WAY worse than that... he doesn’t call her the next day.


We see characters discover changes in their bodies – Willow finds out she’s a witch, Oz is a werewolf. Buffy balances the pressures of schoolwork with a part-time job, or as she calls it, her “calling.” (I know a lot of people who also referred to their part-time jobs as their calling in high school, but after a few months folding shirts at The Gap, they felt differently.) Xander knows he won’t go to university, and the guy who’s always been part of the gang foresees a day when he will be an outcast, that dude with the technical career and not the intellectual one. Faith embodies the high school rebel, that person who puts up a harsh exterior because inside they’re in so much pain they don’t want anyone to find out. Through it all, the gang loves and tolerates Giles, that adult who is a part of the group that they tease one minute, revere the next.

But the most realistic part of all? The high school was on a hellmouth. Did ANY of us go to a high school that was not?

This theory would suggest that Buffy is only good because of the first three years. But that’s not what I’m saying. It was the first three years that managed to pull us in. By the time season 4 began, we were fully in the grip of Joss Whedon’s world, and the pain and horrors that were to follow were as realistic as the high school setting he’d already established. Just as many of us will carry around the emotional scars and happy memories of high school forever, we also remember those complicated years that followed.

After high school, there’s college or the work force. These years opened us up to new worlds. In college the geeks were in the majority, and a person was actually rewarded for working hard – imagine that! But college is often where we were uprooted for the first time, being forced to live on our own away from our parents. Our family became secondary to our friends and schoolwork, and for many of us, disorientation set in. If high school was where we had to think about adulthood, post–high school is where we had to enter it.

The same was true of Buffy. Just as seasons one through three mirrored the emotional turbulence and pleasures and traumas of high school, seasons four through seven perfectly captured the rollercoaster that was to follow. Season four wobbled and didn’t quite work, as if the writers had decided on a shift, realized they’d made a mistake, and scrambled to fix it. Similarly, when we leave high school and enter our lives, we are perplexed, and the familiarity we once knew is gone. Post–high school, we’re all in a transitional phase, following the decisions we’d made in those crucial years and entering the paths we’d laid out for ourselves. For some, they realize they’ve made a big mistake – “Law school?? Why the hell did I ever want to become a LAWYER??” – and they backtrack, desperate to try new things until they can figure out what they really want to do, and get back on the right path. This description pretty much sums up season 4.

By season five, the show had rediscovered its path, and once again, it reminded us of all those things we once went through as young adults. High school first love gives way to complicated relationships. Buffy and Spike. Anya and Xander. Perfect examples of relationships that weren’t easy to explain. Early adulthood is where we might lose a parent, as Buffy does, or where sibling rivalry turns to closeness. In Xander’s case, it was where he was able to move out and leave the abusive home he’d been living in. College is where some people come out of the closet, as Willow does, sometimes to their own surprise. With our newfound independence, we no longer need our parents in the same way, hence Giles’s departure. Perhaps by losing a family member or a friend, our previous feelings of invincibility give way to a fear of mortality. Buffy dies; the rest of the gang loses a friend. Buffy’s return is not exactly like something we’ve ever experienced, but in a way it’s like a friend of ours leaving for a different college wearing Ralph Lauren and returning in the summer wearing a safety pin through their nose and a Sex Pistols shirt.

There are some Buffy fans who say the series would have been better off ending after season 5, but perhaps that reveals an innate resistance to growing up. Just as life after high school was full of confusion for us, we resist Buffy and the gang changing. Perhaps we wanted Willow to be the consummate wallflower, and not the evil veiny Willow of season 6. Maybe we’d rather see Xander remain the class clown, and not the sad contractor who tells Dawn in season 7 that sometimes he feels like the guy who just fixes the windows every time they’re broken. Giles was no longer a librarian, and instead became the owner of a magic shop, constantly at war with Anya. But these are reflections of real life, and while Joss gave us the doses of reality, he couched them in his incomparable storytelling that kept us glued to our sets. Veiny Willow gave way to goddess Willow. Contractor Xander rejoined the good fight, and lost an eye battling alongside the Slayers. Giles went away, but he returned suddenly at the end of season 6, in my number one favourite moment of the series.

I listed off a bunch of moments from the high school years that made us cringe or laugh or cry, always in sympathy because we remember those years. But the last three years of the series boasted even more powerful moments, because we’d seen the events and changes leading up to them. Moments such as:

• Buffy finding her dead mother on the couch.
• Tara and Willow floating above the dance floor, completely in love.
• Anya’s fruit punch speech.
• Giles singing to Buffy that he’s just standing in her way, and it’s time he step aside so she can become the independent woman she was meant to be.
• Xander conquering wicked Willow by telling her how much he loves her.
• Buffy telling Spike that she’d been in heaven, and refusing to tell her friends what they had done to her.
• Spike telling Buffy how much she’s meant to him after her friends have shunned her for putting them in danger.

Often, during these more difficult and complex story arcs, fans idealized the high school years of the show. But isn’t that like life? Brian K. Vaughan, one of the authors of the new Buffy season 8 comic book series, was asked how he would write the final scene of Buffy if he were given the chance, and he replied, “I always thought it would be kind of poignant to just have Buffy and [her friend] Xander be the last two people left, and have them reminisce about high school. The point being that, while you’re going through high school, it seems like hell, but once you’re old you begin looking at high school like it used to be paradise.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way. We might think we hated high school, but if that were so, we wouldn’t take such pleasure in old John Hughes films and the first three seasons of Buffy. Joss Whedon stuck his high school on a hellmouth to indicate just how awful it was, but seven years later, at the end of the final episode, after they seemed to have grown up and moved on and changed so much... Buffy and the gang end up back in high school. As they stand in the hallway, with the camera circling around them as they discuss what they’re going to do once they’ve conquered the baddies, they momentarily revert back to the gang we’d seen seven years earlier. Buffy wants a new pair of shoes, Willow is eager and excited about a new store in the mall, Xander jokes about mini-golf... and Giles mutters to himself that the kids won’t pay any attention to him, and the earth is definitely doomed. And in this scene, Joss lets us know that no matter what happens in their lives, Buffy and the gang will always be back at that high school, for that was where they became who they are.

Just like we did.