Saturday, June 12, 2010

Slayage! Part Two

On Friday we woke up early and went to the breakfast offered at the Holiday Inn. After his particularly dreadful experience at the Denny's the day before, Matthew decided to join us (apparently his British accent pissed off one of the waitresses, who couldn't understand a thing he said, and she became annoyed with him and decided to ignore him altogether... the rest of us vowed to eat there on Saturday morning because we HAD to see this for ourselves!). The food on this particular morning was kind of crap and overpriced, and we were kind of wishing we'd gone to Denny's instead.

Then it was off to the opening day keynote by Janet (Steve) Halfyard, a professor at the Birmingham Conservatoire. She is the author of Music, Sound and Silence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series), a book that sold out at the conference before I had a chance to buy a copy, so I'll have to grab it off Amazon. I'd seen her paper at the last conference, and it was fantastic, so I was really looking forward to this one. The title of her paper was "Listening to Buffy: Music, Memory, Meaning, and Moping." She is a musician who performs under the name Steve Halfyard, but teaches as Janet (I used to think they were two people!) and her paper focused on the love themes on BtVS. It was an AMAZING paper, where she showed us several clips from the show, asking us to listen to the non-diegetic music and try to tune out the dialogue and what is happening in the scene, and she talked about that particular Buffy love theme that we all know and love. And if you DON'T know what I'm talking about, here it is (interspliced with lots of luverly pics of Angel and Buffy in swoony lovesick po-faceness):

In a presentation that involved clips of this song's usage in every scene it appeared, and talking about the context surrounding its appearance, where at times Janet even sat down at the piano and just played the parts and showed how they varied from scene to scene, she showed that the "Buffy and Angel Love Theme" was more Buffy's theme because it was something that really only identifies with her... it's used in the background when she and Giles are talking about Angelus, for example. There's a theme that plays in the Giles/Jenny scenes in "Passion" that uses the motifs from this theme but alters them, and then the more traditional full theme is used again when Buffy finds Kendra dead. She went through several of these scenes to show that this theme seems to represent what Buffy lost as a result of what Angelus took from her, and that it should be called "Buffy's Loss Theme." She carried it all the way through to "I Will Remember You," in that scene where Angel walks out into the sunlight, where it's a similar theme but it actually resolves to a major key, utterly changing the tone of the song, and then it reverts back to the sadness when Angel has to take the day away from her. It was an extraordinary paper, and I have a classical music background and often DO focus on the music in the scenes, so I loved it even more. Talking to her afterwards, I asked her if she ever watched Lost (she'd mentioned in the paper that most TV shows don't pay much attention to their background music other than to have suspenseful songs in suspenseful scenes and sappy violins in love scenes) and she didn't, and I told her she really should because each character has their own musical motif, and that Giacchino intertwines them when he brings characters together and really does some amazing things with the music. (Matthew, standing nearby, looked over and said, "Oh GOD, do you EVER stop talking about that SHOW?!" Ahem.) I adored this paper.

Sadly I had to skip the next panel; I really wanted to see the one with Jennifer K. Stuller, who was doing one on pop culture influences on the Whedonverse. Ian, Sue, and Ryan went to it and said it was great (but apparently there was a spoiler rapist in the audience -- I got the term "spoiler rape" from Rhonda Wilcox and I think it's a brilliant term -- who decided he had to announce exactly what happens in the entirety of the season 8 comics, spoiling it right up to the most recent issue, and it actually had very little bearing on the discussion... he was clearly just someone who reveled in ruining things for people. It's too bad the chair of that panel didn't stop him in time, but it sounds like he got it all out before he could be stopped. Poor Sue now knows who Twilight is... Argh).

But ANYWAY... the reason I couldn't go to this panel was because Matthew and I had to rehearse our paper, which we were presenting that evening. (See the next post for more background about our paper.) We had been practising it over the phone and by email for months, but we'd never actually done the entire thing in person, so we required a rehearsal. We asked David Lavery if it would in any way be possible to practise it in the dining hall where we would be presenting that night. He went and grabbed Tamara Wilson, one of the two professors who was hosting us at Flagler, and she said no problem and took us over. And when we got there, we were stopped in our tracks. I have never, and will probably never again, get up and speak in a place that was this magnificent. I'd seen pictures online, and was rather taken aback by the beauty, but it's a place that must be seen to be believed:

Those beautiful wooden columns flank each side of the room, and move up to these gorgeous wooden beams across the top. And the WINDOWS:

GORGEOUS. These were made by hand by Louis Tiffany himself, he of the famous Tiffany windows and lamps. They are absolutely breathtaking. At the back of the hall, where you first enter, this balcony hangs over the room:

I joked that we should find our way up there and insist on giving the entire paper from the balcony. Matthew didn't go for it. Sigh. You can see a bit of the ceiling there, which was entirely painted by hand. Oh, and the light fixtures? All wired by hand by Thomas Edison!! The place is AMAZING.

So, we got into the room and found stumbling block #1: One podium. Our entire paper had been constructed with the idea of two podiums (podia?) in mind, two mikes, and we would often be interrupting each other. We talked to the tech guy, and he said no, they only had one mike, and he'd look and see if he could scrounge up a second one somewhere but I said no, no worries, we'd figure something out. So rather than just run through the paper, we now had to work out some choreography where we could interrupt each other, but do so on the same mike. And in the end, I think it actually lent further comedy to our paper, at one point giving us the opportunity to do a full-on physical comedy bit that became one of my fave moments of the presentation. We ran through it once, stopping to make suggestions to each other, changing certain lines, etc. (don't worry; changing a line or two at the 11th hour was nothing compared to what happened during the writing of the paper... more on that later) and then did a few sections over and over, practising how we'd move back and forth to the mike, either leaving papers on the podium or taking them with us, etc. And then we did one complete runthrough, which also involved some guys moving a piano around the room while we were talking, and at one point even plunking themselves down in the room and chatting loudly while we were doing our thing. It didn't bother me at all, and I figured if I can keep talking through this, doing the banquet will be a cinch.

Then it was off to lunch. I'd been searching around the interwebs before leaving and had found a place called -- wait for it -- Schmagel's Bagels, and I HAD to eat there. A) I love bagels, and B) it's called Schmagel's Bagels!!!! And it was wonderful. I actually had a wrap instead of a bagel, and everyone at the table got something different, but we all loved the sandwich we got. If you're ever in St. Augustine, check this place out.

And then it was off to the next panel. Depending on the time slot, there are three or four panels running at the same time, and it's REALLY hard to just choose one. The focus of the three sessions running were Buffy; Faith, Willow, Dr. Saunders, Illyria; and Teaching. I wanted to go to the third because it had Elizabeth Rambo in it, and I loved the paper she gave at the last Slayage, but I also really wanted to see the second one with the female characters, so that one won out.

The first paper was by Virginia Grant, who has actually commented on this blog before. I met her at the reception and she was lovely, one of the many people there speaking with that gorgeous southern U.S. accent I love so much. Her paper was "Faith in Feminism" and talked about how Faith's growth throughout Buffy and Angel was a representation of the history of feminism, showing an evolution from masculine competition with Buffy to becoming accepted into society and finding maturity. Grant gave a great argument for how the various waves of feminism have been embodied in Faith's personal growth.

The next paper was by Heather Porter, and was called "'If you could be... you know, plain old Willow or super Willow, who would you be?': Examining Willow's Use of Intelligence and Violence in BtVS." This was a very unique paper, in which Porter had taken a scientific approach to BtVS, constructing a new methodology with which to look at the character of Willow and actually "add up," in a sense, how much of a villain she was. By using Sternberg's Theory of Intelligence, she said there were three main kinds of intelligence a person can demonstrate: creative, analytical, and practical. Successful intelligence is a combination of the three. So she watched the entire series, marking a point in each column every time Willow did something that demonstrated any of these intelligence traits. While she's done the math on several characters, this paper focused on Willow, and how often good Willow showed the various kinds of intelligence, and then how often Evil Willow showed it. She said Dark Willow the most violent and intelligent of the Buffy villains, but in her conclusion said that while Dark Willow was intelligent, she used that for violence because she didn't have the capacity to pull back. She was the most intelligent villain, but not as intelligent as Willow was.

The third paper was by Alysa Hornick, and was entitled, "There Is No Cure for That: Illyria, Dr. Saunders, and the Gendered Body in Angel and Dollhouse." It looked at the way the characters of Illyria and Dr. Saunders -- oddly both played by Amy Acker -- have been gendered as female, when Illyria is arguably a male god, and Dr. Saunders was actually originally a man before his mind was put into the body of Whiskey. Whiskey also ultimately embodies Clyde Randall, another man trapped in a woman's body, and in each case she shows how female bodies are alien objects of power. It was a really interesting paper, and one that made me even more convinced that Amy Acker is a completely underrated actress!

From that panel it was on to the next one, a Dollhouse-themed one, where Ian (yay!) was giving his paper. The first paper was by David Fritts, "Science, Religion, and Magic in Dollhouse." He talked about the difference between irrational magic and the power of science as magic and religion. The best part of the paper focused on Topher and how he acts as a magician of sorts, but one that plays God on a daily basis: even Saunders calls him the Lord God Almighty. He broke down the difference between pulling a rabbit out of a hat magic versus truly powerful scientific magic. One of the creepiest moments of the conference was when Fritts was talking about Topher playing God and a thunderstorm suddenly erupted outside, with loud thunder cracking the moment he said that. Ack!! (The thunderstorms were sudden, fierce, and almost always happened during the second-last panels of the day. And then they'd go away and it would be sunny and muggy and humid and awful outside again, without even the slightest relief from it.) The downside of the paper was that he'd written a lot of it after season 1, and season 2 had changed a lot of the paper, but he didn't revise it much to incorporate that. Still, it was an interesting look at the first season.

The next paper was by Kevin Oberlin, "Winning at Dolls: Dollhouse as a Zero-Sum Game," where he talked about zero-sum rhetoric, i.e. how someone must lose for someone to win. He ran through various scenarios on Dollhouse, from win-win ones at the beginning to the win-lose ones that come later (i.e. if Echo wins, the Dollhouse loses). He showed how Echo had to take the Dollhouse apart wedge by wedge, but in doing so she had to piece herself back together the same way. In this one I wasn't exactly sure where all of it was going, and what we can conclude from the zero-sum argument, but again, it kept me interested throughout.

And finally, Ian Klein's paper, "'I Like My Scars': Claire Saunders and the Narrative of Flesh" (which was an abridged version of the same paper that will be published in the upcoming book Inside Joss' Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossum: preorder your copy now!) was possibly the best visual presentation I saw over the weekend (Ian timed it so as he was saying certain quotes, they were appearing on the screen and then disappearing... it was quite a performative feat, actually), and it began with a quote from Slattery from The Wounded Body, "Our wounds give the trajectory of our destiny" and wove Whiskey's facial scars from Alpha's attack in with the scars on the back of the protagonist of Toni Morrison's Beloved and Harriet Tubman's scars and what they meant to them. Like these women, Whiskey is enslaved to the Dollhouse, and her scars are the things that ultimately set her free. If Whiskey hadn't had the scars on her face in the first place, this version of Saunders never would have existed. It was a beautiful paper, and I can't wait to read the longer version of it in the book. And it was the only paper of the conference that actually changed my mind about something -- until this paper, I always saw the scars of Whiskey to have been a major flaw in the show. If the dollhouse had the ability to remove scars like they did with Victor, then it didn't make sense that Whiskey still had hers. They seemed to serve no purpose. But instead, now I saw they had an active who couldn't go into regular duty, and a doctor's position that needed filling, and the two went together. They never fixed her face because it worked in the symbolic storyline.

The last panel of the day proved to be one panel too many for me. Lately I worry that I'm suffering from some form of later-life-onset ADHD or something... I can't seem to focus for long periods of time (it's making writing this final book a nightmare at times) and while I was excited to listen to these papers, I ended up sitting on the floor at the back of the room because of how full it was, and I zoned out completely. I began working through the episode guide of Lost, figuring out a writing schedule in my head, wondering how the kids were, remembering I had to remind my husband of some events my daughter had on early the following week, looking at the lights on the ceiling, wondering how many of my authors were sending me frantic emails because I was away on vacation and not editing their books every minute of the day, thinking of the paper I was going to give in a couple of hours, wondering again how in God's name I am going to finish this Lost book on time... and the, I'm sure, excellent papers were happening at the front of the room and I seemed completely unaware of them. Here's hoping when my workload calms a little I'm able to focus again.

Anyway, after this paper it was over to the banquet hall for dinner and our big performance!

Up next: The Matthew Pateman/Nikki Stafford Kind-of-Academic Debate!


The Question Mark said...

I really need to start watching Buffy & Angel!

Marebabe said...

Nikki, I read with interest everything you write on this blog, but since I’ve never seen any “Buffy” episodes, there’s not much I can offer in the way of comments. In fact, my only experience with Joss Whedon to date is “Dr. Horrible”, which I love. For now, I consider these long and detailed posts as prep for the Buffy rewatch-and-first-watch we’re going to do later on. I’m looking forward to that, and hope it will really happen. All in favor...?

Marebabe said...

And the Buffy and Angel Love Theme is SO haunting and beautiful! Thanks for sharing that. :)

Page48 said...

Buffy and "Angel" are must-see-TV, although it took me a very long time to get around to watching both. I have 7 eppies to go in my first go-round with "Angel" and I can't for the life of me understand why I didn't watch these shows when they originally aired. My bad!

humanebean said...

What a beautiful room! I have a fascination with stained glass and the look of the windows is just smashing. Thanks for the recap of the other presenters - I think that I'm just about ready to start watching Buffy - for the very first time (well, aside from the musical episode which I was roped into watching initially but quite enjoyed).

TM Lawrence said...

Thanks for the glimpses into the black hole that has consumed you, Nik. Been feeling a little like Steve Martin's character in It's Complicated... Knowing that you've reconnected with your first love on a trip; giving you your space to work through all that old baggage; confronting the visual evidence of the stained glass that is not our stained glass of the Church of Universal Ascension; still vulnerable in our loss of the marriage that was; wondering if a huge blunt might make all this easier (or at least funnier).

Perhaps your true calling is to use the Lost bloggership to pull us backwards in time into the Whedonverse. Posit a blog entry wherein Firefly's Mal is compared to Jack and Booker's frustratingly hinted-at past is finally and manifestly revealed through Eko, leading to a robust analysis of the usage of Shepherd in both shows, and you'll have us sitting up and begging for more. Perhaps Serenity as the ultimate gateway drug.

Throw in occasional references to Dr Horrible as Haiku stand ins, to introduce the needed levity. Transition us gradually into a comparison of the big bads of WolfRamHart to the nefarious conspiracy of Widmore/Paik et al, and it's a quick slide through the hell mouth as the other side of a transdimensional portal opened by the unplugging of the Island's Golden Cave of Souls to male all of Buffy pertinent to your Lost purists.

It's up to you, Nikki Stafford. The task is too great for any other. Well I'd follow you anyway.

Enjoy your time in the Whedonverse.