Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Great Buffy Rewatch: Stacey Abbott

‘Chosen’ – Goodbye to Buffy
Stacey Abbott

I am a professional film snob. I have been a film buff all my life and began studying film when I started college in Montreal when I was 17. I have been studying and teaching film ever since. My undergraduate degree in Film Studies at Concordia University taught film, all film popular and art-cinema, as a form of Fine Art. I have been trained to see film as second to none. As a result, while I have always watched TV, I never really took television seriously. I watched loads of silly action series while growing up, and loved Star Trek more then any other show but that was my inner geek speaking – or so I thought. Like every good film student in 1991, I stopped and basked in the brilliance of Twin Peaks but that was ok because it was made by a film director, David Lynch. So when I heard that the film of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was being made into a television series, I was bemused and dubious. I watched because I was writing my PhD thesis on vampire films so it seemed necessary. I didn’t think it would amount to much more then an interesting footnote – how wrong could I be? It was this little show with a rather silly name, adapted from an unsuccessful teen-horror-comedy, that taught me that television could not only be equal to film but in some ways could exceed film as a narrative and art form. That is not to say that television is better then film but simply that there are certain things that can only really be done in television.

Buffy taught me not to judge a series on one or two episodes, or even an entire season, but to let a show unfold and slowly reveal its secrets and complexities. It taught me that sometimes you need to earn those wonderful dramatic revelations or disturbing moments, like Angel losing his soul after sleeping with Buffy or Angelus murdering Jenny and leaving her body for Giles to find. The horror of these moments is so overwhelming because we have the spent time watching these characters grow, watching their relationships develop, and learning to love them so we feel the loss almost as poignantly as Buffy and Giles.

Buffy taught me that within the narrative drive of commercial television and despite the budget and production constraints that are unavoidable when making twenty-two episodes of television a year, there was space for some of the most audacious experiments in style and narrative. It showed that audiences who become invested in a series and its characters will be more than willing to accept playful experiments like the fairy-tale silence of ‘Hush’, the narrative poetry of ‘Conversations with the Dead’, or the dream logic of ‘Restless’. While it might be fair to say that Twin Peaks paved the way for Buffy, it is equally fair to say that we would not have had Lost, Supernatural, or Fringe without Buffy.

Buffy taught me that television could be multi-layered, complicated and wonderful to discuss and analyse. The textual analysis skills I learned as a film student were put to the test with Buffy, a show that continues to invite analysis (as evidenced by this Rewatch).

Buffy taught me that in the darkest of moments, there is a space of tenderness – Tara sharing her own experiences of bereavement when Buffy loses her Mom in ‘The Body’ – and humour – Angel and Spike’s school boy jealousy in ‘Chosen’ (I love, love, love, Spike’s drawing of Angel pinned to his punching bag).

The season finale for a show like Buffy was always going to be a tall order and it has its weaknesses – the special effects in the final battle especially. It is, however, an immensely satisfying, if open, conclusion (at least until the comics) to the story of the Slayer. The series that begins with the narrative voice over explaining the Slayer myth ends with the rewriting of that myth by turning all potential into slayers, showing the epic narrative vision that encapsulates the series (and who doesn’t feel a surge of power when all of the potentials are activated – especially the girl at bat – what a wonderfully knowing smile she gives). The finale begins with humour – Spike and Angel – includes anguish – Anya’s death – and warmth – Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles sharing a moment together before launching into battle – and concludes with hope – Buffy’s smile. In effect, it brings together the best the series had to offer and leaves you wanting more.

Buffy taught me to love and appreciate television, and to take it seriously. I began writing about television after Buffy completed its fourth season and I wrote my first Buffy article for Slayage. Since that moment, I haven’t stopped writing about television (Angel, Firefly, Alias, Lost, Supernatural, True Blood).

Thank you Buffy.


Suzanne said...

Stacey, thanks for your great tribute to Buffy and the way it showed you how great television done right can be. Like, you, I always considered myself to be a film person, but great shows like Buffy have really shown me the brilliance of television done well. Television shows can develop characters in a way that most films can't do as well. I have often thought that good television shows such as Buffy are like really great novels; whereas, films tend to be more like short stories. Of course, this isn't always the case, especially with epic films, but it explains why I have grown so fond of many great television shows over the years (Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek:DS9, Babylon 5, Lost, Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Six Feet Under, The Shield, My So Called Life, Felicity, Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights and more). I love to really get to know characters well and television provides you the space and time to do so. Buffy is my favorite of them all, though. It is simply magical.

Marebabe said...

Stacey, I want to congratulate you on your eloquent and succinct summing-up of the entire series. Every “playful experiment, narrative poetry, dream logic, tenderness, humor, and anguish” brought vivid memories and highlights to mind, and can be entered as Exhibit A, that our time on the rewatch this year has been well spent. Thank you for your contributions!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Stacey!! :-)

Christina B said...

Thank you, Stacey!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Stacey!