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Joss Whedon's Poetics of Space
probablecylon
    Joss' commentary for "Objects in Space", the concluding ep of "Firefly", offers a much more convincing case for the impossibility of carrying Buffy into two dimensions than any of the elaborate arguments against canonicity have done.

   He talks, first, of his own sort of epiphany concern the way objects exist in themselves without any relation to consciousness, that they exist whether we wish them to or not, without meaning, while watching "Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Director's Cut" as a 16-year-old in London. Those who experienced the movie in those pre-cineplex days will recall the impact that the mother-ship's descent had, and I wonder whether his realization came before or during those late sequences in the film. He realized that he had no belief in a divine or universal intelligence giving things, objects, meaning -- and a friend gave him a copy of Sartre's "Nausea", which helped him key on his understanding. His commentary for this ep -- after he says he doesn't want to be considered an intellectual -- is a fascinating meditation on emotions, on the way we impart meaning to things, and on the difference between the way River experiences objects & is distanced from their common meaning, and the way that Early, in his opposite way, does so. 

   He als offers an anecdote about how he spent a Saturday actually in the Serenity, passing through it, in order to get the key to the character of Early -- and all this truly lit up the importance, for Joss as a writer & dreamer, of working with actual sets. The relation of so many of his other shows, and the importance of the sets of the library, the Summer house, of the Factory, of Spike's crypt & the Magic Box, the Hyperion, of Serenity & the Dollhouse, appeared in a very new light. Joss' imaginative life was truly born during that experience in the theatre, -- he suddenly had access to all the questions about life & death that he'd previously taken for granted or simply not himself thought about -- 

   Whatever can be achieved or not in graphic form, Joss really made it clear, by his intensity & by his emotion, especially in light of other commentaries (like his explanation of how Xander actually moves through the standing sets of Buffy in his dream in "Restless" or his commentary on "Hush") what activates his creative vision, his feeling for the world and for his characters . . . and even if he's a comics fan, the source for inspiration isn't there. The whole conceit of using comics-style superpowers & references in comic-book form doesn't hook properly into the way he works, the way he works with actors, the way he works with set designers, and then the way he works with a camera. The power outage, the strange sloppy lack of principle in the comics, comes simply from someone who has revealed for anyone who cares to listen his own processes, motivations, even his imaginative birth, in the commentaries to his filmed work.

   If Joss never does television (or film work) again, he won't really ever create again.

 

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This is actually an excellent meditation on how Joss interacts with his favored medium (film/television), and how that interaction is stifled when the medium changes (the change to comics). It's just another example of how Season 8 should not be considered canonical - the term extra-canonical fits better, as Season 8 should be considered part of the extended universe, simply because of the medium change. The Star Wars books as a medium may contain stories considered canonical, but do not hold the level of canonicity of the two trilogies of films. Joss should be allowed to tell whatever story he wants in comic book form, but to call it canon means disregarding the impact other artists had on the creation of the television show. It does not contain Sarah Michelle Gellar's interpretation of Buffy, which had a major impact on the formation of Buffy the television show character, and as such, Buffy the comic book character does not carry the canonicity of Buffy the television show character, for all that they tell me she's the same.

Joss always praises his actors, and he highlights a particular line that Richard Brooks as the bounty hunter, Jubal Early (ironically named for a Confederate general), delivers -- Joss wrote it one way, as just a bit of rambling by Early, but Brooks delivered the line (to Kaylee) "Maybe I've always been here" in a way that suggested a tenuous hold on reality, a way that suggested that he wasn't sure himself.

Joss' feeling for objects is related intimately to his non-belief in any sort of plan for the universe, and this allows for the characters to struggle over the meaning in things & in their own lives, and invites so much debate & creates so much ambiguity. So his primary strength not only divorces him from the characters in this medium, it also disarms him when dealing with cosmologies.


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Not only are his shows not just his work, but in all his commentaries & his appearances, he takes pains to point this out, especially when the actors or writers find moments that he doesn't.

But SMG was really brought out in the collaboration; she'd had tremendous success in the soap opera she was in, but this particular hybrid of voices suggests that the dichotomies we mention are fairly artificial. We tend to look at actors, for instance, as if they were the same in different productions & for different directors & in different ensembles. Celebrity culture is a product -- and if we can reveal constantly how it belies the actual workings of stage & set & actual labor of writer, actor, crew, etc., it would be incredibly useful to working forward again to a more democratic concept of creativity.


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SMG wouldn't have gotten the part without the talent. Julie Benz that, watching her as Buffy, she realized that she'd never have had that complete commitment that SMG had. Unfortunately, the vehicles for her since haven't much roused my interest after her first few post-BtVS appearances. And it's fair to say, isn't it, that she would never have made magazine covers, wouldn't make the covers today, without Joss?


to call it canon means disregarding the impact other artists had on the creation of the television show. It does not contain Sarah Michelle Gellar's interpretation of Buffy, which had a major impact on the formation of Buffy the television show character, and as such, Buffy the comic book character does not carry the canonicity of Buffy the television show character, for all that they tell me she's the same.

*nods*

Something odd I read somewhere on the net, was that Joss (if I'm not wrong?) instructed the comics illustrators to make comics!Buffy "look like Buffy but not like SMG."

Huh?

One huge criteria for my enjoyment of any post-series Buffy fics is whether or not I can hear the characters as portrayed by the actors on the show say that dialogue or imaging them making particular choices and taking those actions; in other words, I need some character and thematic continuity. (duh, right?) Neither of which I find in any of the comics, or really I should say the so called S8 (with exception of some stories in what was collected in "omnibus #1" : Slayer, Interrupted, Viva Las Vegas, etc, that in my mind do a pretty good job in both regards.)

SMG embodied Buffy in my mind and she was as much the of the directions the show took; I've read another comment from Joss paraphrased to the effect that part of the reason the show took a much darker turn after S1 was because of SMG's particular gifts with drama/melodrama. (She had originally tried out for the role of Cordy. Imagine for a moment how different those characters and the show would have been if SMG and CC switched roles. Or the actress who played Willow in the unaired short pilot for the network had kept the role of Willow. Willow without AH is unthinkable - as the comics demonstrate, she's just a doll-figure with a few tics and phrases thrown in, and red hair, to attempt to make her recognizably "Willow", but for me the effect always fails.)



Edited at 2012-08-21 06:52 pm (UTC)

I have a feeling you're right.

I think the only way for a comic to even attempt to enliven his imagination is if he could draw it himself (but I gather he lacks the drawing talent, so he cannot direct the comics camera). In watching the Glee episode he directed, the way he frames, heightens the emotion and meaning with visual shots... It's not enough to say that Whedon is a better writer for the job of BtVS, but that he's a better visual artist than Jeanty, a better director than Jeanty.

But then, the disconnection from objective reality telling a story remains. And the divorce from outside artistic influences, all colliding, a confluence of creativity... it's no wonder Season 8 is two dimensional. It can't help but fall flat.

Edited at 2010-05-29 06:43 am (UTC)

I hardly expected to find a new angle on Joss, one which brought him into much clearer focus, after the botch of the pseudo-S8. "Dream On" was a nice taste of Joss in his element. Originally we had the rumor about talks with FX for a possible series -- I keep my fingers crossed, but right now he's an an Orson Welles sort of phase -- following his big triumph, he can't seem to get the sustained support from an industry which still lags waaaaaaaaaayyy behind him . . .


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The poetics of space involves the exceptionality of the subject, that there are tetherless, meaning-imbuing persons in the universe of objects, we are things, not merely persons, are ourselves objects, inescapably so. The poignancy of this status, of mortality and, worse, of the abolition of person-status altogether, leads to River and then leads to Dollhouse.

Joss' topography is different and resistant to the discourses that it evokes, which is a positive thing -- it can't easily be schematized into 'here's his racist narrative, here's his misogynist narrative' -- though the work can cross those planes of discourse at any moment, it doesn't fall within them. The allegation, for example, that the Shadowmen are black men violating a white woman doesn't stand up, since the sole reason that the Shadowmen are African is that the First Slayer is African. The problem there was that one assumed (I did, anyway) that women were the agents responsible for endowing the First Slayer. Nor do I believe that the use of Chinese culture in the blend in Firefly, without Asian actors, is a sort of racist expropriation -- it would've been far worse to cast someone as a Generic Asian, as if Asian identity were a subset of Chinese identity, as if there were multiple ethnic & cultural identities in Asia. I can't recall the film flap a few years ago when a US production cast Japanese actors in Chinese roles or vice versa.

His politics seem to me to be left-anarchist, and anarchism always comes into conflict with communal-social political visions.

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No offense taken :) .

Actually, it inspired a post. Which, likewise, I hope is not taken badly.




Buffy expropriated power & the task from the Watchers' Council, and the Shadowmen are operating primarily as male dominators, as the patriarchs of the Council: Buffy's objection is on behalf of the original, African woman -- "You violated her" -- something Buffy herself hadn't expected. A racist narrative is wrongly attributed.

[Certainly, one can find ways to convince oneself that a Joss narrative is not being bigoted, but that doesn't mean it necessarily isn't bigoted.]

The converse also holds. It's often easier to reduce an inherently difficult narrative to polarities which distance one from engagement & create a false elevation, both moral and social, above the situation. This is what drove me out of academic institutions years ago -- they were disengaging students from the very forms of discourse that the students needed to experience & engage in, in order to encompass them & weave them into a much broader & deeper narrative.





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At the time the First Slayer was created, there were no white humans. Had he made them white, he would have been racist for interpellating white men at a time when there were none.

I agree.

Some artists just seem to have that one medium where their genius REALLY stands out. I think of Joni Mitchell and her numerous paintings... she has done gobs of oil paintings. They all are decent, good even. But they aren't outstanding and they done' convey her talent or voice the way her music does.

She won't go down in history as a fabulous painter and Joss won't be heralded for his contribution to the world of comics.

That said, I think we have to let the artistic types play about in different mediums. I'd have no issue with season eight if it weren't for the pesky 'this is canon' crap.

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Sounds logical to me.

I followed your links concerning Joss being willing to dump season 8 as canon given the proper alignment of the stars. So, uh, how hard is it to tug a few stars into place these days? Certainly someone out there has the technology.

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Yeah, I knew that (that being the idea of a movie was kaput). I was just being hopeful, or allowing myself a momentary daydream.

Talked with friends last night about the problems with live-action versions of animé stories, none of which, in their view, have succeeded.

I don't mind the playing about -- it's the attempt to canalize BtVS into this comic medium which has messed up.

Nonetheless, in looking at the Watcher Junior article on the different presentations of Buffy in the comics, I was struck again by the cover of #1, in which Buffy is pulling off a mask -- it goes back to something which struck me, which was that Joss was doing something different with the covers. Nothing in the stories through #35 explained who this Buffy-masked individual is on #1 . . .


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