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A song for #ThrowbackThursday! SPIT AND SOUL!

I wrote Spit and Soul ages ago with my friends in Terminal Ready while dealing with a lot of frustrating changes in our personal lives as well as the local music scene.  This track made it into our repertoire and stuck with our stage show until the end.

Love, you’ve got something over me.
Silver, gold, spit and soul.

One of the things I like most about it is the stark difference between the heavy guitar and the almost Psychedelic Furs rolling synth line that adorns the chorus.

The song is an echo of my frustration with a touch of despair and hopelessness.  There’s a cyclic element to life that I don’t think I understood before then, and this is probably the first song that captures that. This was the realization that I will probably always be angry.

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Video Game Date Night: Borderlands 2

So, Borderlands2 is pretty cool, it turns out.  My girlfriend and I have been playing it a lot this week as part of our video game date night. It is cross-platform multiplayer, so long as you match versions which can be tricky.  We are doing LAN play, going through the campaign as best as we can.

I like the toon shader graphics style.
I like the toon shader graphics style.

When you play co-op, it has an MMORPG feel to it, with the ability to bring your characters into your friends games, but it doesn’t lose its FPS edge. It’s a good change of pace from our previous video game date nights, where we played more story driven stuff like Gone Home and The Stanley Parable.  I tend to like artsy games, and she tends to like stuff-blows-up games.

This gun sets stuff on fire. So that I can punch it to death.
This gun sets stuff on fire. So that I can punch it to death.

My favorite thing so far is setting things on fire and then punching them to death. That’s just how I roll.

Spacyspace

We’re fucking Starfleet.

So I accidentally transported a murderous shapeshifter from Vulcan to P’Jem, today. You know. Like ya do…

It was only my 3rd mission as acting Captain of the U.S.S. Hakata. She’s not a particularly great ship. In fact she’s downright terrible, but we still kicked some Orion ass.

Vulcan is a pretty place, if you're into things that aren't pretty.
Vulcan is a pretty place, if you’re into things that aren’t pretty.

The first leg of our diplomatic mission to P’Jem was to pick up Vulcan Ambassador Sokketh. What a dick. I really should have known he was a goddamn shapeshifter. New website idea: Vulcan or Asshole.

This is about where we fucked it all up.
This is about where we fucked it all up.

Once we had finally hit the surface of P’Jem and were balls deep in some Klingon patrols, we figured out he was a shapeshifter. Well, we didn’t figure shit out, but Starfleet filled us in.  We chased him off planet and killed some mother fuckers in space. Because that’s what we do. We’re fucking Starfleet.

Even Texas showed up. Texas is so fucking lazy.
Even Texas showed up. Texas is so fucking lazy.

I’m kind of amazed every time I pick up Star Trek Online. Even the early missions have the feel of an episode from any number of the TV series. Each mission chain takes about 30 minutes or so, depending on how familiar you are. Pretty cool, as a long-time Trek fan.

Week of Buffy: Day 7, The Bronze

Week of Buffy: Day 7, The Bronze

In addition the the excellent score and badass selection of youth-targeted pop songs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured frequent live bands, mostly favoring up-and-coming artists over already established acts. Each of the bands play at the local hangout, The Bronze, amidst some kind of Scooby Gang revelry.  The live music showcase is reminiscent of older shows like The Monkeys or The Young Ones.

You can imagine yourself in the crowd. The place is real.
You can imagine yourself in the crowd. The place is real.

Even as the opening credits run we were assaulted with harsh and vibrant guitars as a departure from the classical horror inspired organs and symphonic fugues, asserting modernity and a contemporary cultural relevance. The score itself delves into late 90s culture for acts like Curve, Blink 182, and The Sundays.

Belly Love at The Bronze
Belly Love at The Bronze

Focus was made predominantly on on live acts, each hosted by the fictional Sunnydale hangout The Bronze. Instead of going for acts with well established names, the musical cast is comprised of small, lesser known, and often local bands. Many of the bands are either returning underground champions or have since created a name for themselves, including: Aimee Mann, Michelle Branch, Cibo Matto, Bif Naked, and The Breeders. Because of this, the television show becomes accessible and opens up to a younger crowd that had remained unaddressed by the other shows of the time, like: E.R., Seinfeld, Friends, and Home Improvement. I believe this to be the cornerstone of Buffy’s success.

Bif Naked played a house party, I think.
Bif Naked played a house party, I think.

Not only is the frequent showcasing of live music generally awesome, it also bears homage to classic television variety shows, most of which also target a younger demographic. Buffy pays tribute to the format of earlier shows like The Young Ones, which featured bands at a local bar in between episodic shenanigans. Shows like The Monkees were also borrowed from heavily, by integrating the bands into both dialog and the story.

DINGOS AT MY BABY! Oz's fictitious band.
DINGOS AT MY BABY! Oz’s fictitious band.
Week of Buffy: Day 6, Once More With Feeling

Week of Buffy: Day 6, Once More With Feeling

“Once More With Feeling” is one of the few episodes to break the six year tradition and reject the Buffy branded opening sequence for another, scene-setting musical intro.  A substantial chunk of the dialog is given in terrifyingly good song and dance numbers, as the team battles a demon hell-bent on driving the world to song. The campy nature of the musical gives the freedom to bounce from cinematographic style to style with reckless abandon.

Sweets and Dawn, like a pro.
Sweets and Dawn, like a pro.

If you can imagine your friends bursting into song, deeper than the occasional embarrassing yodel of Nickleback lyrics in the car, you can understand why this is truly a horrific ordeal. They went to great lengths to make sure the singing sounded honest, and to great effect. Some of the cast clearly can sing, like the biggest surprise, Amber Benson, singing “Under Your Spell,” while others are merely serviceable.

Homage is paid in full to several big names through various pastiche sequences. Disney had more than simply an honorable mention, represented in not just song and dance, but in special effects as well. West-side Story’s mention added a surprising level complexity as several groups sang intertwined versions of the same song together in a montage of different scenes.

Xander and Anya. They have issues.
Xander and Anya. They have issues.

Truth is revealed to the characters using an elaborate combination of song and dance routines in place of the standard dialog, while a palpable tension between characters is revealed through their compulsory honesty. Xander and Anya express their uncertainty while Willow and Tara battle about Willow’s addiction to magic. In addition to directly enhancing the dialog, the extras are also deeply embroiled in their own song and dance numbers, telling various frivolous and amusing stories, and ultimately adding to the awesome ambiance and believability of the episode’s story arch. Which is to say: A strange believability was gained by making a musical episode.

 

Week of Buffy: Day 5, Dark Willow

Week of Buffy: Day 5, Dark Willow

I had never seen someone flayed alive on television before, but that’s exactly the kind of gift you get when one of the series’ nicest, most peaceful and loving characters goes completely and absolutely berserk.

Just take that in for a minute. That's Willow.
Just take that in for a minute. That’s Willow.

The carnage starts off with the episode “Seeing Red” at the end of season 6 when the season’s main villain, The Trio, accidentally murders Tara. This isn’t the first time we’ve had satellite characters killed for impact or storytelling, but it definitely is the character billed closest to Buffy to die such a final death in the series. The episode captures the essence of anger, frustration, and fury as it explores the desperate loss of a romantic love. In addition, the episode uses this Big Bad as a vehicle to discuss more socially relevant topics of justice, vengeance, and morality.

Still awash in the blood of Tara, becoming evil.
Still awash in the blood of Tara, becoming evil.

The majority of other characters to die always seem to come back as some kind of mulligan: The slayers die periodically, paving way for the addition of new slayer-like characters, and demons die and return tortured. Buffy’s mother was the first long-term cast member to die permanently, only returning in visions or flashbacks.

She's going to kill people.
She’s going to kill people.

I just… I’ve had blood on my hands all day. Blood from people I love.

Tara’s death, however, marks not only the creation of one of my favorite story arcs, but also one of the series’ most disturbing characters: Dark Willow. Willow’s previously explored addiction to magic and extreme power are brought into a dark focus by her anger at the loss of Tara. The transformation into Dark Willow is shown with several different components of cinematography, including wardrobe, make-up, acting/behavior study, and special effects. Not only does her behavior and mannerism clearly change, but also the wardrobe, make-up and hair style all shift to assert a darker, possibly evil underlying character.

Despite the menacing harpoon and bared teeth, not evil.
Despite the menacing harpoon and bared teeth, not evil.

Willow’s descent into darkness begins with her sought out revenge against The Trio. With her new found power, she quickly becomes substantially stronger than Buffy, and the Scooby Gang must work together to stop. The social dialog and underlying commentary show how the group is torn between supporting her revenge and hoping to end it. This is one of those rare TV moments where you find yourself on the fence and almost rooting for the murderous villain.

Week of Buffy: Day 4, The Body

Week of Buffy: Day 4, The Body

There simply aren’t enough expletives in the English language to do justice to experiencing The Body from season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I first saw it, I was glued to my chair, shocked into silence. It was brutal.

Before you read more, watch this.

The Body may be the single finest episode of television to have been created. It is an approximate 45 minutes of cinematic genius, strung up by its humanity in town square during the 7:00PM broadcast time-slot. This episode is a prime example of accomplished filmmakers demonstrating their prowess and taking no prisoners, and every aspect of the artistic performance was spot on.

Willow and Tara, a visceral scene.
Willow and Tara, a visceral scene.

The acting was appropriately awkward, confused, and gut-wrenchingly distressing, while Sarah Michelle Gellar delivered one of the finest performances she has ever given, as a girl who has just found her mother’s lifeless body in her living room. I can’t even begin to imagine, much less capture, the raw emotion associated not only with the loss, but also with the shock of the encounter itself. The supporting cast each reached deep into the bucket of drama for their performances as well, and nothing came up lacking.

Dawn, trying to understand. Trying to be brave.
Dawn, trying to understand. Trying to be brave.

The finest component of this masterpiece, however, is in the audio. To create the stark and unrelentingly harsh and crisp environment, the episode was made without score or musical soundtrack. The only audio in the episode is dialog and ambient noise. Because of this minimalist approach and staunch attention to detail, the sounds became their own powerful players. The shuffling feet and the silence. The quiet whispers and the tearful mourning. The sounds of the ambulance driving away pierced the screen and my heart sank. For the duration of that episode, I understood.

There’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid.

Anya’s innocent insights drive home the nature of dealing. Suddenly, her humanity has her at a disadvantage and she doesn’t understand how or why. This is undoubtedly the series’ finest moment, and quite possibly for television as well. It is humbling to watch.

buffy day 3

Week of Buffy: Day 3, Shift To Widescreen

I couldn’t help but notice, as I watched through the series jumping from episode to episode like a junkie reaching for his next fix, that for the fourth season was in 16:9 widescreen format.  What does this add? What does this take-away? How fundamentally does this alter the vision of the original works? And most importantly, WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?

Apparently, the BBC started airing the show in widescreen during the fourth season and when you stream the show online, that is what you are watching. Interesting, no? I was quickly able to spot continuity issues and framing issues with the new format, something that I assume would have Whedon rolling over in his premature, undead grave. To a certain degree, so long as it is presented in the way the source material was originally intended, it doesn’t matter; The framing will be right, the continuity will hold. But, as is true in this case, if something intended for fullscreen is retro-fitted to a widescreen format, you get stuff like these pictures. You get accidental arms  in frame during solo scenes and stage lights hanging in awkward and inappropriate areas. It can really disrupt the moment.

Move, bitch! Get out the way!
Move, bitch! Get out the way!

There are other considerations in this, as I think about kids today trying to enjoy this gem of late 90s/ early 2k television. Most modern computers and laptops come in widescreen format and you’ll be hard pressed to find a television that isn’t widescreen. Now, when I see a film or piece of cinema that isn’t in widescreen, it stands out. I go into the material with the understanding that the media is dated. How can this badass show, which remains fairly contemporary, feel that way if the viewer shows up primed to think of it as some type of legacy material?

Well, hello there, stage light and weird boom thing!
Well, hello there, stage light and weird boom thing!

I can understand why Joss Whedon and friends would be hesitant to release Buffy on blu-ray, though I’m not entirely sure that it matters. With the prevalence of streaming services like Netflix and nefarious sources like Pirate Bay, seeing the series with that disconcerting formatting is inevitable.

Here’s someone else talking about this too (borrowed their images, in fact.):

http://www.quadruplez.com/2010/06/essay-why-buffy-may-never-be-blu/

buffy day 2

Week of Buffy: Day 2, The Zeppo

Let’s talk Xander, for a minute.  Xander Harris, as a character is fantastic, but Xander Harris as a trope is amazing. AMAZING.

Each episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an analog between dark, evil supernatural encounters and real-life issues of growing up. Each character takes a turn as a vehicle to discuss a particular aspect of life, and Xander’s issues, without a doubt, are some of the most entertaining.

Xander. An axe. Ready to rock.
Xander. An axe. Ready to rock.

I’m sick of being the guy who eats insects and gets the funny syphilis. As of this moment, it’s over. I’m finished being everybody’s butt monkey!

Through Xander’s awkward, and strangely relatable experiences, we see the difficulties of making poor relationship decisions, and through his interactions with the rest of the gang, we get a glimpse of just how difficult it really is to be friends with someone constantly making those mistakes. Xander, referred to as a “demon magnet” in season 4, consistently dates terrible supernatural girls, each of which is predominantly evil and hell-bent on killing him, if not destroying the world. The two exceptions to this are Anya, an ex-vengeance demon, which still kind of sticks with the tradition, and Cordelia the worst of all his counterparts: a socialite. The joke, of course, is that Cordelia might as well be a demonic hell-beast sent to destroy the earth. Or at least Xander’s meager social life.

Xander and Anya
Xander and Anya

I just, present company excluded, I have the worst taste in women of anyone in the world, ever.

All of these girls represent some kind of brash, aberrant, or crazed girl, each possessing some element that drives a wedge between Xander and the gang. Typically, it is some kind of horrid evil awakening a sleeping devil or something far, far worse: Cordelia Chase.

Xander and Cordelia
Xander and Cordelia

Xander spends a lot of time coping with the social isolation and general negativity this brings out of his friends, as well as dismantling the various nefarious plots of his demonic romantic counterparts. Through this story-telling, we’re given a window into our own lives as we see our friends, and probably ourselves, dating crazy people. It’s an interesting character study, and is a great opportunity for comedy.

Xander tells an evil Angel off. And almost shits himself.
Xander tells an evil Angel off. And almost shits himself.

You’re gonna  die. And I’m gonna be there.

In most cases the episodes focus on either the group as a whole, a secondary story line, or The Slayer herself. In the case of The Zeppo, however, it’s Xander-TV. Xander’s character development takes the center stage as his quest for self-esteem has him befriending undead hooligans. Much like his romantic life.

Indeed they do, Anya. Indeed.
Indeed they do, Anya. Indeed.

Maybe it’s the syphilis talking, but, some of that made sense.

The unspoken reality of Xander, especially in the TV series, is that he’s the unsung hero. Despite his crass negativity and told-you-so attitude, he’s often right. Almost every turn, he’s the un-heeded voice of reason. It’s not until the comic books, season 8, that you see him really take shape.

buffy day 1

Week of Buffy: Day 1, An Introduction of Sorts

In which, I embark on a 7 (or so) day journey into the infamous Buffy-verse, discussing anything and everything I want, as I want it. First, an introduction of sorts…

Through seven years of syndication, the great codex of the Buffy-verse has grown into a gargantuan repertoire of comedy, drama, and cinematic artistry, wielding a pervasive cultural significance, and documenting the cultural growth of a generation. While I don’t believe that its creator, Joss Whedon, had any intention of creating something of such cultural relevance, I do believe that by writing, thinking, and creating honestly he tapped into the life-blood of not only my generation, but the foundation of all generations that follow.

The Scooby Gang, about season 5 I think.
The Scooby Gang, about season 5 I think.

Given the sheer girth of the Buffy-related works, this week-long adventure is sheer folly. Each entry in this journal will be about some different aspect of either a specific episode, a collection of related episodes, or perhaps wandering thoughts on a random topic inspired through watching this television show. Going into this, I’m very excited about certain seasons, and certain episodes, but also seeing this series again through a new lens and fresh perspective.

Scooby Gang, season 4. Probably.
Scooby Gang, season 4. Probably.

The very first mission statement of the show was the joy of female power: having it, using it, sharing it.

Joss Whedon first realized his Buffy the Vampire Slayer content in movie form, in 1992, in a serviceable comedy featuring early 90s pop icons Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry. Growing up, I enjoyed the movie for the pop-trash that it was. Going into the television show much later, I found the content much less frivolous. The main character was a strong woman, using her strength to protect people, as Joss says: “The very first mission statement of the show was the joy of female power: having it, using it, sharing it”. Buffy becomes a deep and textured character, and each story embodies a new, strong element of dealing with life and growing up.

Not a great film, but interesting pop trash. Whedon spoke out against it on more than a few occasions.
Not a great film, but interesting pop trash. Whedon spoke out against it on more than a few occasions.

Tomorrow: The Zeppo. For real.