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Reading "This is the Picture"

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I love the fact that a drop of blood was used as the visual for the title card of this vid. It immediately called to my mind Spike's line at the end of S5 that "It's always got to be blood." It's what connects people; it's part of what makes people human; it's a symbol of both life and death. It's also a connective force within the vid.

While "This is the Picture" represents various themes as well as passing motifs, it also focuses a great deal on people and what connect them. Its stream-of-consciousness format is a somewhat necessary device, both due to the lyrics of the music, as well as the enormity of content across the five different projects that represented Joss Whedon's television work. The style works quite well in highlighting both small details that echo across different situations, as well as larger and important themes that underlie the different shows.

Given the vid's emphasis on subconscious connections, it's fitting that we begin with images of people asleep, and that this is then followed by some images from the Buffy episode "Restless", which was Whedon's own take on subconscious connections, characterization, and truths. The first lyrics, "Flying birds" also provide an opportunity to bring in Sierra's bird drawings from Dollhouse, her own subconscious expression of deeper issues.

The vid has many dense sections of matched images and motifs. I want to focus on only a few, which I think are representative of how each set can reveal a great deal from particular images. These examples all relate to communication and its ability to unite.

Silencing Messengers

One of my favorite sections is "Long words, excellent words, I can hear them now." This stood out to me in the song as a very obvious allusion to Joss' merited fame for his use of language (and humor) in his writing. The problem, of course, in trying to represent the words Joss uses in a vid is that you can't hear them being spoken, and most vidders consider "talky face" a no-no in vids. So I considered it intensely amusing that clips from "Hush" proved useful in this section, given that its script was Joss' response to being praised for his use of words.

I also appreciated the clip of Dr. Horrible's letter being sung. This was a nod to the issue of problem solving through visual devices, which the vid itself is employing here! In this case, the problem is the written word. When it comes to letters or documents, filmed stories tend to do one of two things -- either focus closely on a few key bits of text, or have a character read the text out loud. In Dr. Horrible though a different option was taken: the text was sung by a chorus -- which in a very meta element, included two of the project's authors. So instead of an actor speaking the author's text aloud, the authors sang the text to the actor.

The next two clips pass quickly but are very closely tied. The first is of the Buffybot having spoken its final words to Dawn before it 'dies'. The second is of Mal, getting up to leave after hearing the final words of Mr. Universe as recorded by his wifebot, Lenore. In each case the two (rather similar-looking) bots were created for a lover's pleasure, but also served a protective function. In their final scenes they are both vital messengers. In the first clip, the Buffybot has told Dawn that her original model, Dawn's sister, has returned from the dead. In the second clip, the bot sits cradling Mr. Universe after death, awaiting Mal. She replays Mr. Universe's final message about the backup broadcast equipment, which allows the Firefly team to complete their critical mission.

We next move to a clip of Giles from "Hush" holding up a finger to the lyric "Excellent words," highlighting the 'messenger' aspect of the previous two clips, which are then emphasized by close ups of both bots speaking. I find it particularly interesting that this Giles clip was used, since many clips must have been available of a character holding up a finger or otherwise gesturing to emphasize a point. Besides being another clip from "Hush" it also comes during a critical information session where Giles is relaying to Buffy and the Scoobies who their enemy is, and how it can be defeated. So that clip serves double duty in also integrating the "silencing the messenger" aspect of the other two image sets, since no one in the scene can speak.

I also really liked Drusilla's appearance at the end where she metaphorically snatches words out of the air. In this scene, she is seducing Spike away from his life into his future as a vampire. Although he has just met her, she mesmerizes him by telling him things about himself that he wishes to believe -- the key moment being when she repeats the word "effulgent." His recent use of this term is something she couldn't have known, though Drusilla's power as a seer gives her unique insight into others. So when she makes the grabbing gesture with her hand, it is as if she is snatching the word from his own mind. She speaks aloud what has existed in the silence of his mind and the written page, in synchrony with the lyrical phrase "I can hear them now." So this scene bookends the opening scene of this section, where Willow must use writing to produce speech, by giving speech to William's writing, as well as giving form to the earlier theme of words as vital messages that change the future.

Distorted Messages

We see this theme in the section beginning at 02:00 which is also marked by the lyric "Look out!" Various characters in Whedon works have had mental disorders, either temporary or ongoing. These are repeatedly shown as the result of intentional acts against the characters which have left them traumatized. In some cases the trauma leads to dangerous behavior, such as with the characters of Drusilla, Dana, River, and Buffy (in "Normal Again"), whereas others such as Sierra and Tara simply lose themselves.

In all their cases, however, there is an element of the 'distorted message' coming through. This is fairly obvious in the case of Drusilla who may see things others don't, but conveys her knowledge in a very confusing fashion. Although Cordelia was not deliberately injured like many other characters, she nevertheless had a dangerous role imposed on her without her knowledge, which she is not equipped to handle. She ends up surviving only through a form of death, which is that she becomes a demon. Like Drusilla she too sees the future, and for some time these messages sent to her by the Powers That Be incapacitate her and are often seen unclearly. Fred is included in this montage, as a brilliant young woman who becomes mentally disturbed by the trauma of being transported to another dimension where she is treated as a slave. While she continues her physics work, its usefulness and her ability to express herself has become impaired.

It's also of interest that the characters who suffer in this way are usually women. Although there are many female characters in Whedon's work, one of the few mentally afflicted male characters of note is Spike at the start of Buffy S7. Although he is not represented in this set of clips, the theme of the 'distorted message' is still present. He is debilitated not only from the trauma of trying to reconcile his soul with his past as a vampire, but because the season's villain, The First, is literally causing him to hallucinate messages to kill.

While our early introduction to the reason for Spike's behavior leads to a sympathetic view of the character as being manipulated by an evil force, the case of Alpha in Dollhouse portrays him more directly as a villain. Alpha's role echoes briefer representations such as that of Kralik in Buffy. However, as S1 goes on we discover that Alpha is himself a victim of the Dollhouse's technology and that his trauma is not unlike that of Spike's in some ways -- where he has lost his sense of self and must attempt to reconcile who he is in the face of irreconcilable input.

We otherwise see male victims of mental problems largely as extras, such as Glory's many victims in Buffy S5. However, it is interesting that as this segment on mental trauma ends, it does so with two scenes from Buffy S7 -- Willow overwhelmed by the evil of The First followed by Caleb in communion with that entity -- even though we never see Spike himself.

We also see links between The First with Blue Sun from Firefly, Rossum Corp from Dollhouse, and Wolfram & Hart from Angel. In each of these cases a broad, sometimes amorphous evil, serves as the source of destruction that the heroes in each series fight against. We then see scenes of them battling those forces, but these are followed by scenes of them battling one another. The message of who the "enemy" is has become distorted, and they go off the track of their missions.

Barriers Overcome

This overall arc concludes with scenes of connection and reconciliation, where again, blood resurfaces as a motif. Beginning at 3:28 we see a series of blood scenes which lead into two clips from Buffy S5. The first is where she begins to drink Dracula's blood and recognizes the demon origins of her own slayer power. She also, however, pulls away in that episode. The connection was made but she didn't succumb. Instead we see in the next scene that she demonstrates her bond with Dawn by emphasizing that Dawn was made from Buffy, they share the same blood. This key point will be what leads Buffy to sacrifice herself to save the world at the season's end, which is shown as we see the image of the dimensional rift opening.

The shared blood is the source of both life, in the bonds it creates, and is present in the death that often follows. We see several instances of groups sharing the same message, forming alliances and joining missions --the theme of 'family' extended to chosen families as well as blood ones. For example we see Angel and Connor, father and son, back to back, followed by Wes and Gunn, and by Buffy and Dawn, in the same positions. We then see hugs and kisses among various characters, some related, some not, some romantic, some familial, including one from Buffy to Faith, who also are blood sisters as fellow Slayers. The montage of pairs ends with Gunn and Harmony, who are not friends, not teammates, nor even of the same species.

Nonetheless, the connections are made, however temporary, as individuals join in action to the same messages, and as they follow their leaders -- in the departure of the Dolls, and in the joined efforts of Buffy's graduating class. The need for that leader's message however is key -- as River, Buffy, Echo, Faith, and Topher all break away and sacrifice for the common good.