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(Commentary) Stones

29th September 2009 (23:08)

Last week I posted my first 'Buffy' vid for over a year. Link  And now I'm going to give you all a Director's Commentary on it, whether you want me to or not. :-)

Also, I should point out that this post does not contain a single reference to Season 8 or comics. Except for this paragraph itself, recursively enough.

As I explained in the original post, the idea for this vid came when I hunted out a recording of a piece of music I remembered listening to years ago. As I played it again, I started associating scenes from Willow's story arc at the end of Season 6/start of Season 7 with the lyrics. At first, I didn't have a strong theme above and beyond the actual story from the show: Willow falls into darkness but is dragged back from the brink. However, as I started laying down clips and thinking about scenes, I started to see how to put a deeper message into the vid. How to make it give us an insight into Willow's character, rather than just replay her story.

I also saw a way to use the symbolism of 'Stones' to say something about her arc - something that works even better for me once I looked up the significance of why she put some stones on Tara's grave in 'Help'. (Most commentaries on that episode just say "It's a Jewish custom", but they don't explain why it's a Jewish custom, or what it means to the Jewish people who do it. I had to research that bit myself.)


Stones
By David Jones and Kathleen Watson
.

This song was a recurring theme in the 'Ultima' series of computer role-playing games from the 80s and 90s. The 'Stones' of the title refers to Stonehenge, and the song is about the mystery of why the people so long ago raised them. As I created the vid, I realised that it had itself to centre around three stones: Buffy's gravestone, the temple of Proserpexa, and coming full circle back to Tara's gravestone at the end. Together, those three stones sum up Willow's downfall and possible recovery.

Intro, 0.00 - 0.10
The opening scene with the long shot of the graveyard is from 'Conversations with Dead People', cutting to Willow standing on the tomb from 'Bargaining 1'. I wanted to show Willow in a graveyard to set up the stones/gravestones theme and establish which character the vid was about. The small figure walking in the opening scene is, of course, Buffy, but I picked a clip where she was far enough away as to be unrecognisable. You could believe it's Willow herself, or that it's Buffy and Willow is stood on top of a tomb watching her patrol. However my favourite interpretation is that Willow is imagining that Buffy is still alive and patrolling the cemeteries, but she knows that really she's dead and Willow is alone. That's why Buffy appears so small and distant: she's only a shadow of a memory.

Intro, 0.10 - 0.21
The musical introduction repeats, and we see why Buffy is only a memory: she's dead and buried. The clip of the gravestone is from 'The Gift', but I added a filter to darken it to match the sombre lighting of the surrounding clips. But Willow is not prepared to let Buffy rest peacefully in her grave: she's going to bring her back. By painting her face with blood, she's taking on the dark magic, accepting it into herself. A baptism of evil, because Willow is unable to let go.

Note: the font I used for the title 'Stones' is American Uncial, chosen because it's a fairly cheesy faux-Celtic font and the song is a fairly cheesy faux-Celtic folk song. :-) For the smaller credits I used a different font, because American Uncial doesn't do uppercase letters and doesn't work well at a smaller size; I tried to pick a script font that would match. Crediting the music to "Iolo and Gwenno" is an in-joke. Richard Garriot, who created the 'Ultima' series, included the writers of 'Stones' - his friends in real life - into the games as those two characters.

Long ago ran the sun...
Willow is now Dark, and wackiness ensues. The shot of the fireball is a fairly simplistic reference to the 'sun' lyric. Originally, I used a longer clip of that scene for the whole section of the vid, although I had to slice it into small pieces to avoid talky-face because in 'Grave' Willow was yacking away to Buffy and Giles all through that scene. However, it struck me that there was a much better visual reference to use: Willow wiping away the cuts and blood from her face after her fight with Giles. This ties in directly to her painting her face with blood in the previous clip. She can wipe off the marks, but the magic - the veininess - is inside her now, and that doesn't wipe clean so easily.

...on a folk who had a dream,
Irony alert. The song is talking about the creators of Stonehenge, and saying in an admiring tone that they "had a dream". Willow in 'Grave' also has a dream, that will cause her to raise a standing stone too  - but her dream is to kill everybody in the world. But she's doing it for our own good, honest. I picked this sequence of clips partly because of the dreamlike effect of the SFX in the original scene, and Willow's breathless ecstasy. I trimmed two clips together so that the action of Willow sitting down is in time with the music.

And the heart and the will and the power.
Willow gets the power to fulfil her dream by draining it from Giles. My main intervention here was timing it so that she plunges her hand down over his heart exactly when the word 'heart' comes up in the lyric.

They moved earth, they carved stone,
Some general shots of Willow being all Dark and powerful and evil. This was one of the earliest sequences I had in mind when I created the vid; it's also useful because I didn't want to make the centre section all about the temple on Kingman's Bluff; I wanted to mix it up with other scenes. Willow causing the forest to come alive to grab Warren was chosen to match "they moved earth", while her torture of him was all to do wit hthat word "carved". I apologise to anyone who saw the clip of her making the hand gesture and cringed away assuming the next scene would be Icky Skinless Warren; it's actually from earlier on, when she cuts open his shirt.

Moulded hill and channelled stream,
More of the above, but now we get to see the second of my eponymous Stones. Willow, of course, is moulding a hill (Kingman's Bluff) here. She's also channelling a stream of power through her body, which might be a less obvious reference to the lyrics.

That we might stand on the wide plains of Wiltshire.
I went with the long shot of Willow standing there for 'we might stand', and the picture of the spire showing the landscape behind it for "wide plains of Wiltshire". Of course what we're actually looking at is the bumpy hills of Southern California, complete with Pacific Ocean over to the left. However, let me just say that I've been to Wiltshire. I've seen its "wide plains" - and the prairies of Texas they ain't. (The writers of the song come from Texas. I'm not sure if they've ever been to Wiltshire).

Now men asked who they were,
Just as people today are puzzled by the construction of Stonehenge, Willow's friends are puzzled by why she's skinning people alive and trying to blow up the world. Quite a reasonable reaction, really. The clip was jiggled around and the timing slowed down slightly so I'd get Xander turning to look at Buffy on "men asked" and Buffy staring at Willow as if she can't believe who she's looking at on "who they were".

How they built, and wonder why
More reaction shots. Buffy with the blood on her shirt is actually there to echo "how they built" - it's how Dark Willow was built out of normal Willow.

That they wrought standing stones of such size.
Back to Willow raising the temple. Every clip in this vid is unique, I didn't repeat any, but some of them are obvously taken from the same scene just at different moments. The shot of tiny little Willow dwarfed by the spire fits nicely with 'of such size', and maybe echoes the very first shot of the vid. Willow has called up the dark magic to do her will, but it's now bigger than her.

What was done 'neath your shade,
Willow turned to dark magic to bring Buffy back to her, so it's ironic that now she's merely distantly amused by her suffering, and is ready to send her back into the grave.

What was prayed 'neath our skies,
Willow begins her invocation to Proserpexa to burn the world to a cinder. This is not a good example of the healing power of prayer.

As we stood on the wyrd plains of Wiltshire?
Xander! Yay! Yellow crayons! Um, anyway. You all know what this scene's about. It moves us from the Dark Willow section of the vid to the final verse, which is about the future. From a technical perspective, this may look like a single clip but it was assembled and pieced together from three different ones, including one that had the timing dialled back, to give a condensed snapshot of the scene. Xander is touching the clawmarks on his cheek as the word "wyrd" comes up.

Also? Cheesy faux-Celtic folk song? Yeah. Of all the words to describe Wiltshire I can think of, "wyrd" wouldn't be the first. I mean, it's not even an adjective, it's a noun...

Oh, what secrets we could tell
A longer than normal fade-to-black transition there; it's actually a section of black screen rather than just the canned FTB effect that comes with the video editing software. I needed to fit the timing of the song, and also show clearly that this is a transition to a different section. On a side note, this is my favourite verse from a purely musical point of view.

Willow is now all repenty, and in the magical equivalent of therapy. The line about telling secrets, of course, is there to match up with her talking to Giles. (Whom, you'll remember, she was sucking the life out of in the first verse of the vid.)

If you'd listen and be still,
The slow-motion flower is an image of meditation and reflection, of course, but it's also a literal match for the lyrics. You'd have to listen and be still for a really long time for a flower to grow and bloom in front of you like this. Incidentally, you'll notice that in the original episode this scene comes before, not after, the one I use it immediately after. Another strike in my crusade to never use a plain clip when I can edit, reverse, re-speed, trim or re-arrange it.

Rid the stink and the noise from our skirts.
Willow clears her head with a refreshing walk beneath the cold English rain. Also? For the record? This scene was filmed in Wiltshire. Your actual 100% Wiltshire, the genuine, non-"wyrd" county in south-west England. The scene also has Fran and Rubel Kazui's names coming up in the middle of it - yet another reason to hate them, since I had to slice the clip to bits to get rid of them. Then play around with the timing so the transition between the 'before' and 'after' came in time with the music.

But you haven't got the clue...
Willow is all doubtful. Can she really move on? Has she repented her foolish ways? Does she bear the mark of Cain on her forehead (and cheeks) forever now? Has it stopped raining yet, because her taxi's at the other door?

...And perhaps you never will.
Willow kneels next to Tara's gravestone, in 'Help'. Thus we're brought full circle, from the grave of one of Willow's loved ones to the grave of another. She was willing to turn to dark magic to bring Buffy back to her; is she tempted to do the same for Tara? Has she learned to let go? The words of the song are pessimistic, and I do think there is genuine doubt. Willow's personality still contains the flaws that brought her low: her self-confidence, her courage, her brilliance, her desire to help other people, her loyalty to her friends, her willingness to challenge the accepted rules, her... wait a minute. Did I just list her virtues rather than her flaws?  Well actually, her virtues are her flaws. Which is a bit of a bummer. Perhaps she never will be able to move on from them.

Mute we stand on the cold plains of Wiltshire.
Or maybe she will. This is where the symbolism of the Jewish custom of leaving stones on a grave comes up, and when I researched it I knew that this had to be the final scene of the vid.

Technically, by the way, I had to insert a freezeframe of the stones and pan it to make sure they receive the right amount of attention, before we cut to the shot of Willow standing all alone in the light, on the warm plains of California, next to the grave. And yes, the clips of her are all in reverse order compared to the episode. I'm still me, y'know?

As for the meaning of the custom:

Putting a stone on a grave is, quite simply, a way of marking that you were there. It tells anyone else who comes along, be they friend or family of the deceased or simply a passer-by, that the person buried here is still remembered and loved, because people are still visiting their grave to pay their respects. There are several theories of how the tradition started, but most of the sources I looked at say that it derives from the custom in Biblical times of marking a grave with a cairn of stones. Each mourner added their own stone to the pile, and it was considered an act of piety and duty to help to keep a grave marked in this way. These days we have formal carved gravestones, but adding your own small stone to it shows that you too wish to pay your own respects in this way.

Symbolically, the stone represents permanance and eternity. Flowers may wither and die, but a stone will last forever. It expresses the wish that the memory of the deceased will also never be forgotten. A simple stone picked up off the ground is also as humble and unostentatious as it's possible to be, and by marking the grave of anybody, rich or poor alike, in the same way, it's a reminder that everyone is equal in the sight of G-d. Or the Goddess, as Willow would probably say at this point in her life.

So there's the symbolism. Willow never left stones on Buffy's grave, because she couldn't accept that her death was forever. She didn't want to preserve her memory of her friend; she wanted her friend back with her in person. Buffy's grave didn't need to be marked, because it wasn't going to be permament.

But Tara? The stones tell us that Willow never wants to forget her, but she accepts that now she is only a memory. It will be difficult, but she knows she has to move on now.
So maybe there is hope for her.



 

Comments

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 29th September 2009 23:41 (UTC)

Um. Okay. WHY are you so clever??? And I mean that in a non-sarcastic way - I had no idea how much this matched the lyrics and had deeper meaning. I was just kinda "Wheee, pretty video of Willow being evil!" Soooo this was actually a very appreciated commentary - interesting to hear about the process of cutting up the clips (cause I know jackshit about vidding) and the meaning of each lyric paired with clip.

Also, your research skillz on the Jewish custom was really interesting - that's actually so so apt for Willow, probably more so than the writers even thought about. Nice how that works out. :)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st October 2009 00:09 (UTC)

Oh, vidding is all very deep and technical - or at least it can be. That's why it usually takes me half the year to make each vid.

And yes, ther's always the suspicion that the writers didn't actually do the same level of research as the fans. :-) Do you know if any of the writing team are Jewish themselves?

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 00:10 (UTC)

Yeah, it sounds hard as crap. I can enjoy watching them from afar!

Yeahhhh. I think it's just easier to analyze something when it's been made than to fill it with purposeful deep meaning in the first place. But there's also the part where they sometimes fail.

Um, why would I know something useful like that? No idea. :D

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 30th September 2009 04:09 (UTC)
pic#87400756

Nice commentary. It's impressive that you could match the clips to an originally unrelated song that closely.

(Though I've never been there, I have to stand up for the wyrdness of Wiltshire. Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill, the White Horse... and in the Buffyverse, at least one powerful coven of witches and, possibly, the Deeper Well.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st October 2009 00:11 (UTC)

Plus Swindon. Don't forget the big railway depot in Swindon. :-)

Thanks!

Posted by: soga_mods (soga_mods)
Posted at: 7th October 2009 21:30 (UTC)
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