I love that moment in ‘Once More with Feeling’…

…at the end of the ‘in-between’ scene that separates the numbers ‘I’ll Never Tell’ and ‘Rest in Peace’. There are no cuts in the scene. The camera tracks laterally, following Anya, Giles and Xander as they walk along a Sunnydale street, sharing information (and frustration) regarding the musical spell that the town and its residents are under. Whedon artfully modulates our attention: at first the main characters are the main thing we have to look at and listen to, but then, as well as tracking, the camera moves back to allow us to take in some amusing surrounding sights. We see a woman (producer Martin Noxon) protesting her parking ticket, in verse, and three street cleaners in matching boiler suits doing some choreographed broom work. (So much, in fact, is going on around the main characters that we might even miss some of their killer lines, like Giles’s ‘I managed to examine the body while the police were taking witness arias.’)

The characters come to a halt, and the conversation turns to Buffy, who has recently been brought back from the dead, and is behaving despondently and disconnectedly.  ‘I’m helping her as much as I can, but uh…’ Giles says, trailing off.  Then comes the moment I want to talk about.

Anya 'comforts' Giles.

Anya ‘comforts’ Giles.

In an attempt to comfort the downhearted Giles, Anya pats his shoulder.  By this point in the series a regular viewer will have become used to the difficulties that Anya, ex-vengeance demon, has in understanding and participating in some of the more subtle and unspoken human social rituals.  Sometimes, as in ‘The Body’, this is used to create pathos; usually, as here, it is used to create comedy.  One can see that Anya knows that in situations such as these, one of the things to do is to offer reassurance and comfort to someone by patting their shoulder.  The thing is, she is not yet particularly well-practiced in the delivery of the gesture, so its execution is comically mechanical.  Emma Caulfield is excellent at delivering such moments.  In this instance, Whedon’s framing lends a nice helping hand.

The broom dancers have just exited behind Giles and Xander, leaving the frame, for the first time in the scene (and just as it is about to come to its end) almost still. In the closing moments of the scene, the main motion is provided by Anya’s patting of Giles’s shoulder.  This, as well as the fact that we cannot see the face of the person performing it, helps us to focus our attention on the gesture.  The communication of the particular quality of the gesture is also supported nicely by the staging and framing.  Anya is slightly too far from Giles for the gesture to be comfortable (even if she were more comfortable with it); she is forced to perform it with a straight arm.  From our vantage point, we see the arm jutting out slightly awkwardly from behind Anya’s hair and across the frame.  Our angle of view also means that the up-and-down motion registers well, and we notice the slightly too-rhythmic quality of the patting, and the way Anya lifts her hand slightly too high above Giles’s shoulder between pats.

It is a delightful grace note to a delightful scene.

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