08 January 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

If I'm going to dig through the trash, I'm bound to inspect other people's garbage. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the 1992 movie, puts to the test my idea of a lasting place for all films in curious hearts, and a permanent value for them as historical records. A recent theatrical opportunity was, like Basket Case, a testament to the fervor of its followers, who might say the film isn't material for a tolerance test but good material. Simply, I disagree with the assertion in Buffy's case, and remain interminably ignorant of the television show and the show's spin-off. I consider it passable material.

I'll attempt to avoid dismissive language that might reduce the conversation to the purely taste based. As a film, Buffy is a specific breed of popular 90s filmmaking: a vampire element (genre emblem) is subordinate to related vampire hunting mythology (subgenre), subordinate to teenage allegory (demographic), subordinate to broad ranged teen comedy (Hollywood). It's execution is as a generic and broad ranged teen comedy. It functions as a teenage allegory as the vampire myth is secondary to the myth of Buffy, and the film is structured on her acceptance of new adult roles. Its efficacy boils down to your emotional investment in Buffy, who is written to attract sympathy and become liked.

Mostly the direction is functional, sometimes perfunctory. Working directors, without personal agenda (or vision), from Sam Wood and Lloyd Bacon to the present, are always the first to be accused of artlessness. When you feel the hand of Fran Rubel Kuzui in the movie it's in short, disconnected moments; stylistic choices, like the perfect push in on Buffy when the vampires arrive at the dance, are rare. It's occasionally decently written, sometimes entertaining. It can be both ("I'm the chosen one, and I choose to be shopping"). Too much time is spent satirizing 90's breed airheads, and either airheads are now more sophisticated or, more likely, filmmakers have become more sophisticated at portraying them. Several actors in the film were popular at the time, and several made names for themselves later on. I don't think it's worth discussing in this case. The performances are neither good nor bad. They are conspicuously performances, people pretending, without passion. Several times humor is used to puncture the artificiality, most notably in the instance of Paul Reubens's prolonged death.

The movie's deficiency, compared to other movies of the type that I enjoy, is the limited scope of personal, internal material. Little is undiscoverable, mysterious, or captivating in either the written characters, the actors' performances, or anyone else involved, behind the camera or in front, and it fails to capture the reality of the time and place. It's clearly made in the 90s, but says nothing interesting about the 90s. The weak direction limits its potential as spectacular dross, and too the film's conventional middle-class values make it less thrilling, less compelling. Taken as a teen comedy, the vampire stuff gets in the way; a discordance that generates copious exposition potential for the writer, but ultimately reveals little about teenagers or vampires. As a character based drama it's most successful, but I have difficulties imagining an enduring legacy for Buffy without the television show.

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