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posted by [personal profile] bop_radar at 04:34pm on 31/07/2009 under , ,
Title: Tear You Apart
Vidder: [personal profile] bradcpu
Fandom: Firefly
Commentary By: [personal profile] bop_radar
Warnings: (as per the vid itself) Violent and disturbing imagery, including images that could imply rape; explicit lyrics
Note: Spoilery for the vid which involves a reveal--if you haven't seen the vid, please do watch it first before reading this or the vid notes.

Confession: I'm not that big a Firefly fan. I've seen the series, loved Serenity, but don't know the show inside out, so in watching and commenting on this vid, I am not able to make direct reference to specific episodes. However, I adore the vid and get a lot out of it, so I hope you won't feel this hampers my reading in any way. (That said, I'd love to hear from anyone for whom closer knowledge of the source added resonance to the vid.)

A note on my approach with the clips from the vid--I have grouped the screenshots I took using ComicLife, in the hope that they will give the impression of groups of related shots. This vid is really, really non-linear, and a lot of the meaning is built from relating one image to another, so I wanted to show some of those relationships.

The Reveal
One of the reasons I chose this vid is because of its unusual approach to point of view. While there remains some ambiguity, the central relationship of Kaylee/Simon is seen from River's distorted perspective. The degree to which this plays as a 'reveal' may be greater or lesser depending on the viewer, their preconceptions going into the vid, and the degree to which they pick up on little details. A close study reveals that there are clues throughout the first two thirds about the point of view, but most viewers will probably agree that it doesn't really all 'click' until you see that shot of River staring down at Kaylee and Simon having sex. It's a vid that definitely warrants repeat viewings, and I found I noticed even more through this commentary. Personally, my enjoyment of the vid is in no way lessened by knowing the 'reveal', but that first viewing was a unique experience.

Overall rhythm and style
This is a complex, highly associative vid, and the editing choices add a lot to the overall tone. Since it's not easy to show these in stills, I wanted to outline a few of these first up:
- Jump cuts: We end up seeing that these reflect River's point of view, her slightly mechanical way of processing the world, but they also work to draw attention to specific moments that River has trouble processing, where she seems to be picking up on the chemistry between Kaylee and Simon but is unsure how to respond or what it means.
- Repeated imagery: There are two main kinds threaded throughout the vid: medical imagery (associated with Simon, and somewhat with River) and mechanical imagery (associated with Kaylee but also with Reavers). These are often edited so that they 'pulse', and the movement of the shots is often similar--for instance we follow platelets through the blood stream and we follow the ship through space. The contrast/parallel builds a creepy intimacy that doesn't make complete sense until the reveal that River is the intersecting point.
- Prefiguring/foreshadowing shots: The repetition of images also gives the work a coherency and wholeness, and linked to that is the way that Brad slips in images in the first half which prefigure what is to come. If you only watched the first half but studied it closely you might wonder why some shots were there (even if they made a weird instinctive sense). Likewise, in the second half, romantic, intimate shots are interspersed with nightmarish shots of River and the Reavers. I think the inter-reliance of shots helps the completeness of the vision.
- Physicality: I'm kind of plucking this term out of my head, so I hope it works. [personal profile] bradcpu's style is very physical, the vid has a natural, kinetic qualilty to it, linked to the music but also strong on its own (watch the vid with the sound down and you can still feel the internal rhythm). I believe this really helps build the sense that we are inside someone's very personal view of the world, even if we're not sure whose. The use of zooms help create the overall 'feel' but also build meaning in their own right--to begin with there are a lot of zoom ins, or movement that takes us 'down the rabbithole' and into the specific vision, but later in the vid, zoom outs are also used, particularly at points where things seem to be spiralling out of control, creating dizzying sensations. In this way the physical construction of the vid subtly mirrors the sensations that River has watching her brother with his lover.

Movement connects the opening sequence of images, building a relationship between the medical images and the space shots from the show.

This fast sequence is so tightly vidded to the music that the diverse imagery feels coherent. Some of the shots are so fast we only faintly pick up on them. These include a flash of surgery, and a closed eyelid pulsing. The idea of the gaze is introduced with a zoom in on Simon (connecting with the surgery) staring intently at something. This and the ship tracking determinedly through space build a sense of expectation which is also heightened by seeing someone open a box (the box from which the strawberry will come later--though the viewer doesn't realise the significance yet). The first sexual imagery is introduced with a strong connection to biology.

got a big plan his mind said maybe it's right
at the right place and right time maybe tonight

As the lyrics kick in, the central relationship of Kaylee and Simon is introduced. They are each shown in personal contexts to begin with, each intent on separate interests. The gaze is away from each other to objects with which that they have an intense relationship: in Kaylee's case to the ship (which she anthropomorphises), in Simon's to River (who is both the object of medical work and his sibling). Working against this are the lyrics, which build the idea that intimacy is anticipated. The jump-cut of Kaylee stroking the ship is particularly marked, as it has sexual connotations. The transference of feelings--or the confusion of them--becomes even more important as the vid goes on, but at this stage this shot helps to connect the human/intimate/medical images with those of mechanised space travel.

in a whisper or handshake sending a sign
wanna make out and kiss hard wait nevermind

Kaylee and Simon turn towards each other with significant looks--their gaze is pregnant with anticipation here, linking with the lyric 'sending a sign'. At this point the first-time viewer is probably wondering why this innocent attraction is played as so ominous. We see Kaylee writhing around sick on 'wanna make out'. This brings up the idea of their being something infectious about love, that it may be something of a sickness that spreads. This makes sense when we think of it from River's perspective--the flush of love and the flush of illness may be easily confused, both are biological processes. The verse ends with shots of Simon and River. The shift from Kaylee to River indicates that River's picking up on things. She is disturbed, and Simon is troubled by this--she takes his attention away from Kaylee ('wait nevermind').

late night in passing mention it flip to her
best friend it's no thing maybe it slipped
but the slip turns to terror and a crush to like
and she walked in he froze up leave it to fright

We shift to Kaylee's side of the story here, with her sharing her crush with Inara. Kaylee is open and warm and flirty. The story being told here could be lifted from any conventional 'shipper' vid. So the introduction of 'terror' and 'fright' are surprising. At the end of the sequence we see Simon startled by Kaylee--he's been watching River but finds his attention drawn to Kaylee. He is thrown 'off course' (linking back to the idea of a ship's course earlier).

it's cute in a way until you cannot speak
and you leave to have a cigarette knees get weak

There's lots going on in this section! The sense of exploring new territory is shown through Simon and Kaylee moving into new areas (the fact that we see them entering somewhere without knowing where it is they are entering is very powerful). At the same time, we start to wonder whose eyes we are seeing through when Kaylee rushes towards the camera in concern (mirror her motions later in the vid when she will rush towards River holding the stick/gun). The 'cuteness' of Kaylee and Simon wrestling on the sofa is underut by the lyrics. Is it really so cute to shove your foot in someone's face? Wouldn't that seem weird and creepy to River?

escape was just a nod and a casual wave
obsess about it heavy for the next two days

Here Kaylee's casualness is contrasted to Simon's anxiety. She may escape 'casually', but we see him approach nervously and then turn away without speaking. What's going on here?

it's only just a crush it'll go away
it's just like all the others it'll go away
or maybe this is danger and he just don't know

At this stage of the vid, it seems (to me) to shift slightly into Simon's point of view. The camera keeps returning to him looking at himself in the mirror, as we also see him approaching Kaylee in the loading bay as doors open. The lyrics suggest a tortured conscience--the 'like' that the crush has turned into worries him deeply. But this is a pretty heavy reading of Simon, so even on first viewing I was thinking 'are we really in Simon pov here?' The sequence makes more sense when you consider that River is feeling the build-up of tension between Kaylee and Simon, the energy in the air, and also some conflicted emotions on Simon's part. These are amplified in her mind--tension in particular must trigger warning bells for her. The sense of danger is shown with Kaylee about to cut a wire in her ship. This is a great image for potential disaster! Used as a metaphor it suggests that the cost of this 'like' may be severed ties--for Simon, severed ties with River? (Again, the faintest suggestion of this would be amplified in River's distorted vision.)

you pray it all away but it continues to grow
The image of a madman laughing hysterically here prefigures the Reaver footage to come and at the same time links us back to Simon's medical work--it also builds tension. We see Simon holding on to River's hand as tentacle-like contraptions grip on to the ship and take hold.

i want to hold you close
skin pressed against me tight
lie still close your eyes girl

The first chorus is built around two sequences of anticipation: Kaylee pulling out the strawberry and moving to taste it, and Simon preparing an injection. The parallel of the two is creepy and sickening--the strawberry is so sensual, the injection so clinical, but both result in a shift of a biology, of either endorphins or other chemicals coursing through a/the body. Meanwhile the shot of Kaylee lying on her side against the ship echoes one we'll see later or River in a similar position. We get a quick flash of River on the instruction to 'close your eyes'. (If only she could look away--but is it just the flashes to Reavers that she needs to escape?)

so lovely it feels so right
i want to hold you close
soft breath beating heart

The 'rightness' of Kaylee/Simon is undercut by the horrible images around it. An actual beating heart is shown in grotesque closeness, where it makes no sense as a romantic image--only as a biological one.

as i whisper in your ear
I wanna fucking tear you apart

The chorus builds to a climax, which is even more powerful if you've never heard the song before, as the lyric is itself startling. The claustrophobic intimacy built in the rest of the chorus leads to Simon looking up at Kaylee in a glance that could be construed as flirtatious but in this context feels predatory. What does he want to whisper to her? Um... Here we get the first explicity conflation of violence and sex.

This casts a reflection back on what we've just seen. Is the strawberry so innocent? Kaylee wants to devour it. Is Simon's penetration of River with a syringe so clinical? He has emotional power over her as well as physical.

At the end of the sequence we see someone being dragged away by the Reavers. They've loomed over the lens, snapping at it, and then pulled someone 'in'. The movement feels even more disturbing because we've been following the path of movement in a similar 'inward' way so much until now--and we've ended up attacked. We're put in River's point of view.

The music bridge consolidates the association with Reavers, while introducing more images of River in distress. (Action nerd moment: Cool shot of the boots landing thud on the planet.)

then he walked up and told her thinking maybe it'd pass
and they talked and looked away a lot doing the dance
her hand brushed up against his she kept it there
told him how she felt and then they locked in a stare

We return to the plot of Kaylee and Simon's flirtation, and we see them doing this 'dance' of attraction. This time the close connection to the lyrics helps us see the way these two are following standard patterns ('doing the dance') of courtship: they look away, they brush hands, they lock gazes.

they took a step back thought about it what should they do
cause there's always repercussions when you're dating in school

The 'dating in school' lyric is almost cute, but it works really well to draw attention to the fact there will be ramifications for the two shipmates hooking up. We see just how crowded and close the quarters are and are reminded that the love affair is being played out in close proximity to other people.

but their lips met and reservations started to pass
whether this was just an evening or a thing that would last

As Kaylee and Simon move into a more 'dating' relationship, we get flickers of danger to come--the camera keeps returning to River. This is most marked in a shot that swings away from Kaylee and Simon with the characters turning their heads to look at something/someone. Next we see River curled up on the bench in Simon's surgery. She's the source of anxiety to others.

either way he wanted her and this was bad
wanted to do things to her it was making him crazy
now a little crush turned into a like
and now he wants to grab her by the hair and tell her

A very predatory look here from the mild Simon. And we also get here the shot of River lying in the same position Kaylee was in earlier--it is her in whom expectation is building. This lays the groundwork for the (very clear) shift into River as the central observer of the courtship. It almost doesn't come as a surprise when we see that it is River who is waiting to be 'grabbed by the hair' (the Reaver's motion mirrors the lyric so well). Even though she's been in a state of tension, she's not ready for the shock of the moment when it occurs (nor are we).

i want to hold you close
skin pressed against me tight
lie still close your eyes girl

Kaylee and Simon hook up physically. River watches. This is very clear from the sequence of images, and this is the central point on which the whole vid hinges.

The sexualisation of the medical and space imagery peaks here, as we see things spin out of control for River, the camera jump-zooming away from her. (Personal note: from here to the end is the coolest part of the vid to me--the payoff!)

And we get the central image of River's curious face staring down at Kaylee and Simon. Since gaze is so important in this vid, you'll notice that we get a LOT more shots of River starting vacantly or gazing at things intently in the later half of the vid. Previously, it has been Simon's gaze or Kaylee's that we've been invited to question--now we realise that's because River's been trying to 'read' them. Speaking of reading... I love this shot of River's homework--she's so literate, so intelligent, but she can't read this most common of human relationships. My favourite part of the whole vid is the explosion of laughter (between two still shots) from Kaylee--the life, warmth and 'humanness' of that shot, cut between two still ominous shots of them looking back at River is so striking. I can't put into words the full effect but for me it captures how disturbing it must feel for River to be on the outer to something she can't understand. A still shot is used here with a pan across to see River on the edge of other people's 'scenes'--she's the outsider.

The shot of River staring down at the world trying to comprehend it also speaks volumes. We cut to her sitting on the bridge staring down at her shipmates, not comprehending them either. This leads organically to her mistaking a gun for a stick.

As the chorus goes into refrain, River is on alert for Reavers and expecting death. She wants to get in first with 'close your eyes'--rather than closing her own she closes someone elses with her deadly accurate shooting. And what a wonderful twist on what 'feels right'! What feels right for River is an axe in her hand. She smiles with love at her deadly stick. River's attraction to violence is perhaps the only thing she can think of to equate to Simon's attraction to Kaylee.

River is truly in charge of the narrative here--it is in her now that the danger lies, though she can't see that. Kaylee and Simon rush anxiously forward as she reaches for weaponry and wants to 'whisper' to them. The fact that the chorus is by now (even on first listen) familiar to the viewer works really well because we know that what she wants to whisper is the intent of violence.
On the 'I want to fucking tear you apart' line, River slashes and Kaylee retreats away from River--a signifcant change in movement in the vid.

Shots here of River having an orgasmic reaction as the most significant imagery from throughout the vid repeats (the strawberry, the sex, Simon tending to River / taking her hand, etc)

The vid ends on River's intent gaze directly at the camera--a beautiful and frightening shot and then a cut to black as the lyric continues beyond the music.

And there you go! I don't feel I've really done it justice. One of the things I most love about Brad's vids is that you can engage with the either in an intellectual or emotional/intuitive/instinctive space. Sometimes I just watch and let is all wash through me--and that's every bit as satisfying. But I can relax into it in part because every little bit, every shot, works so perfectly in a meta sense too. This has the same quality I love in 'Living Dead Girl'--the feeling of being under a character's skin. Some vidders show us a character's point of view; others take us inside that view. This is an 'inside out' kind of vid--and it's probably the smartest way I could think to not just tell us that River sees reality very differently from ordinary people, but to show us. The vid also has the wonderful quality of sparking ideas in the viewer--at least in me! It's not an endpoint, it's a starting point: for thoughts, associations, emotions, reactions... *happy sigh*

Thanks to Brad, for permission to ramble!


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