yourlibrarian: Angel and Lindsey (Default)

Brick House by [personal profile] deirdre_c, commentary by yourlibrarian

posted by [personal profile] yourlibrarian at 04:30pm on 18/07/2010 under
Title: Brick House
Vidder: [personal profile] deirdre_c
Fandom: Supernatural
Commentary by: [personal profile] yourlibrarian
Warnings:: Spoilers for the S5 finale.

The timing of this vid couldn't have been better. While there is never a wrong time for an Impala love vid, there was definitely a right time. Appearing on May 17th, the vid echoed the love and respect for this mainstay of the SPN verse that we had just seen in the S5 finale. But it also had some interesting things to say about females in the SPNverse, which remains a problematical aspect of the series.

1. 00:01 to 00:03 Titles

Deirdre_c is, I think, well known for making lighthearted, humorous vids. The title sequence is an immediate tipoff that this vid will be no different, with its bouncy and bold font.

The song "Brick House" is an unabashed ode to feminine ideals back in the day when speaking of a woman's beauty and sex appeal didn't also seem to go hand in hand with degrading the entire sex. For purposes of the SPN verse, this song is pretty fitting because it comes from the same pre-1985 portfolio as the show's classic rock soundtrack. And for the purpose of a light and fun vid, it's also a great party tune.

2. 00:04 to 00:20 Opening sequence

The song's lyrics essentially represent three things. The first is a specific woman's physical appeal and the second is that the singer is her partner. Appropriately, we have an intermix of two things at the beginning of the video – objectifying shots of the Impala as she rolls along the highway, and amusingly timed reaction shots of her partners, the Winchester brothers, demonstrating male appreciation for a hot female.

Although we've never really seen it from Sam, in the series Dean definitely treats the Impala as if she is a source of pride for her beauty and coolness, and he is the one to explicitly reference the car as a she, calling her by the romantic term "baby." As in the song, he feels definite pride that "we're here together, everybody knows."

3. 00:21 to 00:34 Setting the theme

Sam's feelings are more obscure. In the first seasons of the series he explicitly refers to the Impala as "your car" rather than "our car" even though we know from the Pilot onwards that the car has been in the family since Sam's birth, and that it was passed on to Dean by their father. The fact that, in the second episode, Sam is allowed to drive her is seen as an important moment of connection between the brothers (both of these scenes appear in the next section). I can't remember if after S3, when Sam took ownership of her twice and she was explicitly passed on to Sam by Dean, if he continued to do so. But certainly by the end of S5, the Impala is seen as a member of the family and not simply as Dean's possession or his avatar.

Instead, she is seen as the only home the two brothers ever remember. And while a house is not always a home, it is in this vid. Every time the word "house" is stressed, we see images of the Impala as a home on wheels, in which the brothers eat, sleep, brush their teeth, have important family conversations, and otherwise carry out aspects of daily life.

By contrast, when the word "Brick" or "she's mighty mighty" appear, there are images of the Impala as a hunting partner in the series – standing up to a ghost truck's attack, chasing a suspect, making a getaway, etc. These clips are entertainingly paired with the lytics as in the following shot where she can "knock a strong man to his knees."

The "brick" parts of the vid highlight the third thing conveyed by the song lyrics, which is that this woman knows what to do with her assets. Even without the words "She's mighty mighty" and the comparison to being "an amazon" there is an impression of physical power given about the woman. What's more, this female power is not intimidating, it is celebrated. So in this vid we get the ode to her physicality, her connection to the singer/brothers, and her power from the lyrics, to which is added in the vid, her domestic role in the series. And, as important as these other factors have been for her participation in the story, it is this last aspect that turns out to be the most highly prized.

4. 00:35 to 00:45 Role within the family

This next sequence seemed to stress the importance of the Impala's role as a physical connection between the brothers in good times and bad. For example in the two shots of Sam laying on her hood, in both cases there is a distance between the brothers which is about to be set aside as a conversation takes place. The first is from early S1, where Sam is sitting outside a bar on the Impala because he disapproves of Dean's (indeed the family's) habit of hustling people to get cash. The second is from the S5 finale when Sam has put forward a divisive and rather terrifying plan that Dean wants to resist and prevent. In both cases we see that while there may be a temporary separation between the brothers, Sam is nonetheless literally connected to the other family member, the Impala.

As we hear the "that's a fact, ain't holding nothing back" we see a sequence of her keys being tossed from brother to brother. While by themselves a set of car keys implies various things, what their repeated transfer highlights is, again, her role within the family as a mediator of power which shifts from one brother to the other in episode to episode, or in scene to scene.

Next we see a chronological sequence of scenes from the Pilot to S3 signaling her presence as the family reels from its primal loss, serving as a touchstone for an ever- mobile group of people, and participating in the Winchester version of family rituals. We then pop back again to childhood and zoom to adulthood in what passes for domestic scenes of children with toys, and adults spending an evening relaxing. These scenes play over the "we're together, everybody knows" emphasizing the role of the Impala in the bonding among family members.

One of my favorite laugh out loud moments was the above shot paired with "This is how the story goes." My initial amusement came from the literal interpretation of the lyrics. In this scene Dean is reading a text which recounts his and Sam's adventures – he is literally reviewing how the Winchester story has gone. (Sam, not as easily seen in the background, is also investigating the story series online). However, if one looks closely at the book cover we can see it features none other than the Impala. In any version of the Winchester tale, she is part of "how the story goes."

5. 00:46 to 00:56 – Femaleness in the SPN verse

The story of the Winchesters though is dual – there are the ever-shifting family relationships as they move through the series, and there is also the family business, namely hunting supernatural things that harm humans. In this sequence, the Impala's role as hunting partner is highlighted with "She's knows she's got everything" by showing her function as the Winchester pack mule of weapons, IDs and even entertainment.

However, this section does more than simply highlight some humorous moments involving the Impala. As we move into "that a woman needs to get a man" we see a recall of something else seen in the previous section, which is a reading of Sam as female within the family and thus connected to the Impala by way of gender. The shots of Sam across the hood of the Impala were paired with "the lady's stacked." The first "lady" we see being objectified in the vid is the Impala. One might have missed the equal objectification of Sam except for the lyrical match. In this section, however, the purpose becomes clearer, which is to provide an explicit view of Sam as the woman in the family. For example the shot of the iPod above is juxtaposed with the clip immediately before it of Dean opening the glovebox in which we see cassette tapes. These tapes are exclusively Dean's and indicate a division of technology, musical taste, and power within the family between him and Sam. In the Pilot, Sam rifles through the cassettes and criticizes both the media format and Dean's taste in music as outdated. Dean responds by asserting his power over the Impala as its driver to dictate what they will listen to. One could read this battle as being a gendered one – with men continuing to assert traditional dominance in a family by means of their control over valuable assets (houses, cars, income) even as women attempt to move into a more equal and functional way of life.

After Dean's death, with the Impala under his control, Sam installs an iPod. Upon regaining his life and the car, Dean promptly rips it away from the dashboard and into the back seat, reasserting power over both the car and their traditional relationship with him in control. (This effort is made quite explicit in dialogue a few scenes later, and Sam's silent subterfuge to resist it is revealed before the episode concludes).

The next sequence we see is of Sam and the Impala merged when, during the episode Changing Channels, Dean and Sam play out parts in TV shows in an attempt to escape the control of the Trickster. In their last TV role, Sam becomes the Impala, which itself plays the role of the talking, futuristic car KITT from Knight Rider. Although as with the iPod dispute this scene is played for laughs (and most fans gave it a slash reading), what we see here is Sam not only completely merged with the female Impala, but this shot mirrors the above one where we see his iPod as part of the dash. This time Sam is literally part of the dash and embodies the most advanced of technology.

I found this scene to be quite revealing of something I'd missed in my original viewing of the episode, which is not simply the gender reading of Sam but also the issue of gender and technology within the series. Although Dean is seen as the one who is a mechanical expert, he is an expert with an outdated form of technology, one that relies on the physical rather than the mental (as represented by digitization and computers) to operate. Dean is not only the status quo but a throwback in many ways to an earlier era. This may not be intrinsic but deliberate on his part because he emulates his father. (One could argue that relying on familial role models of the past is, in itself, a conservative choice on Dean's part).

By comparison, in the series Sam is almost always the one attempting to make changes to the status quo, not only in terms of changing the way the family functions and his own role within it, but also in small ways such as the use of new techniques. In S1, for example, Dean complains about having to wear uniforms to inspect a murder scene, claiming that he and his father had gotten by just fine without such efforts. In other cases Sam's brings in knowledge he has been exposed to during his time in higher ed.

It seems to me then that the use of technology as a marker between the brothers has less to do with technology itself, and more to do with symbols of change and power. In today's era, power is symbolized less by massive factories and hunks of steel than by miniaturized devices and personal technology. The "cool thing" is most likely to be the latest iWhatever and not retro devices. (If anyone's in doubt about the literalness of technological power today, Apple is the most capitalized company on its stock exchange, comprising a higher financial value than many big name companies combined, and speculated by one analyst to be the single cause for the harrowing market bounce of May 6, 2010).

In the series, nothing could symbolize retro technology more than the Impala. As awesome a car as she is, she is built for strength, not speed or maneuverability or adaptability. (She drives, as Jensen Ackles noted, like a boat). This is emphasized in the vid as her "brickness" – she is solid, tough and big. She does not contain computer chips or anti-lock brakes. She is, like Dean's outlook in the series, part of the past. Yet not only does Dean, through the Impala, reject change and shifts in power, in this vid segment he is literally in control of Sam and the Impala jointly, with Sam subsumed within her. Unlike Sam, she is a retro woman to her retro man, not only allowing Dean to control her but augmenting his power through her support.

This segment plays out over "that a woman needs to get a man", cumulating with the second time the Impala serves as a conduit with another male. This is from the episode Dark Side of the Moon when the angel Castiel is seen to speak to Dean by way of the Impala's radio. This instance is less unique because Castiel appears later speaking through a random television. However, I do find it interesting that she is the connection between men communicating to one another –- a not uncommon role for women in a family.

6. 00:47 to 1:05 Random Fun

This brief segment stood out to me as being largely for laughs with lyrical matches such as "How can she lose" when Dean temporarily loses possession of her due to mind control, a return to the objectifying view during "36-24-36" and "what a winning hand" showing clips from The Curious Case of Dean Winchester where card playing was a central plot point.

One thing I did find a nice piece of subtlety here was that in the numerical segment (36-24-36) we see close shots of the Impala in which we can read her license plates -- her numbers as it were -- which also happen to be different in each shot as they reflect different time periods.

7. 1:06 to 1:23 Abuse and Care

One of the problems with anthropomorphizing an object is that sometimes the metaphor turns rather ugly. As the chorus begins again, we see the Impala being stalwart and strong, not so much as a hunter partner but as a victim. In the first clip she suffers attack from a demon driven semi. Her strength saves the lives of all her family members but she herself is terribly damaged. This clip is followed by one from the Pilot, where Sam drives her into a house to destroy a ghost, potentially sacrificing her (although being the sturdy gal she is, she drives away unaffected but for the fact that Dean shot out her window to save Sam).

In the next clip though, there's no question that she's the victim. As part of the show, this scene did not have to have such a reading. I had always thought of this scene as the Impala being an avatar of Dean and Sam's father John, whose car she was before she was passed on to Dean. In this well known clip, Dean, who is simmering with anger at John for sacrificing himself to save Dean's life, batters the Impala's previously unmarred trunk in a fit of wordless rage. He does this while in the midst of repairing her from the near destruction she suffered from the demon semi. The implication to me was his outright rejection of his father's "gift" to him and a denial of the responsibility that had been passed on. Dean loved the Impala and surely she was the biggest and best gift John had ever given his son. At the same time, as the family car, her new ownership also symbolized Dean's status as head of household in John's absence. But with John sacrificing himself for Dean's life (a gift) while also passing on a terrible responsibility to Dean with a promise that he must remain silent about it, it was easy to see this scene as Dean's rejection of both, a wish to undo what John had done.

But unlike the following clips of her suffering a bump from a Sam impostor driving her, the egging by a child at Halloween, and her tires being deflated by the Trickster, within the vid this scene speaks rather bitingly to the effects of traditional male-female relationships in the retro era she and Dean represent. The other three clips are indignities she suffers from outsiders while being part of the hunter group. But Dean's battery and eventual abandonment are highly personal. If she is to be represented as female and a member of the family, then Dean's battering can't be read as anything other than domestic assault. While this isn't a required element of a traditionalist male-female relationship, putting power in the hands of men and endurance on the part of women certainly lends itself to this outcome. The fact that Dean continues to restore her and then in the next episode exudes pride and joy in her renewed roadworthiness doesn't erase the ugliness of his actions.

This gets emphasized in the next clip where Dean finds her abandoned and in ruins. While the Dean in this scene is horrified at her neglected state, it is he himself who has left her to rust alone (in the future). This discovery is haunting in some ways because in that time Dean is the only family member left as Sam is gone. Not even the Impala accompanies him anymore, she is effectively dead. Her absence may be understandable, since Dean probably could no longer find the parts and fuel she needed to keep her running in a post-apocalyptic world. (She's already well into antique status, which is 25 years). But being cannibalized and left to rust openly in the sun speaks to Dean's frame of mind in this future, where he has become callous and dead inside. In short, when Dean suffers, he makes the Impala suffer as well.

This segment finishes with two scenes of the brothers working to repair the Impala. The first clip (above) is, I suspect, deliberately chosen to include Sam when there's no indication given that he helped Dean with repairs. The second is from a segment where Dean does begin to teach Sam to repair her. These two clips certainly speak to the obligation the brothers have to her (and this section as a whole could be considered the hurt/comfort portion of the vid), but it seems a little empty compared to what went before it. In fact, what stands out to me is how the show never portrays the Winchesters pampering her even though, as shiny as she usually is, one assumes she would have to be washed and waxed often. Rather, we see an awful lot of taking and relatively little giving.

8. 1:24 to 1:44 Repeated Themes

This last point seems particularly emphasized when only a few seconds later we see the clip below where John Winchester chides Dean for neglecting to care properly for the Impala, even though that's not the purpose of that shot in this section.

Instead this segment moves again into lyrical matching, showing a taped up back window for "the clothes she wears", a scene of Dean having sex in her back seat for "her sexy ways" and John appearing as the old man wishing for younger days when he first bought her.

We then see a return to the connection of Sam and the Impala, with a scene of (not actually Sam) flexing his muscles to "She knows she's built" and then "she knows how to please." This second clip is the one that stands out to me because its use is deliberately comical. This is Sam's reaction just before Dean rips out the iPod Sam had installed in the Impala, indicating that Sam, at least, certainly doesn't know how to please.

However, returning to the discussion in section 5 of this commentary, "modern" female Sam, as indicated by his desire for change and use of the latest technology, is considered incompetent in pleasing a traditionalist man like Dean (whom we zoom in on in the next clip). Only a traditionalist woman, like the Impala, is capable of this as seen in the next few scenes of her reiterating the Brick and House elements.

This repeated symbolism of Sam as a woman is emphasized again in the following clip, which is a view Dean sees of the back seat in his rear view mirror of Ruby and Anna. This shot is used over "like the lady's stacked" line which we first saw utilizing clips of Sam in Section 3. In this instance, we see actual women.

9. 1:45 to 1:50 The Extended Family

Beginning with the Ruby and Anna shot, this segment shows rare instances of other passengers in the Impala. They are not, however, just any passengers but people who were in some way family by being either sexual partners (Ruby and Anna), adopted families (Ellen and Jo) or Sam and Dean's actual parents.

10. 1:51 to 2:12 Good Times, Bad Times

This final segment pulls together themes from the vid as a whole and reminded me of the Led Zeppelin lyric "Good Times, Bad Times, you know I had my share." Here we see a series of opposite clips brought together to signify the Impala's presence in the extremes of the Winchester life.

We see first, the Impala as present (or even utilized) as Sam and Dean pull pranks on one another. This is followed by two clips where she is used against Sam and Dean, first by being possessed by a ghost, and then towed away by an enemy.

We return to good times with Sam and Dean sharing a drink on her hood (though in true SPN fashion, something good is just a prelude to something bad). There is a nice juxtaposition of two shots in which first Sam and then Dean are reflected in her hood. I really like that these were included because they set up the final shots where we finally get to see things from the Impala's point of view.

First though, we see a shot of Dean reunited with the Impala after he returns to life, contrasted with one of Sam saying goodbye to her as he and Dean separate for a while.

Then we see a sort of opening shot to the series (the final image from the Pilot) followed by the final image from S2 as Sam and Dean prepare to set off together on the second phase of the series.

The shot of the shine along the curve of the Impala's window may seem very random, but in fact it's a great shorthand for her most important moment yet in Supernatural.

In this moment, the sun's reflection near her back window catches Sam's attention, and gets him to look at her interior. This view brings on a flood of memories that allows him to overpower Lucifer and wrap up the series season. His ability to come through there both saves Dean's life, and also puts an end to the arc SPN began with, as Sam and Dean's journey to adulthood reaches its conclusion.

The final shot of the Impala is nicely done as she seems to wink at the viewer. I love that sauciness on her part, as well as the reminder that she was the stealth weapon in plain sight all along.

In conclusion, this is a great tribute to the Impala, who is likely the single most beloved character among all SPN fans, and also provides food for thought about what actually gets said about the female role in the SPN verse.


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