FIREFLY EPISODE DISCUSSIONS

Inara's spongebath scene

POSTED BY: SLEETER
UPDATED: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 08:14
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Sunday, February 24, 2008 10:47 PM

SLEETER


Hi guys,

I'm writing a media studies essay on the frist two episodes of the Firefly DVD box set and I was wondering something.

On my version of the DVD the scene jumps a little. Not much, just very subtle pauses of a second or two. I was wondering if this was just my old, crabby DVD player, or if it was the same on other people's? I really like the effect it creates and would like to comment on it in my essay, but don't want to be wrong...

So, can anyone help me? Am I just seeing interesting cinematography where none exists?

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Sunday, February 24, 2008 10:55 PM

JEWELSTAITEFAN


There are several places where i get pauses, and sometimes I lose the audio for a bit, have to reverse/backtrack a bit and then forward again and it's often okay, but not the Inara scenes you mention. I assume they are from shifting tracks on the DVD file. I get a oause when the sponge is getting wrung, with dripping water freezing in frame, and something else in the same scene.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008 11:10 PM

SLEETER


They are the places where I get the same pauses.

It could be a technical problem, with track switching. Since you have the same pauses though, I think I am going to argue, in my essay, that they are to make the viewer uncomfortable.

We've been doing a lot of work on the male gaze and male dominated society and this scene struck me as a little odd from Joss, and in another essay I read about neo-feminist ideology he was slated a little bit for it. However, if he's made it so that the viewer is supposed to noticed themselves watching a naked woman bathing herself, by putting in pauses to break the flow of the narrative and the suspention of disbelief, then this puts a different spin on things.

Thank you for your reply!

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Monday, February 25, 2008 12:15 AM

THESOMNAMBULIST


Hi Sleeter.

Yes I get that in exactly the same spot every time it plays. I always thought it was a deliberate part of the edit. Given the strange time lapses in that scene with Inara anyway where we see her looking off screen, in what appears to be seperate to the present action, I figured it was all part of the 'flavour' of that scene.

I wouldn't have said it makes for uncomfortable viewing though, but that's my take on it.

Interesting that it may b a glitch...


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Monday, February 25, 2008 2:31 AM

ECGORDON

There's no place I can be since I found Serenity.


I am sure it is not a glitch, and you are hardly the first person to mention it. Joss edited it that way for a reason. There are several pauses like that in the Mal/Nandi love scene in "Heart of Gold" as well.

wo men ren ran zai fei xing.

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Monday, February 25, 2008 4:27 AM

PIRATECAT


Mine does but I'm hitting the rewind button and reaching for the hand cream hey hey uhhhh.

"Battle of Serenity, Mal. Besides Zoe here, how many-" "I'm talkin at you! How many men in your platoon came out of their alive".

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Monday, February 25, 2008 6:19 AM

MSB


Hey if it does pause there... just savor the extra few moments with naked Inara:)

____________________________________________

Ain't Love GRAND!!!

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Monday, February 25, 2008 6:23 AM

DESKTOPHIPPIE


Actually, it was done on purpose. Joss mentions in the commentary on the episode that he thought he was being all arty and subtle, but that when they watched it everyone thought their DVDs were skipping. He was a bit upset about that.




Banners, Avatars, LJ Icons and other fun stuff at www.desktophippie.com

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Monday, February 25, 2008 10:23 AM

WORLDOFHIGLET


This scene is certainly 'arty' and the way it is shot/cut does add to that (although I can't be the only one who half expected Inara to turn around and see Harrison Ford ('Witness') in the mirror!).

My first boxset was faulty and had skips and glitches all over anyway, so you can't blame people for thinking that it wasn't done on purpose.

Overall the effect is sensual and appealing on many levels...

You are beholden to no man
http://worldofhiglet.blogspot.com/

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Monday, February 25, 2008 2:27 PM

STORYMARK


Those are just jump cuts ans still frames. All intentional, and fairly common editing techniques, especially when trying to hit a certain rythm with a scene (the still useually correspond to specific ques in the music). Steven Soderberg uses both techniques a lot, my favorite example of which would be Out of Sight.

"I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him."

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Monday, February 25, 2008 2:53 PM

WORLDOFHIGLET


Yes, there are those, but what I meant was the DVD set was actually flawed - it froze, jumped and then didn't play at all so I got another set.......:)


You are beholden to no man
http://worldofhiglet.blogspot.com/

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Monday, February 25, 2008 5:18 PM

QUIETUDE


Definitely on purpose as I have watched the show on TV and the effect happens there as well.

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Monday, February 25, 2008 5:34 PM

WORLDOFHIGLET


Erm, I know that bit of it is done on purpose now, but the DVD set I had to begin with had jumps/freezing and then missing menus - it was actually a bad DVD nd it happened in many places were it wasn't supposed to. Sorry, this sounds like I'm being a right pain. It was a throw away comment because, in my case, the dvd boxset had errors on every dvd so HMV replaced the set.

So, how am I doing with my first posts then? Wuz sort of hoping to post discretly and build up to the more exciting areas later on.....

:)



You are beholden to no man
http://worldofhiglet.blogspot.com/

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Monday, February 25, 2008 8:01 PM

OUT2THEBLACK


Quote:

Originally posted by worldofhiglet:


...Sorry, this sounds like I'm being a right pain. It was a throw away comment because, in my case, the dvd boxset had errors on every dvd so HMV replaced the set.

So, how am I doing with my first posts then? Wuz sort of hoping to post discretly and build up to the more exciting areas later on.....

:)
You are beholden to no man
http://worldofhiglet.blogspot.com/



You're doing fine , and you're among friends...

Welcome aboard...Make yourself to home...

Thanks for the 'wave' !

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008 12:57 AM

WYTCHCROFT


hi Sleeter,
sorry to be slow in replying - the site crashed on me when i tried to post yesterday - grr argh!


Well now – talk about a difficult scene to critique!

My opinion of the sponge bath sequence changes every time I watch!

I don’t believe for a moment that Joss just stuck it in arbitrarily to titillate – sorry, that’s just not him.
However, if you are studying theories of the male gaze (and be warned, some theorists – cough – laura mulvey – cough – have changed their minds about a lot of things more recently) then the possibility must be entertained that the scene works in that regard anyway – or at least in the sense of objectification.
Such may be the case with any such scene anywhere, in other words it has been suggested that whatever the conscious aesthetic idea - the camera lense always attempts to replicate the male gaze, seeking acquisition and dissection of the female form.
Therefore, you could argue that to film and include such a scene was just a bad judgement call on Whedon’s part.

Of course such a view renders almost any attempt at expressing the female form in a visual way suspect and the history of art becomes a battleground. Some very great and often controversial artworks seem to recognise this – Monet’s painting ‘Olympia’ is probably the prime example, where the gaze of the prostitute* is turned against the viewer** and she fights back – and gets labelled ‘brazen’ in typical male reviewer parlance. (Speaking personally though – such a view can be used for the blanket bashing of so much art that it becomes almost fascist – am I gonna go burn Modigliani? I think not! But does this mean that all ideas of the male gaze are nonsense? No, it doesn’t.). Another example would be the photography of Cindy Sherman.

It may be helpful to look at the scene in two separate ways –
1. What is Whedon’s rationale behind its inclusion and is there relevance to the narrative of the pilot episode and the show as a whole?
2. Does the scene work on a technical level to achieve the aims of the rationale – or does the shooting and editing and performance negate the purpose?

Ok, (come in) number one: It is worth noting that Inara is not the only character to appear naked. River Tam and Malcolm Reynolds are also seen naked – as are guest characters such as Nandi and Saffron. Is there a unifying purpose to the use of nakedness?
I would argue YES. Nakedness is used to reveal the nature of those characters in a very real way.
River is first glimpsed in a box curled naked in a foetal position. She is obviously very vulnerable. She is deeply asleep in a manner the audience can identify quickly as ‘innocent’. Her appearance in a box – is almost like a magic trick – indicating something of the fairytale about her (and her brother – later backed up by the flashbacks in Safe and in the un-filmed episode) – she appears literally in a puff of smoke (well, ok, Cryo-steam). This places her as important to the show.
Having given the audience these ‘clues’, Joss is now free to undermine audience expectations – climaxing in the maidenhead scene in Serenity the film. By the time we have watched the whole of Firefly and the movie – while we are in no doubt of the damage inflicted on her by the men at the ‘academy’ - the simple idea that River is weak or defenceless or vulnerable has transformed into a complex investigation into what MAKES somebody vulnerable – on what level is River weak? There is a current thread on this site discussing just what IF ANY are the limits of River’s powers - both psychic and physical?
The discovery of River is also used to tell us much about Mal but his famous ‘Huh’ also serves to deflate any notion of the erotic in the scene. The audience is being told ‘Mal is the hero – and Mal doesn’t see anything sexy here OK!’
And yet… she IS naked – and the image is now well known – and can be easily found on the net – and has been used by thread posters here to argue that River is NOT a child and can be viewed sexually.

River’s sexuality is a heatedly argued topic – my view (for what it’s worth) is that in Firefly she is supposed to be viewed as a young girl (effectively a child) who grows up in the BDM after being ‘triggered in the maidenhead’ (ouch). This is re-enforced by the more ‘alluring’ clothes she wears in the film and the (bloody awful frankly) promo posters.
Lastly – although curled up, her position (thanks to the camera angle) is ‘open’ which invites the audience to CARE for her – and also tells us that she is probably open as a person – and later episodes link her unselfconsciously to nature and ecstatic dancing.

Another character to appear naked is Malcolm Reynolds himself, at the beginning and end of TRASH. As with Inara and River we learn much of Mal here – he is typically rugged and earthy, quite relaxed to be unclothed – the reactions to his nakedness tell us a lot about the crew as well. Inara slyly ogling, Wash laughing and Kaylee completely unfazed and relaxed, like Mal himself. (It could be argued that as the dominant male Mal is bound to be more relaxed then the women when naked – but that sounds pretty weak to me.)

This leads us back to Inara – if you waved a magic wand and all the crew suddenly lost their clothes, what would happen. Well, I can easily imagine Jayne, Mal and Kaylee grinning from to ear or standing like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers! River as well if you caught her in the right mood. But not Inara – she would try to cover herself.
What makes me say that? She is a companion right? Surely she’s comfortable with… but no – what makes me say that is the Sponge Bath Scene – it tells us a lot. It tells us that even on her own Inara performs in a ritualised manner, appears self conscious, her body is actually revealed far less to the camera than River’s or Mal’s.
Similarly with the scene of her making passionless love – compare it to Nandi and Mal in HOG.

This, I think, was possibly the purpose of the scene – to show that Inara keeps herself private – hidden almost from herself, let alone anyone else, but that even her most intimate acts are entirely governed by the rituals of her training and that she is far from the carefree ‘Tart with a heart’ cliché that her position may have lead viewers of the Pilot to first imagine.

It IS clear though that such rituals are sensual and voluptuous – and that the scene tries to capture this side of her too.

This brings us to number two: The technical. Some of Inara’s self-consciousness may have been Morena’s (I don’t know – I’m sure she’s answered that in interviews however) and it does feels awkward to me – sometimes. Joss, although a very fine director, had not shot such a scene before (to the best of my remembrance) and although the lighting really is gorgeous (those golden Fall colours so redolent of Firefly and its charm) – the editing and shooting feel slightly ‘off’ (to me). This may also be because (importantly) the scene is trying not to reveal but to conceal. The use of dissolves feels as if Inara is trying to turn away. This is the very opposite of the River and Mal scenes.
This desire for concealment (avoiding titillation, censorship and showing us Inara’s character) has a draw back – it automatically renders the viewer as voyeur intruding into Inara’s private and intimate space – thus undermining the whole careful shooting. It is this voyeurism that from a neo-feminist perspective can be seen as a betrayal.

However, it may have also been the case that Joss thought – ok already, lets get it done and over, she’s a companion, a space-hooker, she’s beautiful ok – here, look at her, right? Shiny - Now you don’t have to wonder about it – build up a fantasy or be forever trying to imagine it when she’s on screen.

In that sense the scene serves to FREE Inara from the penetrative or acquisitive gaze for the remainder of the series.

I hope the above may some kind of sense!

I would just add – that if you are studying specific theories of the gaze – it may well be that you come up against notions of the Abject (Julia Kristeva and others). If so, River in the Serenity Motion Picture might make a very interesting case study since a link is made between her growing up (ie puberty in the fairytale sense) discovering what lies within her – and discovering the horrific nature of Miranda and The Reavers, ultimately leading to the discovering of the Abject beneath the social surface of the Alliance.

I understand that you are studying – and have been asked to examine Firefly from certain perspectives - I got no problem arguing from different viewpoints – but I hope you don’t get pestered too much by people blowing steam at ya and taking it personal – in the rush to defend the show.

Good luck with whatever course you are on. (It sounds intriguing – but if they start injecting you with Lacan and such… then just post the site here about how much you enjoyed the Darbanvilles’ Ball – and we’ll all come break you out!!)

………………………………

* Olympia’s trade is signified by the choker – which outraged Paris at the time. Actually Victorine herself was both Monet’s Muse and an independent artist of note.
* * A comparison can be drawn with Saffron – who also turns the male gaze around. Saffron actually uses it to subdue men (linking her mythically to the Medusa/Gorgon archetype). HER naked scene is very important in Our Mrs Reynolds.





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Tuesday, February 26, 2008 2:57 AM

ASARIAN


Quote:

Originally posted by wytchcroft:

River’s sexuality is a heatedly argued topic -- my view (for what it’s worth) is that in Firefly she is supposed to be viewed as a young girl (effectively a child) ...


In Objects in Space, River's sexuality is briefly, and ever-so gently, explored in a subtle and classy manner. She 'feels with' Zoe and Wash in their romantic moment, holding her own arm, experiencing the tactile aspect of things, as it were. The latter we see return a bit later, in reverse, in the "no touching" scene. Which is actually quite a brilliant acting moment, as Summer has River look in such a way that the viewer understands that she herself realizes the sexual undertones in Mal's "no touching" remark. Or rather, I should say, she herself makes that connection to Mal's words (Mal himself didn't mean it ambiguously). I'd always like to think the "no touching" thingy was Joss' way of building in a stop-sign, telling fic-writers that River's sexuality is off-limits. :) Nah, not really, of course, lol; but I think he WAS telling us that River, in that area, is absolutely innocent still (like Simon's vehement denial when Early asks him whether perchance she grapple with any of the crew).

Now, to get back on-topic, I think the 'stills' in the sponge bath scenes are definitely artsy. Haven't gone to film school my own self, but on me they have the effect of making things timeless, of almost literally capturing the moment, like taking lasting snapshots.

In the 'hour-glass' scene, where we see Inara with rich young man with stamina, there's another small 'disruption' of the scenic flow when Inara rolls her eyes for a brief moment while the young fellow is talking. Now, I'm not a 100% certain, but I've always believed that this does not actually happen, but is more like a visualization of Inara's thoughts at the moment. So, seems to me Joss was just overall being artsy with Inara's profession; and maybe simply to underline the stylefulness of 'companion' (the noun, not the verb), as opposed to being the other thing.


--
"Mei-mei, everything I have is right here." -- Simon Tam

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008 7:00 AM

SLEETER


That was amazingly detailed and made me think a lot. Thank you for that Wytchcroft!

I am actually doing a very free and open piece of coursework. I got to choose my subject and my own question. The choice was easy since I love Firefly so much.

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far!

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008 8:14 AM

STORYMARK


Quote:

Originally posted by worldofhiglet:
Yes, there are those, but what I meant was the DVD set was actually flawed - it froze, jumped and then didn't play at all so I got another set.......:)



I was responding to the initial post.

"I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him."

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