Firefly and Western Literature
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Heart of Gold Comments

For this post, I’ve pasted in several comments on the episode “Heart of Gold” from a discussion by Neil Campbell and Michael Johnson. The shot that is discussed below is located at the 7:45 mark of the clip pasted in above.

Neil Campbell: ‘Heart of Gold’ emerged according to its writer Brett Matthews as ‘the stock Western-heavy episode we had always talked about doing – the crew of Serenity as The Magnificent Seven / The Seven Samurai …’and yet like all the episodes this is a hybrid trans-generic piece. The opening sequence reminds us of this so well: Asian/Indian vocals and planetary perspective and a view of teh brothel in the desert like a target picked out on a bombing run. As Greg Edmondson (who wrote the music) said, the sountrack was chosen to ‘We have a multi-ethnic world’ and although it is of the Western, ‘it’s not exactly that’. This is what Whedon does with the Western throughout – leaves its traces in the text like hauntings but generates something that ‘participates [of the genre] without belonging’ [to it].

Michael Johnson: There’s a camera set-up when the crew first arrive on the planet, looks like it’s with a telephoto lens that collapses space, and we see all of the Firefly crew moving toward the camera. I’ve been trying to place that shot, as I’ve recognized it as a quotation but wasn’t sure from what. Based on Neil’s comment about the screenwriter above, I guessing that the visual allusion is to ‘The Magnificent Seven.’

Neil: Reading a bit more of what writers and those involved with the episode have said about HoG, it seems they had in mind ‘Rio Bravo’in the making of the piece. Which fits – the siege idea plus the evil outside (here Ranse Burgess – echoes of the good Ranse Stoddard in ‘Liberty Valance, of course). I think the shot Michael refers to has strong overtones of Peckinpah too – The Wild Bunch as the gang arrive at the bad guy’s stronghold, guns at the ready …

But in Whedon’s comments on the production of the episode – coming when he knew the show was on the skids, he says the company hayed the notion of it being in any way a ‘Western’ [no doubt seen as the kiss of death for US TV] and so Whedon had to tone down the Western generic elements – hence the whorehouse is covered in tin foil to make it look less Borderlands abobe and more HiTech Sci Fi!! [PS. Love the architectural retro-fitting in Firefly]

The other nice link I notice is to another example of the post-Western CSI (Crime Scene Investigations) with the use of the same actress who plays Lady Heather playing Nandi the brothel keeper here. She sleeps with Reynolds — wants to sleep with (and maybe does – my memory is weak on this) with Grissom in CSI.

Michael: The Grissom/Lady Heather relationship on CSI is not spelled out explicitly, but it seems that in the last couple of seasons there have been indications that there has been some sort of sexual relationship between the two.

I just happened to flip past CSI a moment ago. In another postwestern CSI moment, they were using the same camera set up to show what looked like the entire CSI team approaching a crime set, telephoto lens, at night rather than in the day, but similarly backlit. The collapsing of space caused by the telephoto creates an illusion of slow motion, as the characters move forward without actually seeming to get anywhere–a fairly quick and easy way to connote “mythic.” I suspect that CSI uses that camera set up often–or my channel surfing was even more astonishingly coincidental than I expected.

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