' ' Cinema Romantico: Ray of Light

Friday, April 17, 2020

Ray of Light

I had begun watching the television version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” a few years ago, at the behest and in the company of My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife, a stone cold original “Buffy” devotee, with the magnet on the fridge to prove it, who used to watch back in those days when you literally had to wait until next week to see Next Week’s Episode. We cracked Season 5 to help get through the Pandemic and while the show has narratively changed in many ways from Season 1, in another way it has stayed exactly the same. I’m speaking, of course, about Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy’s Watcher (it’s complicated), former high school librarian, now proprietor of a Sunnydale magic shop, and his penchant for drinking tea.

So many images from “Buffy” have lodged themselves in my brain. This “What the fuck is wrong with you?” face Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) gives Xander (Nicholas Brendon), her eyes tilted upward at him, like she’s paused mid eyeroll; this beaten semi-finger gun Xander shoots at an unidentified someone when he escorts Anya (Emma Caulfield) to the prom; this big sickly close-up of Sarah Michelle out the backdoor in “The Body” that is truly astounding, a small screen moment that would have worked on the big one. Of so many images, though, none has been more commonplace yet delightfully conspicuous than Giles’s jade tea mug.

Giles is frequently drinking tea, at home, in the library, in his shop. Maybe this is merely because he’s English, maybe this is just “a behavior,” to quote the esteemed Roger Ebert talking about Nick & Nora of “The Thin Man” always drinking, “like smoking, that gives them something to do with their hands, something to talk about, and an excuse to move around the room.” That’s possible, but I am also reminded of The AV Club’s A.A. Dowd talking about “The Thin Man’s” drinking and how “Nick’s attempts to just relax and drink away a few afternoons will be disrupted by a sudden murder mystery, practically materializing around him.” That’s sort of how I see Giles, just through the looking glass the other way.

Giles is a librarian who spends his days among talkative teenagers and his nights among those same talkative teenagers but also among vampires and demons, etc. His life is disruption. And yet, if he is occasionally exasperated or exhausted, the performance of Head mostly emits calm, one no doubt correlating to the beverage contained within that omnipresent jade mug.

He owns a magic shop, right? So let’s call it what it is. Buffy is, I can only assume at this point, still on hero’s journey, seeking to return with her magical elixir. Giles, on the other hand, has already found his elixir. It’s right there in his hand.

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