Sunday, March 24, 2013

Slayer Soundtrack Sunday ~ "Danse Macabre"

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The memorable episode "Hush" in Season 4 is considered by some Buffy fans to be the scariest of the whole series. A group of creepy floating demons known as "The Gentlemen" are haunting Sunnydale in order to capture the voices of sleeping people. As part of their evil plans they also begin to harvest the hearts of various poor souls for a ritual.

source: Wikipedia
The Gentlemen, called the "creepiest villains we've ever done" by series writer Doug Petrie, were inspired by a nightmare Whedon had as a child, specifically one in which he was in bed and approached by a floating monster. Whedon fashioned The Gentlemen as something from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, intending them to be frightening to children — monsters who carve out people's hearts, smiling as they do so. Nosferatu, Pinhead from Hellraiser, and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons all served as physical models for The Gentlemen.
Elegantly Victorian in costume and demeanor, Whedon found their politeness and grace especially unsettling. Their metallic teeth were inspired by the intersection of Victorian culture with the height of the Industrial age, an era that Whedon considers "classically creepy". For Buffy studies scholar Rhonda Wilcox, The Gentlemen and their straitjacket-wearing minions, who clumsily flap, gyrate, and crouch as they move, are representative of class disparity and patriarchy: The Gentlemen, with their Victorian suits, move effortlessly to accomplish what they set out to do while their minions, whom Whedon called "footmen", do the "dirty work".

This episode was nominated for Emmy Awards in the categories Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and Outstanding Cinematography. It also received a Writers Guild of America Award.

A little girl appears in Buffy's prophetic dream singing a song about The Gentlemen:

Can't even shout
Can't even cry
The gentlemen are coming by
Looking in windows
Knocking on doors
They need to take seven
And they might take yours
Can't call to mum
Can't say a word
You're gonna die screaming
But you won't be heard

When Giles has to silently explain his discoveries about The Gentlemen using an overhead projector, for background music he plays "Danse Macabre" - a classical work by the composer Camille Saint-Saens, inspired by Medieval morality plays and paintings about Death:

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Source: La Mort Dans L'Art
The dances of death were mostly painted (or more rarely carved) on the outside walls of cloisters, of family vaults, of ossuaries or inside some churches. These frescoes represent an emaciated corpse or a skeleton coupled with a representative of a certain social class. The number of characters and the composition of the dance vary. The dance of death often takes the form of a farandole. Below or above the picture are painted verses by which death adresses its victim. He often talks in a threatening and accusing tone, sometimes also cynic and sarcastic. Then comes the argument of the Man, full of remorse and despair, crying for mercy. But death leads everyone into the dance: from the whole clerical hierarchy (pope, cardinals, bishops, abbots, canons, priests), to every single representative of the laic world (emperors, kings, dukes, counts, knights, doctors, merchants, usurers, robbers, peasants, and even innocent children). Death does not care for the social position, nor for the richness, sex, or age of the people it leads into its dance. It is often represented with a musical instrument.

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Dance Macabre is better known today as the background music for several Halloween cartoons. Americans may remember the one that was shown on PBS, along with the classroom filmstrip with Harold Dexter Hoopes watercolors, which reminds me the most of The Gentlemen because of the big clock tower. The last one is a fantastical award-winning animation from Ireland. It's very Buffy-esque, with skeletons popping up out of the graveyard - enjoy! :)

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