Hearing from Mike Russell plus Cort and Fatboy about what went into making this summer’s “Firefly at the Mission” a reality was…an education. A willing venue and a willing fandom worked together over…well, a while (I’m unclear on the timeline) to let Firefly join the ranks of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twin Peaks, The Prisoner, Arrested Development and others as TV shows shown by the McMenamin’s theatres. Still, it would’ve been a little anticlimactic after that work if so many of us hadn’t responded and attended. Fortunately, many of us did. The chance came, and 200 to 300 (or more) people a week jumped at it.
We deserve to be proud of that.
And Russell, Cort, Fatboy, Rick Emerson, the Mission Theatre staff, the Dark Horse Comics people, and the Things From Another World people all deserve more applause. Really! Just be walking down the street and start applauding! It’ll help Keep Portland Weird!
On Tuesday night we concluded “Firefly at the Mission” with the “and then everything went to Hell” episode of Firefly, a.k.a. the 2005 movie Serenity. Joss Whedon successfully fought for his chance to wrap up his science fiction Western, and then used that chance to take more chances…and not just go “Rocks fall, everybody dies,” though I think Whedon is perverse enough that he may sometimes consider endings like that. The result wasn’t for everybody (my parents admitted they made it through only about 10 minutes of the film when they tried it on HBO), but it’s a movie that’s special to increasing numbers of people. Just as Firefly is special to evermore people.
The weather seemed iffy that afternoon – the skies seemed to be saying “drizzle? Mmmmmmm…possible”– but the night stayed dry, keeping our waiting time comfortable. By the time I hit SE McLaughlin headed north towards the Mission, clouds had parted enough to let a sliver of dusk-light outline the West Hills. At the same time I was driving, some people had already queued near the Mission’s doors; some others were already inside, watching Knocked Up. People were still doing so when I parked and reached the start of the line. More plastic lawn chairs this time. I kind of wished that someone had brought a hammock; that would’ve been waiting in style. I joined the line, read, and listened to the murmuring hubbub (the susurrus! That’s a great word!) of the other waiting people. Not too loud, not too quiet; it was comfortable, especially for a non-bar-hopping, non-club-going person like me.
When we could enter, the entering at least started smoothly, and seemed to keep going smoothly. The food-and-drink line also went smoothly. We can be a well-behaved fandom. We didn’t hit capacity this time – how crowded was the balcony? I didn’t see it – but, again, we were close. We had drinks, snacks, food and attitude. And love. Geek love. The sort of love that led to one guy and I in the food line discussing the battle to make the new Battlestar Galactica both good and appointment viewing (“SciFi needed that show to be a hit,” I said; “I don’t think Fox needed Firefly to be one”), and how the Alliance goons were like the Psi Corps from Babylon 5, just clumsier. “The Psi Corps are better at covering their tracks,” he said.
Then the pre-movie festivities started, with Mike Russell being joined (finally!) by radio guys Cort and Fatboy; the two DJs had pretaped the last 2 ½ hours of their KUFO show so they could be at the Mission for at least one screening. They willingly became Russell’s swag-schleppers, running prizes to people who’d properly answered the trivia questions.
This time we had a record 20 questions, thought not all were asked. This number was due to the sheer number of items Dark Horse and TFAW (that needs to be a sound effect in a Dark Horse comic: “TFAW!”) and others had provided. Local knitter Sara Charney Cohen donated not only a couple of Jayne caps, but (and I thought this was adorable) a Jayne cellphone cozy. (Hey, a goal: someone here should try making Kaylee’s shindig dress…) It took long enough to answer everything and give away prizes that I started to wonder if holding the trivia contest outside before the event would be a better idea. It likely wouldn’t. (Mike Russell had the likely more workable idea of doing trivia after a showing.) I personally liked the trivia that in Whedon’s first draft of Serenity, the Operative had a name, Jude…apparently referring to both Judas and the Beatles song “Hey Jude.” (At least, I’ve seen enough signs that Whedon is a Beatles fan to think that.) Then I found there was a connection between Firefly and High School Musical, when someone answered that question with enthusiasm. “Ah, and the fandoms meet…” I said to myself, portentously.
“Have you noticed yet? I can’t stump them?” Russell pondered from the stage halfway through the contest.
He also noted that Tuesday night was the second wedding anniversary of a couple in the audience. (The husband’s present to his wife: all sorts of Joss Whedon-penned comic books, some obscure, filling in gaps in her collection and gladifying her. Think someone would say “gladify” in the Firefly ’Verse? I think so.) The announcement was greeted with cheers and applause and the couple standing up in the balcony and being the center of attention.
Cort and Fatboy made short work of their introduction. They mentioned not spoiling stuff. Being perverse, I started to wish they’d given fake spoilers – didn’t you guys love the Far Side references? Or the lucha libre wrestling? Or the planet of dancing ants? Or the threesome with _____, _____, and _____ (fill in the blanks with the characters of your choice)? But I’m not the trained public speaker. They are.
Then the end began.
A film print (as the Mission’s manager had hoped, though I’m sure there was a Serenity DVD on the premises just in case) began to unspool, complete with lens adjustment as the Universal Pictures logo played. And we once again saw the rescue of River, the Operative, the rough landing on Lilac, the Reavers, the Fruity Oaty Bar commercial, River showing her kung-fu is strong…and that’s just the first half-hour. I better appreciated the subtleties of the film (watch Inara’s face as she meets the Operative) and reinforced my belief (sort of expressed before) that Joss Whedon is going to be a very interesting director.
Then…the end ended. The film finished, and we began to point all of ourselves towards our homes. Before leaving, I met Russell’s friend and colleague, artist/animator S.W. “Conch” Conser (who also appeared in this Culture Pulp comic, by the way), and learned he knows how to react to people who think he looks like Willem Dafoe. And that he would love to write a Serenity Tales comic about Shepherd Book’s past, one of the big unanswered questions of Firefly.
We don’t know all the answers, but we can speculate. Whedon doesn’t mind. We can watch the series, view the movie, recreate its props, recite its dialogue, make fan films, appreciate the cast and crew (and hope co-creator Tim Minear can have a hit on TV again)…and, perhaps, if all goes well, gather at a theatre-pub again to watch the series on the big screen again.
The Forces That Be will try to see if that can, well, Be again.
Nothing’s firm yet, but the people who made “Firefly at the Mission” happen want to see it return. Hope for that. I quote Fatboy: “I still wish I'd gotten to see the actual SHOW on the big screen: The episodes you were watching got ripped straight from my own DVD set, but I’ve never seen them broadcast on a 30 foot screen. Hopefully by the time we do this AGAIN…we'll be able to work it out so we're not overloud floating heads telling bad jokes before the screening; we'll be in-person schlumpy yahoos telling bad jokes before the screening.” That’s partly because he likes the fandom’s camaraderie and rapport: “I talked to some really cool people there, like I always do when surrounded by Browncoats and Whedonites. I remember long conversations about DOG GROOMING, of all things, with 10 people, when I was standing on-line for one of the Serenity pre-screenings in Portland a couple Marchs ago. Conversations are pretty contagious in line for Firefly, it seems.”
But for now, we can get to bed at our usual times Tuesday nights. And that’s its own kind of good.