30 Days of the Plaza, Day 14: New Mythic Movies Series Sprinkles A Little Neil Gaiman/Charles Vess STARDUST at The Plaza Thurs. June 14

Posted on: Jun 13th, 2012 By:

By Tom Drake
Contributing Writer

STARDUST (2007); Dir: Matthew Vaughn; Based on the illustrated book by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess; Starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Sienna Miller, Ian McKellen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro ; Mythic Movies Series presented by the Mythic Imagination Institute and prologue to Faerie Escape Atlanta convention at the Plaza Theatre, Thurs. June 14; 7:30 PM; Discussion following led by Lisa Stock (SNOW, GLASS, APPLES); $10; trailer here.

Short Version: A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really… “Do the stars gaze back?” Now *that’s* a question.

Medium Version: THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987) for a new generation. The Village of Wall stands between the world of Fae and our own. One day a star falls, and a capricious girl Victoria (Sienna Miller) sends a young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) on a quest to bring it to her. So he does. And in the process finds everything he never knew he wanted, for while on our side of the wall, a star is a ball of super-heated gases, on the other side of the wall, the star is a beautiful girl Yvaine (Claire Danes), who is not so keen on being brought back across the wall.

Maximum Verbosity: What is a mythic movie? One might as well ask “what is a myth?” – for which one can consult a dictionary at any time. But the short version is that a myth is a story that works itself into our collective unconsciousness, that tells of a society (including our society) and becomes a part of who we are. In this postmodern world, the myths of many cultures work our way into the American melting pot. Why else would a Greek God like Zeus still be known to every man, woman and child of a civilization that is thousands of miles away from Greece and only claims a small population descended from that region?

Airship Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) dances with star Yvaine (Claire Danes) in STARDUST. Paramount Pictures, 2007.

The stories themselves have taken on a timeless quality and teach lessons that we learn and incorporate into our lives, very often without even knowing it. Fairy tales have been quite popular of late, and there is a reason for it. Most all of us learned about them growing up. But not all fairy tales come from the Brothers Grimm. Around the turn of the century, a series of fairy tale collections gathered by Andrew Lang based on color, THE RED FAIRY BOOK or THE GREEN FAIRY BOOK, graced many bookshelves around the world and were based on a world of Fae very different than the mildly mischievous Tinkerbell who makes the children fly in Disney’s PETER PAN. These Fae are beautiful, dangerous, insane, alien and haunting.

STARDUST is a tale inspired by these kinds of tales and does so with such perfect mimicry that it might as well be one. It has all of the class elements of the fairy tale, of course, including witches, magic spells, a crown to be won, romance, a heroes’ quest and unbearable loss. But it carries with it the innovation and freshness that modern fantasy diaspora provides – a world that makes sense in Fae with a ship that catches lightning and magic that acts much like science does here. Neil Gaiman (the author of the illustrated book upon which the movie is based) is an excellent writer, but the reason he enjoys such popularity is because his tales capture the epic feel of ancient myth with modern language in a way that makes them as meaningful to us today emotionally and creatively, as the older mythic stories were for the original people who were awed and inspired by them in the first place.

On the surface, STARDUST is simply a fun movie. It just wasn’t marketed very well, but it has a slow, small cult following that grows a little bit each year. The characters are very human, and you find yourself rooting for our hero Tristan, especially since at one point or another, we have all done something stupid to impress a girl (or, in reversed circumstances, a guy). But stupid though his task may be, he is bound and determined to do so. He is not only in love, and to a lesser degree his personal honor is at stake, but as he finds the star, alone and so far from her sisters, shining in the heavens above, he begins to have a change of heart. And a change of heart is what all great love stories are about.

Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) in STARDUST. Paramount Pictures, 2007.

On a deeper level, of course, all kinds of things are going on. The true value of sibling love, or rather the lack thereof is often manifest, and the mistakes of our predecessors are often echoed again and again. We often do incredibly stupid things because that is simply the way we have done them. There is the treachery of power, and how, once tasted, we will do almost anything, no matter how vile to retain it. And how of the many flavors of power, physical attractiveness is the most fleeting and superficial powers of them all. STARDUST is a story of what being beautiful truly means, a coming of age tale, and also deciding what it really means to be who you want to be.

And all of that is what makes STARDUST not only a “mythic movie” but an excellent one, for it teaches on many levels. Jim Henson (DARK CRYSTAL, LABYRINTH) also was a master of this. He entertained children, but also entertained the adults at the same time with jokes that only they got. Gaiman tells an exciting story, but weaves in lessons as timeless as the stars they honor, and you enjoy letting him do it.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. It is fantastic in every conceivable way, and this Thursday at the Plaza Theatre, you will get a very rare opportunity indeed: to see it in a historic art-deco (REAL) cinema with an appreciative crowd. The odds of you wanting to own the DVD after seeing it are very high. See the movie.

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Really Retro: Lisa Stock Explores an Older, Darker Side of Fairy Tales in Her Play of Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES

Posted on: Aug 22nd, 2011 By:

Carrie Anne Hunt as the Snow White Princess in Lisa Stock's play of Neil Gaiman's SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, which opens Aug. 24.

SNOW WHITE has a reputation for being a cheery story about a cute princess and seven mostly affable dwarves, but the only time I ever hid my eyes in a movie as a child was when the evil stepmother queen transforms herself into a hideous wicked witch in the Walt Disney version. Trust author Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN, AMERICAN GODS) to cleverly latch onto the darker side of that familiar tale and consider that mere jealousy might not be sufficient motive to drive the queen to murder by poisoned apple. And maybe the prince wasn’t exactly your normal kind of hero either. “I was reading Neil Philip‘s [PENGUIN BOOK OF] ENGLISH FOLKTALES, and a rereading of a version of SNOW WHITE made me stop and wonder what kind of person she was, and what kind of person sees a dead girl in a glass coffin and wants to keep her…,” Neil said in an email last week when asked what led him to write the short story, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES. Now Snow White’s white skin, blood-red lips and coffin-sleeping take on a new meaning with disturbing erotic implications, and the queen becomes a protagonist with a difficult moral choice.

Lisa Stock. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

Originally published as a benefit book for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 1994, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES captured the imagination of so many readers that it was reprinted in two anthologies—TWICE BITTEN: LOVE IN VEIN II (1997), edited by Poppy Z. Brite, and Neil’s own collection SMOKE AND MIRRORS (1998). One of those readers was Lisa Stock, who like the storytellers of old, had her own thoughts about taking the tale in a new direction from page to stage. Through a few mutual friends, the then-New York-based writer/director for theater and film politely asked Neil nicely for a chance to have some fun with his story of bloodlust and mistrust. Charmed by her vision, the idea of seeing his creation come to life and the fact that all proceeds would benefit charity (East Atlanta Community Association), he granted her wish. “I love live theatre,” Neil said. “There’s a magic you cannot get from anything else when it’s good.”

While this real-life fairy tale so far may seem more CINDERELLA, it’s Atlanta audiences that really are the lucky ones. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES has its world premiere here Wed. Aug. 24 through Sun. Aug. 28 in the unusual venue of the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, re-envisioned by Lisa as a dreamlike Spring Fair. Artists and photographers also will have a chance to draw and photograph cast members in costume and preview the phantasmagoric sets during a Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School Atlanta field trip on Mon. Aug. 22. Performances are rated “R” for simulated violence and adult themes, but a special family-friendly show will be held Aug. 28 at 6 p.m.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Lisa to find out more about what drew her to the dark story, crafting a truly unique audience experience, why it’s the perfect fit for a Dr. Sketchy and a little about her other mythic projects, including the upcoming independent feature film TITANIA.

For those unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, without giving away too much, how is it different from the Disney version of SNOW WHITE we grew up with? And more like the original darker versions that date back to Medieval times?
For me, Neil Gaiman’s version reflects the earliest forms of the tale, some [of which] trace back to the myth of Persephone (eating pomegranate seeds and falling into a half-life in the Underworld). The tales were originally much darker in nature and true morality tales. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES for me is just that—a cautionary tale about trusting or mistrusting your instincts. It’s also about self-preservation in a brutal world, and how you deal with the choices that have been handed to you. Our protagonist doesn’t get saved and have all that’s hers by birthright returned to her. She makes her own decisions—for better or worse—and goes out to protect, on her own, what she holds dear.

How did you discover SNOW, GLASS, APPLES and what drew you personally to the story?
I discovered SNOW, GLASS, APPLES through a haunting illustration by Sarah Coleman of the princess that led me back to Neil’s story. I love new perspectives on old tales and those that speak to human instincts. Instincts are such a basic, fundamental part of being human, and yet we often ignore them. The Queen does that in this tale; I’ve done that more times than I can count. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been defeated. We all have. And I think this short story brings out a side of us we may not want to own up to—it talks about fear and failure, but also responsibility and integrity. Though Neil has made the Queen the protagonist, she hasn’t lost any of her edge or her darkness. Instead, with the perspective in her corner, we recognize that in ourselves.

I also love all the visual reminders of her fear in the story: the vampiric princess who keeps coming back to life, the princess’ heart strung above her bed, the forest folk disappearing, nothing is as it seems, reminders to look deeper. Think about it. What are you afraid of? It takes up a lot of your time and space. That’s our nature. And in Neil’s story, the Queen goes out to do something about her fear; whether she’s successful or not, she tries to survive it. Was it the right thing to do or not—that’s for each of us to decide.

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