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’s THE JULES VERNE PROJECT Mashes Up Steampunk, a Sea Monster, LORD OF THE FLIES and Old-School Cinematic Slapstick

Posted on: Oct 16th, 2011 By:

In epic tales of man vs. nature, we find champions in MOBY DICK, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: fierce battles to overcome insurmountable challenges from the deep. If these heroes can confront such odds, then surely we can take on whatever troubles we are facing in real life. We use these stories as illustrations of bravery, loyalty (to ourselves and others) and endurance. Literary symbols of courage when things get to be too rough.

Now, take that concept, add some slapstick, put it on the silver screen – and you have Lisa Stock’s next venture: THE JULES VERNE PROJECT. This short film aims to combine all the physical humor of Buster Keaton, the cut-throat survival tactics from LORD OF THE FLIES and the unblinking focus of a voyeur come across a scene of outrageous monster mayhem. ATLRetro readers will remember Lisa as the director who staged Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES in East Atlanta this past August (read our Really Retro piece on Lisa here). We recently sat down with Lisa to discuss THE JULES VERNE PROJECT and her crow-funding efforts to make it happen.

Ed. Note: If you’d like to be a part in bringing this film to life – an Indie Go-Go campaign to raise its modest production financing runs only until Friday Oct. 21! (details below)

ATLRetro: What is THE JULES VERNE PROJECT?

Lisa Stock: THE JULES VERNE PROJECT is a short live-action sea monster movie. I refer to it as: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT meets LORD OF THE FLIES meets Laurel and Hardy meets Jules Verne. It’s a story of shipwreck, bravery and the dire consequences of alienating your allies. Basically – we take a Strongman, a Deck Hand, and a Lady with a Parasol and strand them on a desert island with a big giant tentacle on the loose! Oh – and there’s a hot-air balloon shot out of the sky too.

How would you classify it? Comedy, adventure, silent film, steampunk, retro?

Yes.

Your creative projects, such as SNOW, GLASS, APPLES and TITANIA, have often been staged/filmed unconventionally. How is THE JULES VERNE PROJECT different in that respect?

Well, first of all we’re going to do the entire film in one take, one shot. No editing of multiple angles. The camera will even be stationary. So most of our tricks will have to be done “in the camera” – which is why I’m opting for a fabricated sea monster tentacle as opposed to a CGI one. I really want to push my boundaries as a storyteller and filmmaker and do something I’ve never done before.

There will be some effects done in post-production, such as the hot air balloon, but 90% will be done on a beach, one shot, all in one tableau – my actors and puppeteer are going to love me. Haha! But that’s the fun of it – we’ll all be pushed passed our normal limits, and who knows what we’ll discover.

So, if it’s all done “in the camera,” what won’t we see? 

Hopefully, our tentacle puppeteer! We’ll have to do this several times, I’m sure, to get a take that is mistake-free. But it’s short. And we’re going to have to do a lot of wiping footprints and tentacle marks from the sand in between each run-through.

In addition, I’m planning to do something really cool with the actual image in post – in terms of frame rate, that might be a nice surprise for our epic battle sequence.

What are you going to do with the film once it’s complete?

As much as I think film festivals are valuable to the indie realm, I want as many people to see this as possible. So we’re going to put it up online in April. There’s little to do in post, and that will give us a very short turnaround time. I want people to see it and enjoy it. The movie will also be a good example of what we (me, my cast/crew) can achieve as filmmakers, and it will give us the opportunity to tell a story that is hilarious and poignant.

Tell us about the Indie-Go-Go campaign.

We’re currently doing an Indie Go-Go campaign to raise funds for the film. But only until this Friday – Oct. 21! I did a Kickstarter campaign last year for my film THE TITANIA PREQUEL and was successful. I like getting my projects funded this way – because it comes directly from an audience I can give back to directly. No middleman to take away all their money, and take away all of my inspiration. So many independent artists are getting funded this way now. People who like your work or are interested in what you’re doing can donate. And what you see is what you get. I’ve supported a lot of projects like this myself. It’s important to let artists be artists – I think the results are much stronger.

We’re raising funds now mostly for the massive tentacle puppet. We need to get started on that for it to be ready for our April shoot date. And give ourselves ample time to rehearse with it. Donations for THE JULES VERNE PROJECT start at $1, $10 and go up from there. And this time we’re getting really creative and fun with our donor rewards! Everything from messages in a bottle to downloads and personalized notes and treasures from the set. To donate visit: http://www.indiegogo.com/The-Jules-Verne-Project

You’re also giving 10% to a charity?

Yes, when I do a large project, I like to give back. A couple of months ago I lost a friend I’d grown up with. He was only 37. There was an animal rescue he was fond of and we’ve decided to give 10% of what we raise with this campaign to that animal rescue in his name.

Lisa Stock. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

It seems you like the sea. Recently, you started an Internet radio show called SRN: THE SIGNAL.

That’s right! Sirens, sea monsters – the ocean inspires me! SRN stands for the mythic siren. The show discusses all things mythic, fantasy, fairy tale, sci-fi, etc. I’d like to say we have a traditional format with a twist – but as it’s looking each show will be really different. Our next broadcast is Oct. 30 and we’re discussing graveyards and ghost stories with some Atlanta-based cemetery caretakers. In future broadcasts, we’ll be talking to the folks at High Rez Studios about their forthcoming game, SMITE, based on Greek mythology, and we will also have some well-known writers and actors coming by. Hope you’ll tune in!

Anything else our readers can see of yours currently?

I have a poem being published in Burial Day BooksGOTHIC BLUE BOOK out on October 28. It’s all about the legend of the Wild Hunt and Furious Host. And, not currently, but in the spring, I hope to do a dark and scary stage version of HANSEL AND GRETEL.

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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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