Stardust and FAF

This week I had the pleasure of attending a preview of Stardust, the movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s illustrated novel. It’s an excellent piece of work. There’s something about the fairy tale movie genre which suggests worthiness and a certain attitude that we’re watching respectable fantasy which says deep things, and any entertainment will be purchased at the price of a certain antique prissiness. This is none of that. This is Pirates of the Caribbean done right. By which I mean not only that the movie covers similar history/magic ground, but that it also arranges its narrative as a Series Of Groovy Events. In that last Pirates sequel, however, those things seemed so random and piled on that we might as well have been watching real life (no, that’s not a compliment). Here, the film is absolutely aware of its multiple pile up of plots, and makes a virtue of them, laughing at its own criss-crossing characters in what becomes It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Magic Kingdom.

One touchstone is The Princess Bride, which is often falsely remembered as the kind of movie described above, but is also very silly. Another is Monty Python’s vision of the past and of myth. This is a film in which we see Michelle Pfeiffer in a fine medieval villainess gown trotting along at the reins of a chariot being pulled by two small goats. But because the control of the movie over its narrative and atmosphere is so precise, we smile at the oddness of the vision, enjoy the absurdity of it and, crucially, are scared by it. We don’t guffaw and point at the screen and call it lame. We’re aware that if we met said villainess and her chariot and her two small goats in a country lane we’d be disturbed by the sight.

Great British character actors pop up in ways which are calculated to make us cheer, but with joy rather than cynicism in that calculation. Small character jokes are remembered and enlarged upon. Buckles are swashed (and not the other way round), air pirates, led by Robert DeNiro in what initially looks like an ‘oh it’s Robert DeNiro’ cameo but tastily becomes a twist role actually worthy of having him there, are joined with, a damsel is rescued. All the things you wish and expect to happen happen in pleasingly unexpected ways. And everyone talks with a deeply British ironic whack of just modern enough wit. Great screenplay from Jane Goldman. This is going to be huge, rather out of nowhere, and deservedly so. It is self contained and lovely, it feels thought out, and unlike most summer blockbusters, shown to us when it was ready to be. My only negative is that perhaps it outstays its glee at suddenly being able to have a big Hollywood explosive climax, and milks it a few moments too much. Let’s hope that its forthcoming success encourages more of the same, especially from this team, rather than a hastily-arranged sequel.

And I got to meet Neil Gaiman's Dad. Who's lovely. And proud.

Faringdon Arts Festival was wonderful as always. I didn’t do much work, just a bit of heavy lifting with taxi driver Noel, who, like me, enjoys being around as the atmosphere builds along with the stage on the Friday afternoon. (The poor thing managed to get bonked in the face by a traffic cone, and tried to keep on working, but finally got a stitch put in his lip in the ladies toilet of the bar by a hastily-found medic, this being just after the end of the Festival when the First Responders had gone home.) We gradually seal off all the parking spaces, and then there comes a magical moment when the traffic lights isolating the square from cars are switched on. The space is the peoples’ for the weekend, and the sense of liberation is startling. Kids appear from everywhere. People wander through, stop, and stay. The Friday night was enormous, people all across the Market Place. Great sets from Forgotten Priority (the young battle of the bands winners with great music but a terrible name), Carrie Rossiter, Neil Dwerryhouse and the (sic) Young Gods and the mighty Power Train. Neil got the audience singing along to his punk and new wave hits, and threw sweets to the audience, and then The Train properly rocked out to closing time. The sunshine came out across the weekend, and DJ Tim, who was running the stage from his vantage point in the top room with the big table at the Crown Inn, didn’t have to reel in his big cable that could have electrocuted everyone on stage (it’s how Power Train would want to go). Many gorgeous acts appeared onstage all weekend, including Caroline’s band The Magpies, the fabulous Tex Mex sounds of Ain’t Drunk Just Drinking, Louise Woodgate’s huge opera numbers, Uke Box Jury’s many ukulele players, and excellent new music from Failing To Focus, and many other young bands. Including several friends I just haven’t space here to mention. The variety was what kept the audience, one moment a bunch of kids jumping up and down with their guitars, the other a national treasure like Mervyn Penny doing his music hall songs. By the time Simon Stafford’s Cooper Black finished the weekend, with people dancing in front of the stage and kids chalking all over the pavements, and the traffic lights were switched off, and the cars roared back in and sadly claimed their territory for another year, we had all been thoroughly entertained. And organiser Julie Farmer kept smiling throughout, having sorted most of the problems in advance this time. Well done, Jules.

The best gig of the weekend, though, and the best gig I’ve ever seen in Faringdon (sorry Anita, sorry Trev, sorry the dozens of others I could mention) was Boogie Me at the Crown back bar on the Saturday night. They only brought thirteen of their usual nineteen members. But they packed the place, and made the walls run with sweat, and got the whole room leaping up and down and dancing. New vocalist Roger Clarke won the night. I’ve never heard an audience shouting out a singer’s name before, even in this town. We stumbled out into the courtyard with our ears ringing after ‘Minnie the Moocher’. It’s the sax and piano leads that do it. And Caroline got to sing a lead on ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’, getting applause on the intro, during, and after. Phew.

Photos of the weekend, including the Boogie Me gig, from local photographers here:

www.flickr.com/groups/314165@N24/pool/

My own big news is that yesterday I both turned forty and delivered my first draft of my new novel, Chalk, to my Agent for his advice. Just getting the words down of that deeply personal book was a major accomplishment for me. From here, it’s the fun of shaping and crafting, with an expert guiding me. So it’s not going to be hard going at all. Obviously. Being forty is kind of weird. I never really felt good about stopping being a teenager. I think some good champagne will be needed to ease me through the process.

Anyhow, I have some comics writing to do today (something exciting, no, not to do with the rumour you’ve heard), so until next time, Cheerio.

Announcements:

ITEM! It’s always good when children watch Doctor Who trailers and decide that they should copy them…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TwhU3Seju4

ITEM! Mark Stibbe’s ‘Father’s Day’ sermon is available on CD from his website:

http://www.wordandspiritresources.org.uk/

Or if you’d prefer just the text, for free, you can always drop him a line at markstibbe@aol.com

ITEM! Reaper merchandise! First Frubes, now your actual action figures!

http://www.whoblackpool.com/acatalog/SERIES_1_WAVE_1_FIGURES.html

ITEM! I’ll be attending Fantasycon in Nottingham on 21st-23rd September…

http://www.fantasycon.org.uk/

And the Birmingham International Comics Show on 13th October…

http://www.thecomicsshow.co.uk/

And, as always, Gallifrey One in L.A. in February, the website for which is now up…

http://www.gallifreyone.com/gallifrey.php

And I’m going to be at Picocon the weekend after that, but they don’t have a website up yet.

Faringdon Arts Festival is here!

It's one of the high points of my year. During daytime tomorrow, a stage will be put together in the Market Place, and that evening, four local bands will play to the biggest audience possible in my home town. Last year we estimated the audience size at over a thousand. The people fill the area from one side of the Square to the other, and they make a lovely noise. They spill out of every bar and pub. They dance. They sing along. They see how many they are, and how we don't need anything but local talent and local friends to have an enormous time.

This night of music signifies the start of the Faringdon Arts Festival, our town's pride and joy. The bands playing tomorrow night are: the winner of the Battle of the Bands at the Community College (always hard fought, between many young bands, don't yet know who won this time); Carrie Rossiter's Band (some of the best musicians in the area;

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=123159274

Neil Dwerryhouse and the Young Gods (singalonga punk and new wave, super super fun);

http://www.singalongpunk.co.uk/

And, closing the evening, the mighty Power Train (let's rock!)

http://www.powertrainmusic.com/

Somewhere amongst that, our MP Ed Vaizey will be popping along to declare everything open. For the next two days, over the weekend, the Market Place is for pedestrians, and the town's bands and acts of all descriptions occupy the stage, and there are workshops and children's entertainments, and why this is such a great place to live is hugely underlined. Even if you're not coming along, it's worth a browse to see what we've got:

http://www.faringdonartsfestival.org/

As for me, I'll be in a tabard, making sure everything happens according to plan, and being happily ordered to move this and direct that. While my wife handles last minute PR. At the end of the night, when I take my tabard off, I might be able to have a beer. I typically lose several pounds over the weekend. I'm rarely happier.

Until I moved here, like a lot of folk I know, I never had a local social life, wherever I lived. It was the this Arts Festival (okay, and the Cricket Club) that got me one. It plugged me into the life of the town. It was a starting place for all my friendships. I still think Faringdon is a very special place to live. I don't know of many towns where so many kid bands would be competing to open the Festival, where I'm talking about compiling a huge Rock Family Tree of local musicians. Where around a beery table I could name you fifty acts who've come from these parts. It must be something in the water. Whatever, I'm always proud to live here, and never more so than over the next three days. If you're anywhere near, do come along, let me show you and buy you a pint. You may find you don't want to leave.

Oh, and by the way, tomorrow should see the appearance of my interview in the Oxford Times Magazine supplement. I talk about Doctor Who, married life and all sorts of stuff. Do check it out.

I hope I'll see a few of you over the next few days, otherwise until the next time I post, Cheerio.