Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Frabjous Days of Fandom

What is fandom?

One of the rare shots possible in such crowded, happy quarters.

To the people you bump into on the streets while you duck and dive during December's pre-Christmas consumerist chaos, they would say fans are insane, generally female and usually teenagers or the adults who still live in their parents' basements.

In short, they reel off a load of stereotypes.

Today I'd like to give you a general view of fans, from the belly of the beast itself...

The London Premiere of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. (With a precursor the night before at a pub).

The evening before the premiere,, the leading force behind Middle Earth gatherings, news and fandom (apart from the more exclusive Tolkien Society), held a pub moot at a place just off the film centre of Leicester Square, called Waxy O'Connors. This pub looked and felt like it had dropped out of a black hole from the medieval period. It's all wood, celtic carvings and goblet. There were tin and iron basins in the toilets, wood carved into tree branches and bits of holly and ivy sprigged about. Also, grand fireplaces with deep pits, low benches, round tables, teetering stools and so many overhangs, balconies and twisty corridors, it never seemed to quite end.

The event took place in one of the upper floor rooms called the Cottage Room and also had a background of Howard Shore's epic scores. Well, at least until there were too many of us of present for there to be much point trying to have a background of "Concerning Hobbits" or "The Ring Goes South" being two of my favourite tracks which were played.

I arrived apprehensive. It's a social gathering. I am going alone. I am an introvert. It's par for the course then that I found myself a corner between a high backed chair and a wooden pillar near the bar. I leaned there and observed for an untangible amount of time. Appreciating the music, the warm atmosphere and the gorgeous costumes some people showed up in. Being that I had to pack as frugually as possible that meant no costumery, whether Middle Earth or otherwise, could find a home in my suitcase. So I made due by letting the Evenstar glint off the flickering fire place and maybe, possibly, my freshy done hair. (Which did in fact turn out rather lovely, despite all my worries. I am just flat thankful it didn't cost my head in pounds or sanity).

I bounced a few words with a girl who was shocked how busy it was and left right after as she couldn't stand the crowds and attempted to ooze my way into a coversation between four rather handsome Scots who were dressed as hobbits, complete with bare feet (they pulled their shoes off when they came in). They were more interested in getting drunk...

All the costumed people were gathered for a photo and prizes, one of the websites moderators did a quick speech of thanks and the chairman of the Tolkien Society, a thirty year old who has a hobbit complexion but an elf's height talked for a bit. Then, among the regular chatter a guy grabbed the mic and freaked everyone into thinking Andy Serkis was in the room, his Gollum impression was so spot-on. The cast and crew of the film did have this particular event on their iternary for the evening but they were free to chose what to do and what not to do, particularly in the case of a fan-run event like this. And so no more people left due to the crowded rooms. 

After all, a filmic hero could appear at a later hour. It was around this time that I heard the jarring drawl of an American accent. Around the other end of my corner a guy was expostulating his love of collecting Tolkien's works with the Tolkien Society chairman and somehow, I found myself leaking into the conversation. Probably because they started discussing the possibilities of the Silmarillion, if told in alternative mediums. I leaked into the conversation for a bit, rather aware that the guy was American and if I am going to meet any guy I would prefer to him to not be of the New World variety because hey, I am here, not there.

The pub moot was, as I predicted, a highlight. Meeting like-minded individuals always is. It means you get an evening full of people singing Tolkien songs, songs from the films and when, they get just drunk enough, they start dancing up on tables and re-enacting the pub and party scenes generally influenced by hobbits in the movies. Amusingly, this was largely directed by the Scottish hobbits. Unfortunately they eventually got so drunk by near midnight that their renditions of The Green Dragon, I See Fire, The Misty Mountains, the Cat and the Fiddle and The Road Goes Ever On, to name off a few, had devolved into what is apparently the bane of pub singing...Bohemian Rhapsody. I can agree now. The phrase "sounds like a dying cat" has never been more true.

My new acquaintances, the youtubers, a couple of Danish girls and an older couple from Cheshire who had been buying the group of us drinks periodically throughout the night, said a "hope to see you tomorrow" and there we parted.

Luke Evans, the fabulous individual who plays Bard in the films showed up. Well, there was more action to it than that. See, he started coming up the stairs of the pub to where most of us were situated. We were all alerted to the arrival of said celebrity by a roaring wave of cheer and then crash! The crowd bore down and the poor guy basically had to zip through with waves, smiles and stopping for a few requests of selfies with fans before leaving out the back end again. Yeah, that's fans for you when the shining quarry of various idols are spotted. Especially when the quarters in which said interaction is taking place happens to have a low medieval ceilings with a lot of pillars and tables and therefore precludes little manouvering room to begin with.

In reality it would have been better if it had been organised for said famous individuals to set up behind the bar along with the mic to allow a better interaction that wasn't so mobbish that the pub manager then blocked any other celebrities from entering in the name of health and safety. And so, Billy Boyd, who played Pippin in The Lord of the Rings and Ian McKellen, being Gandalf, dallied outside the back doors of the pub for a bit, interacting with the lucky few who spotted them, but my group and most others missed that secretive stop of theirs.

And that was that. I walked back to the hostel, skipping. People avoid eye contact here when you do something odd. Which is nice. No staring.

What follows is the actual Premiere:

8 hours wait. I arrived on needles and quite hot (because I speed-walked more than usual). The square crawled with workers in bright vests, piles of gates, metal supports, cranes and set-pieces in the form of trees, a dwarf statue and parts of a hobbit hole. In the Burger King at the corner I spied fans, standing out in their elvish crowns, long skirts, and armoured coats.

Milling about the square the fans continued but there was no direct organisation of lines as of yet. Perhaps I was too early? Shocking.

Turns out I was on time for a fan-organised line though eventually one of the workers came over and kicked us out of the square with a rather rude "if you lot aren't gone in 5, you'll be getting your wristbands cut."

And so we skedaddled. I had got myself chatting with a group of three friends who attend Kings College London and we hid in the Costas just below the main Odeon cinema so we could still see what was happening in the square, without actually being out in it and therefore encuring the further fury of the workers. We wondered how they could actually have the place set up and ready in time 11am when they said they would start organising us to line up in the pens.

And so followed an hour in which I wished I could be back in university. Between the three there was a breadth of knowledge (mostly of humanities and arts). Acting, animation, make-up design, English and linguistics. In short, I happily fit in while the one guy, who had just pulled a night shift at Sainsbury's (a grocery store), gulped back the largest possible hot chocolate you can get at Costas while entertaining us other three with his reading of Richard III and a monologue he was meant to memorise.

Eventually it was near 11am and finally, the lines were allowed to form, in the order of our numbered wristbands though, so I said farewell to my temporary friends and found myself in the middle of the line (being number 871 of 2000). I then accquainted myself with two old friends who hadn't seen eachother in three years and grew up in York.

And so the hours trekked on. Despite the official notice that we would be organised into the pens by 11, those weren't up and ready until nearly 3 and not until 4 were we finally ushered into the areas behind the red (or in the case of The Hobbit), the green, carpet. What ensued was a lot of nervous bathroom trips, snack trip, sitting on the ground under a thermal blanket and oodles of time-passing games.

Then came the premiere. It began in a trickle of security guards being flirted at by the three ridiculous girls next to me (who were seasoned premiere goers and stupidly rich with their 1600 pound/month flats in Chelsea, paid for by parents and their L'Oreal long hair which kept getting brushed and flipped in my face...). It began with the stalking of preeming press ladies in high heels and stylish dresses and then the camera people lugging gear and setting up directly across from my location. It flashed to a booming start with the mc kicking off with Ed Sheeran singing the closing song for the Desolation of Smaug credits.

The main press lady who did all the interviewing opened with a speech on the carpet in front of my spot and the press of the fans around me got tighter. A black car approached.

I was rather well situated I should mention, just in the second row of people and in the end where everyone is dropped off in the cars, has to stop for on-carpet interviews, then stops to get blinded by thirty cameras flashing, before continuing on until they reach the stage at the centre of the square.

Out of the car stepped. Duh. Duh. Duh. According to the mc, Andy Serkis. Cue the crowds screaming. And that, in a nutshell, is what occured for the next couple hours. Though you could, being semi-seasoned with comic conventions as I am, tell the star-level of a particular individual based on the sound level of screaming cheers. It was a tight tie between most, whether it was Peter Jackson himself, the shallowly popular Orlando Bloom or the intellectually popular Benedict Cumberbatch.

Having not thought much about bringing things to be signed or even of how difficult it is to photograph things when you have a row of pushy rich girls in front of you or you feel bad for the people at the back and so you pass up their copies of The Hobbit to be signed or whatnot, you mostly try to not go into shock. 

This entails taking deep breaths in order to get through the sensory overload and as well as trying to stamp the moment in your mind. The moment in which you actually, literally, come 20 centimeters away from people you have only ever seen on screens and have only imagined conversations with. Of course, no conversation is particularly possible in this setting. Those are best left for conventions, but, just being able to realise, these people are actually, physically real is rather mind-blowing. Curly hair and height is particularly more evident in real life than on screen.

A random highlight, I will say, is meeting the illustrious Roger Allam who I first ran across through the hilarious little radio drama that Grace and I listen to (Cabin Pressure). You know the thing I talk about too much? He and his adorable little son got invited by a friend who's on the cast list and he found it sweet how there could be someone who could be equally passionate about a radio show as she could be about The Hobbit. I did get his signature and a well-wish for a brilliant Christmas.

Mostly this was in part due to the fact everyone there was more focused on the big names, if they even knew their names at all. Again, those rich girls who always go to premieres couldn't even remember who people like Phillippa Boyens was and frankly, you are no fan if you cannot remember one of the flipping screenwriters, especially a female one! What I would do to sit down and have a conversation with her one day!

But that's humanity for you. Sheep who do things just to be "in." Well I'm going to "hipster" the "hipsters" and say I was a Lord of the Rings fan long before they got passed the Goosebumps, Roald Dahl and Judy Blume that classmates read while I stuck my nose into the adult fantasy section.

Aside from the chairman of the Tolkien Society and the girl from Toronto who is the enclyclopaedia half of the youtube Lord of the Rings videos, there was next to no one who I ran across who had such a ridiculous knowledge of Middle Earth details as I did. I really do need to just get into academia one day perhaps...

Anyway, on the whole it was a glorious evening. Both extremely sad and extremely exciting. It's both an ending and a new beginning. Now there can be a full 6 film marathon. A bit like the modern version of Anglo-Saxon oral storytelling in which the storytellers would gather the villagers into the mead hall and each night another section of the adventures of Scyld Scefing, the Valkyrie princess Brynhildr or the duel between the dragon Fafnir and the hero Sigurd would be reveals and reveled. 

And that is that.

Take what you will on that night observations of fans. 

And now go forth. Adventure is at hand, my good folks. Oh, and go see The Battle of Five Armies. It is glorious. And I am not just saying that as a Tolkien geek and nerd.


No comments:

Post a Comment