Far Back, Far Out

Neil Gaiman and Tucson local Geoff Notkin’s youth becomes a big screen indie sci-fi

Notkin and Gaiman’s punk band, Ex-Execs, in 1977. Left to right: Graham K. Smith (bass), Goeff Notkin (drums), Neil Gaiman (vocals) and Al Kingsbury (guitar).
Notkin and Gaiman’s punk band, Ex-Execs, in 1977. Left to right: Graham K. Smith (bass), Goeff Notkin (drums), Neil Gaiman (vocals) and Al Kingsbury (guitar).
How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Meteorite hunter Geoff Notkin and writer Neil Gaiman have lived oddly parallel lives. Notkin illustrated comics whereas Gaiman wrote them; Notkin starred in the Science Channel television series Meteorite Men and Gaiman wrote the BBC television series Neverwhere. Notkin won an Emmy and Gaiman won a National Book Award. But before any of that, they sat together in the back of a South London classroom, making up adventure stories.

When they were both 15 years old, Gaiman took Notkin to a Lou Reed concert, his first rock show. Shortly after, they got swept up in the punk era and started their own band Ex-Execs. Notkin played the drums and Gaiman sang.

In 2006, Gaiman wrote a short story based on their band's experiences, with a bit of aliens and romance thrown in for good measure. The story was nominated for a Hugo Award and made into a feature film, titled How to Talk to Girls at Parties.

"It sounded like a perfect film for me," Notkin said. "Part punk rock and part sci-fi."

Notkin knew the film was being filmed in South London, as Gaiman kept him informed on its development. But it wasn't until they met up, as they do once or twice a year, and Gaiman showed him a clip from it, that Notkin got a proper understanding of what the film was like.

"It felt real, but in a fun way," Notkin said. "Not in a ponderous manner."

But it was only after viewing the clip that Gaiman disclosed that the main character, Enn, was combination of both himself and Notkin's personalities.

"He said, 'You know that guy's based on you, right?'" Notkin said. "It immediately made me more interested in the film."

How to Talk to Girls at Parties tells the story of a few punk rockers in '70s London trying to, well, pick up chicks. Of course, things don't quite go their way once the sci-fi elements trickle in.

"It felt wonderfully familiar yet slightly strange," Notkin said. "They did a fantastic recreation of the punk years. I found myself becoming tremendously nostalgic."

The film had its world premiere at last year's Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2017. It was released in the UK on May 11 of this year and in the United States on May 25. The Loft Cinema will begin showing it on June 1.

Notkin lives in Tucson and is an avid supporter of The Loft Cinema, so when he found out How to Talk to Girls at Parties was screening there, he knew he had to get involved.

"It made sense they were screening it," he said. "It just felt like a Loft movie."

He contacted the Loft about setting up a special event for the movie, and they were eager. Gaiman and his staff were excited as well, saying they wanted to make it as special as possible, so a whole shipment of promotional materials were sent. Notkin will be there for the first night and host a post-screening Q&A.

When he saw the main character of the film, Enn, in traditional London punk attire, Notkin searched through his archives and was able to find much of the old outfit he wore in Ex-Execs. These include pins and a black tie. He plans on wearing them and looking as much of the part as he can for opening night.

"I've never lost the punk ethos," Notkin said. "And it was all because of Neil. He has a lot to answer for, that boy."

How to Talk to Girls at Parties begins screening at The Loft Cinema at 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 1. Followed by a Q&A with Geoff Notkin immediately after. 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.

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