There's been a lot of controversy surrounding Joe Cornish's UK-based alien adventure film Attack The Block lately. Specifically, will his grime culture British characters need subtitles for American audiences? We asked the director directly.
Attack the Block wouldn't be the first British movie to be considered for subtitles — distributors considered adding subtitles to Trainspotting back in the 1990s. And some of Ken Loach's films have been subtitled in the U.S.
After the SXSW screening for ATB, we sat down with Cornish, and he addressed the subtitle rumor that started over at The Hollywood Reporter. THR alleges that some distributors are considering adding subtitles to an North American release.
Can you teach our American readers some slang from Attack the Block?
Cornish: The first one is "fam." Family. It's short for family, and it's the equivalent of mate, or my friend or man. Yeah fam or no fam, believe fam. "Bare" means a lot, so There's bare aliens. [Or] It was bare: It just means very. I don't know where that comes from. To "murk" someone is to mug them or step to them. To attack them. To "shiff" is to stab. To shiff someone is like, to shank them.
[EDIT: Cornish spelled out the phrases shiff, murk and fam for us on the record. We're keeping his spellings because he made the film. But there seems to be some debate over shiff versus shiv. "Bear," however, was not spelled out and our mistake, so we've changed it to Bare. Sorry about any confusion!]
I was very careful to choose a glossary of about 10 words. And we used them again, and again, and again. The idea being that even if you don't understand the word itself because of the context you'll eventually be able to understand it through context. And we made sure they enunciated, these kids. So that even if there will little bits that you missed, you got the general drift.
For me that was another science fiction element. Science Fiction is about alien languages. The way Yoda deconstructs sentences. Klingon, Na'vi. For me it was a popcorny science fiction thing. It also reminded me of books loved like Clockwork Orange, The Color Purple, a book called The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe that are written in this dense argot. The first ten pages you don't know what the fuck you're reading, suddenly magically you understand it. It makes you feel really clever, as well. It's like, "Well shit, there's something in my brain that's been activated by this."
Already online there are rumors of subtitles for a North American release would you do that? Would you consider it?
Yeah, well whatever it takes. I would just love people to see the film. You know, deep down, I think that you guys can deal with it. I think distributors should be adventurous, and I think it's easy to underestimate the public. As long as the subtitles were switch able to switch off so the more adventurous people could just watch it as it is.