SXSW: Joe Cornish Talks ‘Attack The Block’

Thursday, March 24 by

Attack the Block was the hot ticket of SXSW. Edgar Wright’s name must have let people know that it’s something special. He produced it for first-time feature director Joe Cornish. A lot of people didn’t even get into the SXSW screenings so they’ll be waiting for it’s theatrical release, which so far is only secure in the UK for May.

Cornish’s film has teen street gangs fending off alien invaders on the streets of London’s hoods. Cornish met some press for breakfast at the Four Seasons in Austin to fill in the people who missed the film, and further excite the new fanboys who discovered it in Austin.

Territory is not just a British thing:

Joe Cornish: The issue of territorialism is a very big thing, especially with these young gangs in the UK and it’s not something I would want to encourage or be frivolous about because it’s a serious thing. One of the messages in the film is that these creatures are extremely territorial and they will kill and be greedy and selfish. They will take their territory. One of the bad things I wanted to express with the monsters is territorialism. Even though it’s never said, hopefully you understand that that’s one of the bad things and that’s kind of stupid. You know kids in the UK and I’m sure everywhere in the world, kill each other over territory in a meaningless way. That’s something I would want to highlight.

The monsters are metaphors for the real street kids:

JC: One of the ideas of the film is kids like that are demonized in the U.K. and they’re called feral and amoral so I wanted to make a monster that, if you took all the words that people call those kids in the press, I wanted to turn them into a monster, set that monster against the kids and bring the humanity out of the kids. It’s just to see the humanity in people really. I don’t think it’s a particularly new message, that there might be good in somebody who maybe has done bad.

But antiheroes are cool:

JC: It’s a trope that has slightly vanished from cinema because people are a bit frightened of antiheroes now. People are very keen to make the protagonist sympathetic in the first act, give him a wife and kids, have the kid be kidnapped. You get that in notes a lot, how is the audience going to invest in it? Some of my favorite films, Snake Plissken, Assault on Precinct 13, you’re not sure where you stand with the protagonist. For me that’s kinda cool. That’s what I wanted to try and do.

Cornish cast real kids with little acting experience:

JC: They’re all 16 and over. A lot of them are from backgrounds not entirely dissimilar to the kids in the story. A lot of them are local to the area where we shot it. In terms of working with them, it was an absolute joy. The arc of the movie is that you start with these masked kids. You don’t know how old they are. You don’t know who they are, what color they are. They’re just bandits. As the story progresses, you unpeel the layers and hopefully give them dimension and stuff. That happened a little on the set as well. You could see the talent but they were socially a bit shy. They wouldn’t make eye contact, they tried to be tough, tried not to let themselves be vulnerable but the beautiful thing was as we shot, they just became more and more relaxed. By the time we were through the rehearsal period even they were like friends.

And they reflect the multi-ethnic streets of the U.K.:

JC: I don’t actually think race has a huge amount to do with my film. I really wanted to give a young black actor the lead role. as someone who lives in a very mixed urban area, I don’t see it reflected on the screen very much. Apart from that, they were kind of interchangeable. I certainly didn’t cast with color in mind.

He’s bringing back hardcore movies for kids:

JC: We were kids at possibly the best time, not just for children’s cinema but what Lucas and Spielberg were doing wasn’t children’s cinema as we perceive it now. It wasn’t like four quadrant box ticking. Talk about penis breath in E.T., talk about Indiana Jones saying sh*t on the bridge. I wasn’t allowed to see Scanners yet I could see Raiders as a kid, so we just had this amazing period. For me, I think maybe it’s people of that generation just working that sh*t through because it had such an affect on us. Plus a feeling of the absence of that energy from contemporary cinema. Contemporary cinema’s become so polarized. It’s either for children or it’s an extremely sadistic horror. That sense where the energies were mixed up a bit and you didn’t know quite what you were going to get that was there in all of Lucas’s and Spielberg’s stuff has gone a bit.

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