Sunday, December 18, 2005

A few months ago, I saw Layer Cake, a fantastic English crime caper, at the Nickleodeon. It was so fast-paced and violent I can't say I cared that much that it was confusing, both because it had flash-forwards to things that hadn't happened yet, and because the Cockney dialogue was laid on with a trowel. I got the big picture at the end, but along the way I was never all that sure where I was. As one crook mumbled to another, I'd think: "Could you say that again, and slower? I think you just uttered valuable information upon which my understanding of subsequent events greatly depends."

I mentioned this a few days later to some Irish guy on-line, totally blaming my dimwittedness on my age, increasing deafness, and the fact that I kind of suck as a world citizen. He said he didn't understand English films either. He said that he and his mates think films about lower-class English types are spoken in an exaggerated brogue they call "mockney."

Well, turns out I'm not the only one who thinks Layer Cake is a little hard on the ears. Which has not stopped it from becoming a monster DVD hit. The reason? The pause button:

...the one thing that should trip up American audiences and make Layer Cake a liability in the American market is language. We Americans are extremely particular about consonants. We chew the hell out of our Rs and hack out our Ks like we're trying to dislodge a windpipe obstruction. The Cockney and semi-Cockney characters in Layer Cake pronounce most of their consonants like, well, vowels. They all sound like they've just come from the dentist. The easiest guy to understand is the Serb. (When you see one of these Cockney crime films in a theaters, audience chatter tends to consist entirely of "What'd he say?") But people watching on DVD can just rewind and listen again. Granted, half the time, listening again doesn't really help, but often it does, and just having the option makes you feel that this recondite mix of class and language—so crucial for these films' verisimilitude but so bloody confusing—is not totally beyond your control.

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