Attack the Block - Joe Cornish Interview


Written by Sam Price
09 Monday 09th May 2011

Outwardly Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block is a handy bridge between the two, though there’s a lot more bubbling beneath its horror-comedy surface than you might expect. Anyone expecting an irreverent lampoon from the comedian and broadcaster who concocted the whompingly giddy delights of a ditty entitled 'Dr Sexy' with Mr Adam Buxton, will likely come away disappointed. I caught up with him to talk about his first feature film.

British cinema seems exciting right now. Do you like being thought of as part of a wider movement?

This is my first film so it’s very interesting to read the coverage and read how journalists create narratives, and how they fit you into that narrative. It’s interesting to see where one journalist might be economical with the truth in order to suit the piece. So it’s always hard to contribute to the conversation because I’m not sure to what degree it actually connects with the reality of how things work. All those individuals have worked very hard to get where they are. Gareth [Edwards] was on a BBC 2 series of digital CGI comedy sketches called The Wrong Door, Adam Buxton had worked with him. I think television is very healthy in the UK, and there’s a lot of it produced. It’s the way a lot of people start working. Comedy in particular is relatively accessible, because it’s immediately provable by whether people laugh or not.

You’ve been carrying these ideas in your head for almost a decade. When did you feel comfortable putting them into motion?

The idea for Attack the Block gestated over a very long period from about the early Noughties. It wasn’t the only idea that was in my head, but it was the one that felt ready at the right time. I made sure I was very careful about how I developed it. Doing all the research I needed to do, making sure the language was right. Talking to kids, talking to mugging victims, talking to nurses, talking to residents of tower blocks, taking photographs, recording sound. Gathering every single bit of material I possibly could to help me before I wrote the script.

One screenwriting adage is “write what you know”. I’m guessing you weren’t attacked by space monsters when you were a teenager.

I’m not sure that’s a screenwriting adage. It’s a writing adage generally and rules are made to be broken. To a degree I know that world ‘cause I grew up in Stockwell and Brixton. I haven’t lived in a tower block in the circumstances that the characters in the film do, but I’ve certainly lived near them. Even though I was ferried off to quite posh schools, my Mum and Dad worked hard to afford to send me there. To be honest, if you went through the history of art and culture and got rid of anything that wasn’t based on the direct experience of the author, you’d lose loads of it.

I read that Over the Edge was one of your favourite films. There seem to be some parallels between that and Attack the Block.

Definitely. Over the Edge is absolutely one of my favourite films. It’s quite an influential film in America. It’s famously Kurt Cobain’s favourite film. Larry Clark is very influenced by it. It’s an amazing film that everyone should see if they can get hold of it. It came out on DVD I think last year for the first time. It’s Matt Dillon’s first film. He was fourteen when he was in it. A lot of the cast there were just recruited locally. They’re real, local kids. It’s amazing, you should just see it. It’s brilliantly done. It’s semi-improvised, but it’s got a good thriller plot and it’s got an incredible climax.

I think the way you cast this film is similar.

It was absolutely influenced by Over the Edge. The Outsiders as well a bit. That was a big film for me when I was growing up.

Is all this a reaction against ‘hoodie horror’?    

Attack the Block is definitely a reaction to the way young people are portrayed in certain media. I feel uncomfortable when I see films that demonise young people, especially young people who are in a difficult social situation. I don’t think it’s fair to be honest, and I don’t think it’s truthful. Even though my film starts with a stereotype, it then goes at a hundred miles an hour in the opposite direction towards exploring the lives of the characters. Without apologising for them, it hopefully demonstrates that a person who makes a bad choice is also capable of redeeming themselves and doing something heroic. It’s trying to give characters who have been denied humanity in other films what they deserve.

Genre is often a better vehicle to do that through.

The big inspiration there was Assault on Precinct 13, which is on the surface a cool siege movie but at the same time it has a sociological subtext. ET is a film about divorce. Gremlins is a film about the death of the American manufacturing industry. All my favourite genre films have a subtext there if you want to see it. In fact, all good films do. To actually get through the process of writing something decent, it actually has to be about something, you know?

Attack the Block is out 11 May, the officical website for the film can be found here.

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