If you can (but can’t) understand English
December 27, 2005
I am, by nature and through the graces of a hefty amount of marijuana usage, a laissez-faire personality. Few things, even some admittedly bad ones, bring me to the level of outrage. And so finding causes that I could associate myself with has always been difficult. If someone sees fit to wiping out the dodo … well, who am I to say no?So when a cause leaped to the fore of my mind, and lodged there for more than a moment or two, I paid attention. I find this cause important. I find it eminently achievable. I find I am probably the only person ever to take this on as a cause. You will find it odd. But here it is.I have had it up to here with movies from Scotland, Ireland and the rest of the U.K. that pretend to be in English, but are using a language that has little relation to the one I speak. It is true: We are a single people divided by a common language. Colin Farrell speaks perfectly fine, understandable English in films like “Phone Booth” and “A Home at the End of the World” – but don’t try to convince me that it’s the same language he speaks in a film like “Intermission,” one for his Irish homies, not for us Americans. (Compared with, say, “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” the new comic drama in which director Stephen Frears has clearly instructed his actors to speak Americanized British English.)So, I hereby begin my newfound activist ways, and start the Society to Provide Subtitles for Quasi-English-Language Films (or SPSQELF, for short). From this day forward, I call on filmmakers, distributors, studios and whoever else has a hand in getting me my movies to provide subtitles for all films not made in the proper Americanized English language.
No more trying to read the lips of Daniel Day-Lewis, no more laughing at the jokes of Rowan Atkinson and pretending I understood all the nuance of what he’s is saying. From now on, Dame Judi Dench, you’re going to have subtitles sprawled across the bottom of your films, just like every other foreign-language movie actress. Yes, I said foreign language. Because every word Colm Meany has ever said on screen might as well have been uttered in Mandarin, Sanskrit or Javanese for all I can comprehend it.If you’re on board, you know where to contact me.The latest source of my protest is “Breakfast on Pluto,” an Irish film by Irish director Neil Jordan featuring Irish actors Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson – and hardly a bit of the English language as I recognize it.The film – and I may be wrong here, though I did watch it twice through – is the story of Patrick Brady (Murphy), an abandoned infant who grows into a sexually ambiguous young adult. Taking the name “Kitten,” Brady travels from Ireland to London, searching for his mother, androgynous adventure and some acceptable form of love. The world Kitten faces is harsh; his journeys into the world of glam-rock are periodically interrupted by Ireland’s political troubles. Yet with bold wit, a big heart and a clever wardrobe, Kitten manages to get by and even forge an alternative family for himself.
“Breakfast on Pluto” is an uplifting film about identity and finding one’s place in the world. I can only imagine how much more I might have liked it had I understood a fargin’ t’ing dat arse wer sayin’.”Breakfast on Pluto” shows at 8 p.m. today at Harris Hall as part of Aspen Filmfest’s Academy Screenings. Tickets at the Wheeler Box Office or at the door, depending upon availability.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org