Last night I watched the film Sling Blade (1996) for the first time in years decades and liked it all over again. It has linguistic appeal too: the characters speak in strong dialects with idiomatic expressions.
More than once the main characters say how much they like how the other one talks, as a way of conveying their mutual fondness and friendship:
There are two items in particular I want to note here. The first is a moment of mild prescriptivism at a family table.
The household below has taken in Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton’s character, above left) for the night, and the adult son, Bubba Woolridge, is anxious on account of Karl’s history of mental illness and one extremely violent outburst. His is the first line in the subtitles:
Mrs Woolridge (we don’t learn her first name) corrects her son’s speech, but look at how. Non-standard ain’t is proscribed, presumably as an ‘improper’ or ‘low’ form of expression, while the (to my ears) far more objectionable nut goes unremarked. I’m sure it was deliberate, to give us a sense of place and character and local norms, and perhaps a touch of un-PC humour.
For a good discussion of the stigma of mental illness and the lack of a mainstream word to describe the discrimination that arises from it, see Iva Cheung’s post ‘Sanism and the language of mental illness’.
Item two is my own bit of linguistic hygiene, and it concerns not the film but the Sling Blade DVD packaging. The first paragraph on the back cover blurb reads as follows:
Add to your collection the Special Edition release of the powerful motion picture applauded by critics and moviegoers alike…written, directed and starring Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa, The Alamo).
Leaving aside the rather strange overall syntax and the omission of the film’s name, I want to focus on the phrase written, directed and starring Billy Bob Thornton. Though there’s no threat to clarity, the verbs written and directed both need the preposition by for grammatical correctness. The lack of parallelism also pushed my editorial buttons.
The challenge is to fix it without rearranging the whole thing to make it simpler or more logical. I had my own ideas about how best to do this but wanted to see how others felt. So I asked Twitter, and got these suggestions, in order of reply:
1. written, directed, and populated by (@egabbert)
2. I’d add two ‘by’s. It’s that or one ‘by’ and an ‘and’, which would make the structure more complex. (@SnoozeInBrief)
3. starring, written and directed by; written, directed by and starring. (@Halceon)
4. written by, directed by, and starring. Unless context allows ‘writer, director, and star of’ (@pseudomonas)
5. Billy Bob Thornton writes, directs, and stars in? (@anindita_basu)
6. ‘written/directed by and starring…’ Not great for flow, I guess. (@CWWilkie)
7. A Billy Bob Thornton Joint (@jonmeyerswg)
8. written & directed by, and starring BBT (I’m ok with switching the ‘&’ for ‘and’ btw) (@millymelon)
9. Simply ‘written, directed and starred in by’ isn’t wrong IMO, but e.g. ‘featuring BBT as writer, director and star’ is punchier. (@GoldHoarder)
10. writes shoots & leads (@RichGreenhill)
The asymmetry of the verb phrases in question makes a perfect solution elusive within the parameters of the existing syntax. So a line beginning Billy Bob Thornton writes, directs and stars in… would flow better, but I’m interested in what can be done without disturbing the current structure.
My preferred option this evening is: written and directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton; but my brain is tired and I may change my mind tomorrow. I can see good arguments for other solutions (esp. 2–4), and I’m suitably amused by 1, 7 and 10. What’s your preference?