Daily Archives: August 4, 2021

Trainspotting (1996)

*. I’ll start with the book. Irvine Welsh was among the first of a generation of bad-boy authors who burst on to the scene around the same time, with early bestsellers being quickly adapted into movies. Think Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, 1993 and 2000) and Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, 1996 and 1999).
*. Trainspotting is usually described as a novel but always struck me as a series of linked stories (there is a difference). It was a smash success when it came out in 1993, leading to this fairly quick adaptation. Then after Trainspotting Welsh, like Ellis after American Psycho and Palahniuk after Fight Club, went into an almost instant decline. I appreciated Filth, but found the rest of Welsh’s output nearly unreadable. Glamorama wasn’t bad, but I can’t look at anything by Ellis after that. Palahniuk was a total one-hit wonder.
*. Danny Boyle gives Welsh a lot of the credit for the movie Trainspotting but I think this is being very generous. It’s a good book, but a better movie. Screenwriter John Hodge did a terrific adaptation, cutting a lot of the unfilmable parts while giving the whole a structure and a bit of heart. Welsh’s book I remember as being a nastier bit of work. I get the sense reading Welsh that he really hates people, and the feel of the movie is quite a bit different.
*. Hodge did, however, leave out any explanation of where the title came from. At least I don’t recall the business of trainspotting ever coming up. This is the sort of thing that drove Leslie Halliwell crazy, and he had a point.

*. A nice assembly of talent on the way up. Director Danny Boyle and writer Hodge getting together again after Shallow Grave (they’d go on to further collaborations). And an ensemble cast that gelled perfectly. Ewan McGregor, also back from Shallow Grave, as Renton. Ewen Bremner as the caricature Spud. Jonny Lee Miller as a glam Sick Boy. Robert Carlyle as Begbie, sporting a moustache that projects a surprising amount of threat.

*. And introducing Kelly Macdonald, who’d been working as a barmaid and answered an open casting call. I guess there is something in being a natural, a quality some people have when it comes to acting. I’m not alone in wishing there was more between Rent Boy and Diane here, and Boyle and Hodge tried their best to expand her character. It’s just that in the end this is a movie about the lads.
*. Directed in what was known then as the flashy MTV style, which worked well with the soundtrack. (Today I’m not sure that reference works, as MTV turned away from playing music and music videos are no longer on the cutting edge of visual culture.) When T2 came out twenty years later it wouldn’t have the same edge, though that’s not to say that this movie is merely fashionable. I think it’s effective. Even if things like the freeze frames were done, in Boyle’s admission, “just because it was cool to freeze your favourite shot.”

*. Boyle also remarks in his commentary, and quite correctly, that all the flash in the world can’t help a movie where you don’t care about the characters. I think this is the real triumph of Trainspotting, as I didn’t care for the characters in the book, and wouldn’t want to meet any of the guys in the movie, but I still found them sympathetic beyond the conventional “wages of sin is death” message tossed in with the drug use. These aren’t nice people, and none of them are redeemed.
*. Instead they’re launched at us, and into our world, like a virus. Sick Boy is going into “business” and Renton is a star on the rise. The way he leaves the others at the end must have been meant to recall Johnny walking away with his girlfriend’s money at the end of Naked, but I don’t recall Hodge or Boyle mentioning the connection on the commentary.
*. I think that in 1996 we could see how everyone was going to turn out, and the reunion in T2 was unnecessary. Watching the films together now, the first time still seems fresher. For whatever reason, and I’m thinking again of the literary zeitgeist too, follow-ups seemed to be difficult around this time. Perhaps success was becoming a bigger catastrophe, at least creatively, than ever.