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.

56 thoughts on “Trainspotting (1996)

    1. Alex Good

      Yeah, I’ll post on it tomorrow. It’s fine for what it is, but seemed kind of pointless. Just a chance to see the lads again. And without any real emotional weight. Easy to forget.

      Reply
  1. film-authority.com

    Palahniuk’s Lullaby was an excellent book. Never much cared for Trainspotting film or book, but the film is written by a doctor, the book is written from a user POV. They often make the diametrically opposite point from each other ie the Edinburgh festival scene.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      I was impressed at how well this has held up. Wasn’t expecting to like it as much this time around. It’s a much fresher movie than T2 and still has an edge, not so much for the drug stuff as for the portrait of the amoral young man on the rise.

      Reply
      1. film-authority.com

        T2 is hot garbage and sank without trace. Both films are just what happens when a bunch of English public schoolboys try to make a film about a culture they know nothing of ie Scottish schemey junkies. Outsiders won’t get it, but both films are something of a cultural embarassment now.

        So what did you think of Lullaby? That opening is an all time classic…

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Not a fan of Palahniuk’s, or that novel. Writing style strikes me as student-grade. Sort of like Douglas Coupland: immediate and glib, contemporary but soon dated. Easy to read very quickly as it doesn’t demand or repay close attention. Just not my thing.
        Who were the English public schoolboys? Thought most of the cast, and screenwriter Hodge, were Scottish. What is an authentic Scottish movie?

      3. Alex Good Post author

        I’ve been championing today’s best writers for decades now. They’re just not the pop stars you idolize. Does anyone still read Palahniuk?

        Had forgotten you were such a staunch cultural nationalist. When’s independence?

      4. Alex Good Post author

        Umm, complaining about English public school boys carpetbagging and not being “authentically” Scottish?

        Did you play Booky’s bookshelf game yesterday? What’s the eighth book on your (single) bookshelf?

      5. film-authority.com

        Resenting cultural appropriation isn’t the same as nationalism.

        I know you’ll be jealous of Booky’s comment today. Makes you very much yesterday’s news. Paid in full too.

      6. Alex Good Post author

        Didn’t mean “nationalist” in a political sense. Said “cultural nationalism.” Which is exactly what defending an authentic national culture against “appropriation” is.

        Oh Eddie, you’re not bringing your A game today.

      7. fragglerocking

        Going to take you to task here, a bunch of English schoolboys? Author – Irvine Welsh- Scottish, Screenplay- John Hodge- Glasgow, Producer – Andrew McDonald – Scottish, the whole cast Scottish except Johnny Lee Miller, editor – Masahiro Hirakubo- Japanese, I’ll give you Danny Boyle and Brian Tufano (cinematographer) are English but that hardly counts as a ‘bunch of English Schoolboys’ does it? Seems to me there was a far bigger and more influential bunch of Scottish chaps.

      8. fragglerocking

        They didn’t write the book, or the script. So what you’re saying is that a film set in a country can only be produced, directed, filmed etc by companies in that country?? Ridiculous. Also Andrew McDonald still produced it no matter what company he works for, though he is one of the founders of DNA productions which has Trainspotting listed as one of their movies. You just like kicking the English, and I get that, but it doesn’t wash in this case.

      9. film-authority.com

        Absolutely not. Trainspotting presents a crude cartoon version of Edinburgh life that is not the same as the one in the book, as I noted in my previous comment, that’s largely because Hodge was a junior doctor and has a markedly different attitide to drugs than Welsh. That cultural tourism aspect was exaggerated due to Boyle and Macdonald’s bad experience with Scottish Screen on Shallow Grave, which led them to refuse to work with or take input from local talents or production companies, although it’s not stopped them taking funding that was intended for local productions. I’d invite you to spend time with the C4 board as I have and tell me how well you think it understands or respresents Scottish interests. It’s not a questiion of nationality, but when you stifle local voices to foist your own innaccurate and insulting view of another country, then what you’re doing is a defination of cultural appropiation, and racism itself. Maybe you want to stand by that racism, and good luck if you do, but I’m not going to be accused of being a racist by you. It’s not about where you’re born or your birth certificate, it’s about what you say and do. The treatment of anti-Catholic sentiment in T2 for comedy is vile; prists are being assulted in churches, Catholic churches are being burned down, and that’s just in the last week here. Maybe you think Macdonald’s birth certificate makes all this cool…

      10. film-authority.com

        How can is be anything other than racism, to suggest I have a violent prejudice against another race? There’s nothing funny about this, and you wouldn’t be laughing if it was you being accused.

      11. fragglerocking

        Also I didn’t say you had a ‘violent prejudice’ against us I use the terms ‘kicking’ and ‘putting the boot in’ in a metaphorical sense, I suppose because most of it I’ve heard has been done during football tournaments. I’m not accusing you of anything that isn’t the usual Scottish/English way of going on.

      12. fragglerocking

        I am not standing by racism in the slightest, and didn’t consider you to be one either, though I still think most Scottish people are happy to put the boot in with us Sassenach’s even if it is sometimes ‘good natured’. I will consider myself educated about how badly Scotland is treated by C4’s film makers as I have not spent time with them. I do wonder what bad experience Boyle and MacDonald had that would put them off working with local talent & companies. I don’t remember T2 at all so don’t remember the anti-catholic thing.

      13. film-authority.com

        Would you be surprised that the C4 board mostly went to Public school in England? Would it jog your memory to know that T2’s ‘comedy’ centerpiece is a song sung by our heroes called No More Catholics? Boyle and Macdonald admitted that they chose to ignore all local input on T1, it’s on public record. This isn’t secret knowledge. I’ve never accused you of any prejudice to any race, but you seem to think that because other Scots are, it’s fine to label me. Danny and Andrew won’t be there to help Catholics, Jews or any of the other minorities routinely targeted by the majority up here; they’re just cheerleaders hiding behind the money they made making fools of the Scots.

      14. fragglerocking

        I apologise unreservedly for offending your sensibilities but I am not accusing or labeling you of anything outside normal banter between our nations. I get your point that making fun out of Scotland’s drug and religion problems is not the best way to make a movie and understand why you take offense at that. Sorry to have upset you.

      15. film-authority.com

        I accept your apology, and offer my own. Unfortunately things are at something of a low between Scotland and England right now, and I have no desire to find my own relationships poisoned by the ongoing atmosphere of intolerance. It’s not your fault, or mine, that the Trainspotting movies are tone deaf to the Scottish experience, and we gain nothing from them.

        On a more serious note, I think we should consider the motives behind Alex’s regular choices of films with a Scottish theme which can only be understood in terms of a concerted and vindictive attempt by the author to cause hate crimes and discord. It is not lost on me that this reprehensible man is doing this deliberately, and would be keen to hear your thoughts on what kind of punishment we should dish out to him. I personally think we should make an example of it by hanging him by his reportedly shriveled genitals from the top of the Sears tower and flinging buns at him. What do you think?

      16. fragglerocking

        I think he’s probably wishing he’d never posted this review. What type of buns are you thinking of? Cream and choux pastry might be a good start though I’d may be eating more than flinging.

      17. fragglerocking

        That sounds far too much like hard work, let’s all just sit at the bottom of the tower and stuff ourselves with éclairs and profiteroles. Booky can bring Cheeto’s and we’ll have WP4 picnic and fix the world.

      18. fragglerocking

        Ah man Eddie, let’s put away these vituperous shenanigans and and have a moment of entente cordiale. With buns. And cheetos. And maybe a little Canadian vino delecto, Scottish whiskey, American lager and English gin. Some Pâté and cheese and French bread would be good too.

      19. film-authority.com

        Are you suggesting I relent in my endless crusade against Alex Good? It’s been part of my life for so long…having said that, Booky has encouraged me to launch a campain of hate against him, so maybe I should let alex cool off for a while…decisions, decisions, but yes, let’s lower the hostility level from DefCon 4….canapes? I hope everyone likes grape juice!

  2. Bookstooge

    Nothing I’ve ever heard or seen about this movie makes me want to watch it. After your review, even less so. And knowing your reaction to the book, now we’re talking negative territory.

    And just so you know, most american audiences know T2 as Terminator 2. It took me a couple of figure out you were referencing Trainspotting 2, hahahaha. Very weird juxtaposition in my head when I first read it.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Yeah, Boyle and Hodge were deliberately referencing Terminator 2 by calling it T2. They figured that would have been the kind of movie the guys in it would have loved.

      Reply
      1. Bookstooge

        See, my American Purity is already being corrupted by my associations with Ye Olde World bloggers.
        Egads, it’s the second European Invasion! (Dr Who being the first)

      2. Bookstooge

        This is why I keep profanity and blasphemy as separate things. Profanity is just words that have come to mean “bad” things and that changes from country to country. Here, the word wanker has all the meaning of the word jerk. But “fuck”, now that has some meaning here. However, I’ll try to remember not to use it on your blog 😉

      3. fragglerocking

        Thanks! Here in the U.K. fuck’ is bad but used a lot! Here in the North East it’s altered to ‘fek’ and I think it’s the same in Ireland, somehow that sounds more benign.

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