Trainspotting 2, the much bandied about, apprehensively secretly longed for follow up to the one and only untouchable 1996 Independent masterpiece of subversion, Trainspotting (1996), finally appeared mid winter of 2016-2017. There was a ceremonial feeling, a very commonwealth formal nodding symbolism about the release being a full 20 years later than the first, that was not reflected outside of the brains and hearts of the devout, at least in the Toronto crowd that went to the exclusive premiere on opening day, more than a month later than the U.K., inside one of the last old theaters that survives and gets to carry such memories for our whole lives if we stay. Toronto, outside the very special concert hall or the sports arena, has fallen back into its pre-Trainspotting stiffness in cinema crowds, its miming of Britishness that is, as usual, 20 or so years behind what is actually happening over there. Toronto, you see, still watches a lot of BBC Television. Is stuck at The Rover’s Return for endless hours every week. Wishes its greasy potato chips were crisp and wildly flavoured British crisps. Et cetera.
To be a true Trainspotting fan is to be well-versed in the language, accent, slang, and lingo of the original Irvine Welsh literary oeuvre, to be unflinching in the face of discussion and portrayal of all of humanity from the toilet to the grave to the curb to the needle’s prick to the other kind of prick and to the truth that real wit contains multitudes and is the last possible form of rebellion that will not get you jailed or abused. In order to matter, to stay ahead of cliche, of sarcasm (the lowest form of humour, lower even than the scatological that is, admittedly, often a funny baseline we all must admit to knowing too well), wit has to adapt language itself, then wrap the words it beats out of the writer’s weird mind in an invented, unteachable detached social observation ability, one that will occasionally see one exalted or Knighted but more often leads to frayed family relations, strange stares, misunderstandings of all kinds, loss of respect at work, broken noses and pub bannings.
To be a wit, a social observer, a real writer, is to be decidedly outcast and to build some sort of ivory tower out of your old bed linen, to become a monk and to forfeit popularity and the dulling activities that are popular in order to create something that must not care whether it’s acceptable or makes you look good or will cost you your job, and that you can somehow survive even if the worst thing happens. If the universe goes inside out and, touched by the hand of god (or his opposite) you become the pulse. The zeitgeist. The man. Semi-popular. Famous. Important. Lauded. Trashed. Envied. Copied. Tweeted at most mercilessly.
This is the challenge that faced the great, and still iconoclastic, Irvine Welsh, the writer. This is the challenge of all who’ve made films of his work, weird and marvelous artifacts that are decidedly, frighteningly, wonderfully noncommercial things (unless, somehow, the idea of what can be commercialized changes for them, as happened in 1996 and for a long while after. Because true organic greatness, the phenomenon that marketers thirst after vampirically but cannot design, at all, still, changes the world.) Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh, the first film, 1996, all changed cinema, culture, Scotland, England, America, Canada, style, music, advertising, drugs, music, our feelings about the colour orange, what a leading man is, acts like and looks like, the careers of all involved, the dreams of all affected, all creatives, all outlaws, all rebels, all frustrated writers & musicians who watched in the cinema and still watch all perfect 93(!!!) minutes when we are drunk, and happy, at that perfect 4 a.m. moment, the after after party, last one awake, even though it’s imprinted on us like a birthmark only never reminds us of home. Only of leaving home. It changed all that, and the world. It changed the world, forever. For the better.
But that’s a heavy mantle to bear.
Before you enter into a discussion about Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2, you must be able to discuss the books that premised both of these films (and how the films diverted from them to make something film-shaped instead of new-language inventing book shaped) and how the sequel was called Porno.
You must know that the books Trainspotting (1993) and Porno (2002) were both written and/or set in times before 1996, well away from the bland messiness of 2016, and, the first one at least, did not presuppose (probably) zeitgeist -changing films and star-making turns and long delayed sequels and another film called T2 (Terminator 2, which is quite a bit better than Terminator, incidentally) or something called Porno being changed to something called, rather dishearteningly, T2.
Incidentally, that critique, about the name change, is probably the only critique that will emerge in this reflection on the polarizing (inasmuch as people care or “give fucks” about anything these days) Trainspotting film sequel, T2. This writer, this 70s baby and 90s key demo early 20s viewer of the original in the theatre, in a midnight showing, to the wildest uproarious audience I’ll ever know, with a long estranged family member, in a rare moment of true peace with that person, is a ride-or-die Trainspotting fan. But is capable of as much objectivity as the subject requires. Was taught and self-taught to be individualistic and unswayed by public opinion, by, among others, the work of Irvine Welsh, and Danny Boyle, and Ewan McGregor and Kave Quinn. Kave Quinn was the Production Designer on Trainspotting (and also Shallow Grave) and is, clearly, also a genius in her own right.
A full inspection of production design and Trainspotting would require another feature article, and that will form after we’ve dealt with the business at hand, the culture of the books and the films.
Trainspotting (book) and Trainspotting (film) are undisputed masterpieces that have change the world, both individually and together.
The same can be said for Porno (book) and T2 (film) which, necessarily a feature of sequels, have challenges and much less capacity to surprise, shock, or change the world, but are no less important for these truths.
And just to head off any cries protesting the”need” for a sequel, “timing” of said sequel or misunderstandings that this follow up to the latter part of the 20th century’s finest 93 minutes of celluloid that changed you, like it or not, respect it or not, if you have a heart and watched it properly, it did, is any sort of “cash grab” or designed for bland commercial “beating a dead horse” interests, as if it were a production of tired old Hollywood (a cesspool that has beaten new ideas into submission increasingly for 40 years, lately reducing itself to censorship of thought and creativity to rival McCarthyism) as if it ever could have been born or survived or thrived with Hollywood at the helm, with studio script approval, or casting, or allowed to touch anything besides marketing (its only remaining export.)
I give you the current James Bond, who all the money spilled in the world cannot hide boredom of itself and I give you the current state of the Marvel Universe. The abhorrent Annie remake. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a light reboot in disguise) All the reboots of reboots, of ownership asserting rereboots of poor old Spidey and Batman becoming bit player in his films and more remakes because then you don’t have to pay the writer, or deal with him, at all. I give you all the encouraging indie films made on digital films for two million dollars (or much less) and away from Hollywood entirely that still give us hope that the world is worth saving. And that’s all we will say about that.
Let’s dig in. One final hit…
To follow. Part 2) Trainspotting, reviewed and analyzed Part 3) T2 Trainspotting Part 4)A look at the world of Trainspotting: Production Design and Filmmaking techniques