The first paragraph.

Today’s the day! Twenty years since Trainspotting the film premiered. Here’s the opening paragraph of my chapter on the film:

On February 23rd, 1996, Trainspotting the film was premiered. The speed of developments since the launch and that daring, insolent reading of the episode Traditional Sunday Breakfast at the Edinburgh Book Festival by Duncan McLean’s unknown sidekick Irvine Welsh a mere thirty months previously, was truly astonishing. The book was being translated into several languages and Trainspotting the play was filling theatres and making headlines. On that night in Glasgow the explosive Trainspotting phenomenon turned into a cultural and box-office fireball.

From the beginning the whole Trainspotting brand traded on insolence. I said in my talk last week that the audience at the Book Festival event in August 1993 was divided. Some were delighted that such crude, puerile slapstick had entered the very portals of the Edinburgh literary establishment. But probably a majority thought that this Welsh fellow would never see the inside of any book festival ever again.

Then came Harry Gibson and Ian Brown who, respectively, wrote and produced a version for the stage. Then came Danny Boyle, John Hodge and Andrew MacDonald. With a fine mix of apparent chaos and real insolence, the whole thing – particularly the film – became a colourful, intelligent, musical, political, assertive two-fingers to the prevailing establishment while still telling truths about the squalor of the heroin scene. Denouncements from on high only enhanced its transgressional status.

And has it lasted? Well, it can’t be moved from the status of being one of the most lucrative films of the 1990s. And in a professional psychiatrists’ journal it was pointed out that just as public perceptions of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) are dominated by And One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, so public perceptions of the heroin scene are dominated by Trainspotting. That’s quite a mark on history.

But there’s more, much more, to get out of the film. I’ll knock off this chapter and get the book out there.

23 February 1996

Nice to be in the forefront. Edinburgh Central Library kindly invited me to give the talk Trainspotting at Twenty a week ahead of the anniversary of the launch of the film. Got a nice review: apparently I educate as effortlessly as I entertain, for example, which was a line I used about the film. See the full text at Key excerpts below:

Tim probably knows more about Trainspotting than anyone (with the possible exception of Irvine Welsh!) and yesterday he came along to Central Library to talk about the film adaptation of the book, which premiered 20 years ago this month.

Tim began by putting Trainspotting in a social and historical context, explaining the circumstances that led to the Sunday Telegraph describing Edinburgh in 1986 as “the AIDS capital of Europe”.

Then Tim moved on to the book itself and the ‘cultural fireball’ that it became.

Perhaps a film of the book was inevitable, although as Tim explained filmmakers Danny Boyle, John Hodge and Andrew MacDonald had previously forsworn adaptations, wanting instead to create original cinema.

We really enjoyed hearing Tim’s thoughts on the film’s plot, characters and particularly its music. Tim also took time to remind us on the impact the film had: how Trainspotting became a brand, and what that brand represented.

It was interesting to read contemporary reviews of the film as well: from Will Self’s description of it as ‘an extended pop video’ to Shelia Johnston’s feeling that ‘for all its brilliance, the film finally feels sour and hollow’.

Tim believes that Trainspotting ‘educates as effortlessly as it entertains’ – we could say the same about him.

Actually I was aware of having too much content, and the talk was prepared for a younger audience. Another time I probably won’t go into the backstory of HIV, and would want to emphasis how the film could be titled “A Junkie’s Progress.” It was good to see so many people, including some old friends. Thanks to the library for the shop window.