A bird’s eye view of a grim housing estate – back-to-back panelaks, concrete, graffiti. Where are we – Cerny Most, Jizni Mesto?
No, this is Leith on the outskirts of Edinburgh and anyone who’s only image of Scotland comes from TV travelogues and glossy tourist brochures might be surprised to find that 60’s socialist housing schemes exist here too.
Even if you visit Scotland you’re not likely to see this side of life – tour operators don’t offer day trips to places where you can get your head kicked in just for holding eye contact with a local for more than two seconds or, as the case may be, for not holding eye contact with a local for more than two seconds – Begbie of Trainspotting is alive and living in Leith. And that’s maybe the main attraction of films like Trainspotting and this one, the latest film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s second book, The Acid House – you get to meet people like Begbie without getting your head kicked in.
The Acid House (the book is now available in Czech from the publisher Mata, in an attractive hard-cover edition) presents an even grittier view of life than Trainspotting, in which the harsh edges were softened by a stylised cinematography. In fact, the second story of the trio that makes up The Acid House – A Soft Touch (Mekkejs) – is, in contrast to the other two stories – The Granton Star Cause and The Acid House – a slice of social realism unmitigated by the kind of surrealistic touches that usually colour Welsh’s stories.
If I can just deviate for a minute here, I’ve got a RANT I’d like to get of my chest. Czech film reviewers; a detailed description of the ENTIRE plot of a film is not a review. I’ve given up reading film reviews in "Ctrnactka", an otherwise excellent listings magazine (kulturni prehled), because when I go to see a movie I actually like not knowing what happens next. Next time I don’t want to see a movie I’ll read the review in Ctrnactka instead and save myself the price of admission.
So I’m not going to give the game away here, but anyone who has already read the book The Acid House will find no surprises in the film. Welsh himself wrote the screenplay, apparently by the simple process of selecting three stories from his book and rearranging them into script format, an easy day’s work for which he certainly made a tidy sum.
Unlike Trainspotting, which is an interpretation of the book, The Acid House presents the short stories almost identically, word-for-word, to the original source. Having read the book several times prior to seeing the film, I was a little disappointed at the lack of original input from the filmmakers. Of course, that’s my problem and the Karlovy Vary audience, lacking the ‘benefit’ of my omniscience, apparently enjoyed the film a great deal, even spontaneously applauding as the closing credits rolled.
Despite the lack of surprises for me, there was still plenty to enjoy. Spud in Trainspotting once again turns in a fine character performance in the title story as the soccer hooligan Coco Brice, who gets his brain fried during an acid trip, with unpredictable results.
The appearance in the same story of a less-than-realistic special effects baby (though a little more sophisticated than the ceiling-crawling baby in Trainspotting) interfered more than a little with my suspension of disbelief, though the rest of the audience didn’t seem to mind.
I’m willing to bet it’s only a matter of time before Ewen Bremner (Spud) follows his more famous Trainspotting fellow actors Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and Johnny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) to international stardom and the big bucks that Hollywood has to offer. To deviate once more – it’s a curious thing that strong character actors who don’t quite fit the "perfect" mould like Keanu Reeves or Brad Pitt are almost never home-grown in Hollywood (I don’t doubt they exist, but they’re working as dishwashers in LA while waiting for an offer).
Think of all the Brits who put in a lot of hard work in non-commercial British films for years before being snapped up by Hollywood – Sean Connery, Gary Oldman, David Thewliss, Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thomson, Ewan McGregor.
All three central performances in Mekkejs are excellent. The story centres around a dull but good natured loser, John, his whorish sluttish, lazy, selfish wife, Katriona, who uses and abuses him and their psychopathic upstairs neighbour Larry (one of the Leith types I mentioned that you don’t want to meet in the flesh), are all played with conviction and realism and it is to the credit of the actors that we are drawn into the tragedy of essentially unsympathetic characters in a very unglamorous setting. We cannot help but feel sorry for John, who has the misfortune to get mixed up with a woman who’s a female version of Begbie. Even here, Welsh’s blackest of black humour provides some relief from a very unpleasant situation.
The less said about The Granton Star Cause, the better. I don’t want to spoil the fun by betraying the consequences of Bob Coyle’s fateful meeting in an Edinburgh pub. Enough to say that the events of the story are a feast of Welsh’s classic "what if-?" inventiveness and sado-masochistic humour. The performances in this segment are a little patchy, but this is compensated for by the originality of the story, which really keeps you wanting to know what happens next.
Whatever the differences to Trainspotting, expect the same points of reference – drugs, hooliganism, violence, sexual perversion, low-life characters, fantasy, faeces, foul language and black humour. This material is Welsh’s stock-in-trade. Some might find it shocking or offensive but, like gangsters, shoot-outs and murder, it’s better to see this kind of stuff on screen than to come across it in real life. If you like that kind of thing, I can unreservedly recommend The Acid House. If you don’t like that kind of thing, go and see it anyway (or read the review in Ctrnactka).
Otherwise you’ll feel left out when everyone is talking about it.